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Defense Wins Championships

There are many clichés in sports.  Some make sense, and some don’t.  But one cliché that has been proven time and time again is “defense wins championships.”  It’s true in all sports, but it is especially true in the National Football League.  Teams with high-powered offenses have occasionally made it to the Super Bowl, but far more often than not, they come away without the Lombardi Trophy.  Patriots fans need look no further than the 2007 team’s loss to the New York Giants as a shining example. 

Given that, the 2017 New England Patriots, dead last in the NFL in total defense after four weeks, are in serious trouble.  The defense may have taken a step backward in the most recent loss to the Carolina Panthers.  Cam Newton, coming off a 17 for 26, 0 TD, 3 INT performance the previous week against a bad New Orleans defense, threw for 316 yards with three touchdowns against the Patriots.  By comparison, Newton’s passer rating against New Orleans was a putrid 43.8.  Against the Patriots – 130.8.  Newton is a tremendous athlete and physical specimen, but he is not a quarterback that is anywhere near a 130.8 rating.  That is how bad this Patriot defense has become.

The play of the secondary was once again the glaring weakness of the defense.  The defense has not yet been able to correct the communication issues in the secondary that have plagued them since the opening night loss to Kansas City.  Carolina hit on six passes greater than 24 yards, and most were completed without a Patriot jersey within 15 yards of the receiver.

After the loss, high-priced free agent corner back Stephon Gilmore spoke directly to the issue when he said “Communication.  Have to get better on the communication.  I have to get better on communication.”  Every Patriot fan knew this after game one.  The problem should be corrected by game four.  To make matters worse, Gilmore was flagged for two hands-to-the-face penalties on third down which extending Panther drives when they should have been off the field.

The worst of the two penalties came with just over two minutes remaining in the game which negated a Deatrich Wise sack that would have forced the Panthers to punt.  All the momentum the Patriots had built in erasing a two touchdown fourth quarter Carolina lead was lost with the penalty.  After the Patriots had scored on their last two drives to come back from a two touchdown deficit, was there any doubt Tom Brady would not have gotten the team into field goal range with two minutes left?  Mental mistakes and costly penalties may have been the norm from Gilmore’s days as a Buffalo Bill, but they most definitely do not fit the Patriots’ “Do Your Job” mentality.  Malcolm Butler was benched briefly after he got off to a poor start this season, and his play has improved since returning to the starting lineup.  Gilmore could be filling that vacancy in Bill Belichick’s dog house after his play this week.

How do the Patriots correct the problems in the secondary?  If they have not been able to correct the problem in four weeks, can they do it in three days before playing the Buccaneers on Thursday night?  Not likely.  When teams get off to historically bad starts such as this, someone usually gets fired.  It won’t be the Head Coach, and likely will not be Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia.  This brings the focus on the coaches in the defensive secondary, one of which has a very familiar name.  Steve Belichick, son of Bill, is the Patriots’ Safeties Coach.  Would Bill Belichick dismiss his son?  This dynamic should generate significant media scrutiny if the secondary continues to struggle.
The Patriots have scored 129 points in four games, second in the NFL, yet they are only 2-2 and could easily be 1-3.  The Buffalo Bills rank 29th in total offense and 23rd in points score, yet they sport a 3-1 record thanks to the defense, which has allowed the fewest points in the league.  On Sunday they shut down the high-powered Atlanta Falcons offense to move into first place in the AFC East.  Defense may not make good highlights, but it does win football games.  And championships.

Follow Bill on Twitter @BTravers_BSoT. 

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