The Patriots defense is off to a white-hot start in the first half of their 2019 season. Aside from leading the league by allowing just 7.6 points-per-game, they've already got 25 takeaways - 11 more than the next-best team in the league.
They've had at least one takeaway in every game, and three or more in five of their eight games. Now, they stand with 19 interceptions and six forced fumbles halfway through the season after getting just 28 total in 2018.
The big question everyone is asking themselves is how did this defense get so good? On paper the only real change from last year at this point is swapping Jamie Collins in for Trey Flowers. Last year's defense was lights out in the Super Bowl but before that game we never saw anything quite like what we're seeing this fall.
"It's really a confluence of factors that have all come together and we have a lot of good players playing well in different combinations that work well with each other," said Bill Belichick on Monday. "It's a good place to be."
With everyone on defense playing complimentary football, the results have been fantastic and against the Browns it didn't even take two possessions before they continued their torrid pace, forcing turnovers on three-straight plays and setting up a 17-0 lead that would hold up for the rest of the game.
How have they been able to make so many plays on the ball?
"Some players have very good, I would just say, ball awareness," said Belichick. "They just have a good knack of getting the ball off their opponents or recovering a fumble or intercepting a pass or tipping a ball or just things like that. I think we have a lot of players like that on our teams, on our units."
Inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo said getting takeaways is something the coaches harp on every week.
"We always say turnovers come in bunches and there's no greater stat directly correlated to wins and losses than the turnover battle," said Mayo. "We feel like anytime we get the ball back into our offense's hands it's a good thing."
And that they've been doing. The Patriots offense has been juggling linemen, tight ends and receivers for much of the season, but the extra possessions, enhanced field position and, most importantly, defensive points have arguably been the most important factors in helping the offense get off to an 8-0 start
And it's different players doing it each week, almost as if they're taking turns or seeing their teammates successes as a personal challenge to step up themselves.
"Each week we never know who's going to be that guy," said outside linebacker coach Demarcus Covington on Monday. "When they're out there they're all trying to do their job and by playing our style of defense, you're able to make plays and be aggressive. You don't have to go chase plays, they'll come to you as long you play within the framework of our defense."
Right now, the team has a full defense and more of guys playing within the framework of the defense and they're making it look easy.
The Patriots re-signed quarterback Cody Kessler to fill the open spot on their 53-man roster. They could need another open spot to activate N'Keal Harry by Saturday, while the clock could begin on Isaiah Wynn this week as he is eligible to return to practice but must sit out two more games before he is eligible to return. He'll have a roster exemption once he does start practicing, which will signal the Patriots will no longer have another player eligible to return from IR.
Belichick was asked about Wynn on Monday. "I think he's eligible," said the coach. "It's a possibility. We'll see how it goes."
Locker Room Sound Bites
Dante Scarnecchia on the challenges facing the offensive line:
"I think every year's a challenge and certainly we've been in situations like this before. I just think it's hard playing the game, football in the National Football League. You have guys that get hurt for periods of time, that's nothing new. So you just put the next guy in there and get going and try to do as good as you can do."