People talk most about coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, but don’t believe for a minute that the success of the New England Patriots doesn’t depend on their defense. From cornerback Malcolm Butler’s crucial interception of Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson with 20 seconds left in Super Bowl XLIX, and a joint effort between the Patriots defense and offense to shut down the explosive Atlanta Falcons and come back from a 25-point deficit in Super Bowl LI, the New England defense has saved the day many times.
And when the Patriots defense struggles, the team struggles—even with Brady. At the top of the NFL season, the Patriots defense is looking at bit off.
There have been some big shake ups on defense—which is affecting their play.
Matt Patricia is gone
Matt Patricia, their former defensive coordinator, is now head coach of the Detroit Lions. Patricia was a long-time part of the Patriots organization, starting out as an offensive coach in 2004 and serving as the defensive coordinator from 2012 to the day after the Super Bowl LII. He called the defensive plays since 2009.
Brian Flores hasn’t fully arrived
Brian Flores—the linebackers coach who is now the defense play-caller—is finding his groove. His tactic during the Patriots’ Week 2 matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars, which New England lost by 11 points, was “keeping [Jaguars quarterback Blake] Bortles in the pocket and not letting him beat them with his legs.” It didn’t work. The renowned Patriots defense, which allowed fewer points than any other team in Fall 2017, couldn’t stop a mediocre quarterback from picking up yards, converting third downs, and scoring points.
Malcolm Butler is a key ingredient
Why is that? Well, Butler, the player who saved the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX, is now a Tennessee Titan. He was benched—for reasons that were never disclosed—in Super Bowl LII, which many Pats fans surmised is the reason their team lost.
Eric Rowe, also a cornerback on the Patriots, who took Butler’s place in Super Bowl LII and was supposed to fill part of Butler’s role this season, isn’t playing well. He was benched in the game against the Jaguars.
It’s too early to make a strong judgment about the defense—but they haven’t proven themselves.
Week 1 was good
Even though the Patriots defense didn’t look great against the Jaguars, it’s not that they are bad. They had a great season opener against the Houston Texans. Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, who is being heralded by many, only threw for 176 yards.
But there is a major weakness
But, as Colin Cowherd points out, “They’re struggling to get offenses off the field on third down,” and good defense can shut down a team on third down.
In week 3, the Patriots faced the Lions . . . and Patricia. It was a good test of how their defense will shake out this season.