No team in football allowed more pass plays of 20 yards or more over the first seven weeks of the season than the Patriots. And no team has allowed more touchdown passes since 2008 than New England. Yet, throughout it all the defense generally finds a way to make some plays and remain competitive.
But after watching some of the league's lower-rated quarterbacks like Russell Wilson and Mark Sanchez light them up in recent weeks, fears of inevitable doom have begun circulating New England. Fans worry that the secondary simply isn't good enough and that will somehow derail the team's plans for success down the road.
Bill Belichick's defenses often improve as the year continues, however, and that was the case a year ago. So, will that happen once again with the lowest-ranked pass defense in the league still patrolling the secondary?
We tackle that question in this week's Samsonite Make Your Case debate.
Can the Patriots defense improve significantly over the second half of the season?
PFW's Andy Hart says ...
Bill Belichick's team's generally play better defense in the second half as the unit comes together. That was true even a year ago for one of the worst units New England has ever seen. The Patriots also should be a healthier team on defense – particularly in the back end – after the bye. Guys like Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory should be able to add stability to the team's biggest area of weakness. It should also help that the group will face young, unproven passers for much of the final eight weeks. While one could argue that wasn't an advantage against Russell Wilson, Belichick will have more tape to look at for the guys over the second half. There is also a very good chance that such key rookie contributors as Chandler Jones, Dont'a Hightower, Tavon Wilson and Alfonzo Dennard will be more polished products down the stretch with half-season of experience to fall back on. Add it all up and there are plenty of reasons to believe that the Patriots defense will be better in the coming weeks.
PFW's Paul Perillo says ...
The Patriots have had a half season to prove they could fix the problems they have on defense, especially in the back end of the unit. There isn't a lot of hope that things will get any better moving forward in that area, especially as teams get more tape on the problems that exist for the Patriots in terms of defending big pass plays. It's also a concern with how many rookie players are playing such a large role for the Patriots on defense. Chandler Jones has been really good, but will he hold up over the second half of the season. Dont'a Hightower has a hamstring issue that could be a concern all year. Alfonzo Dennard looks intriguing, but will he wear down as the long professional season rolls into December. The Patriots have dealt with a lot of injuries on defense, especially in the back end. That's not likely to change as the number of games continue to build and players get more and more worn down. Unfortunately, I fear the Patriots defense is what it is for 2012, and that's a scary thought.
Now it's the fans turn to cast their vote in this week's Samsonite Make Your Case poll.