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Possible Reasons Why the Patriots Defense Sucks So Bad

Patriots D2

You don’t need me to tell you the 2017 Patriots defense has all the stopping power of a mall security guard at a Black Friday Doorbuster. You know it’s not just bad, it’s record bad. Especially in the passing game, where they are the first team in NFL history to allow 300 passing yards in each of its first six games. The 14 touchdown passes they’ve given up is not only tied with Cleveland for most in the league, it’s three more than their 2003 champions gave up all season. They’re dead last in football in: Yards per Drive, TDs per Drive and Yards per Attempt. Though to be fair, they’re only 29th in Points per Drive and have only given up the second most big shot, 20+ yard passes (thanks, Indy!)

I’ve spent past blogs and Knee Jerk Reactions trying to explain how atrociously they suck, so that’s not the point of this one. This is to try to figure out why they atrociously suck. To try to CSI the shit out of the grisly crime scene that is these first six games and find a cause of death.

Theory No. 1: Lack of communication
This was the hot lead we all followed after the Carolina game, blaming Stephon Gilmore for the miscommunications. And it could still be the best explanation since he’s the one new guy in the secondary and seemed to be at the center of all the major breakdowns. Belichick commented on that this week, suggesting that it’s ridiculous to think any team would have its act completely together so early in the year:

Maybe I just can’t figure it out, but it’s incomprehensible to me how anybody could think that a team that’s practiced for six months and played 19 regular season and postseason games and had triple-digit practices, five months later, after not playing a game, after having a fraction of that type of experience, could be anywhere close to the level of execution that they were five months before that after all of the things that I just listed. I mean, it’s impossible in my view. So, each year, you start all over again. … But, I understand I’m in the minority and most other people don’t see it that way, which is OK, but that’s the way I see it.

Granted, there have been years recently where the D did look bad for a month or so and then figured it out. Take 2014, when Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner needed a few weeks to adjust. But it’s never taken six weeks before. With the last one being a long week. To prepare for Josh friggin McCown. And that doesn’t explain how other teams that have had the same time to prepare are actually giving up less than 300 passing yards and 2.33 touchdown receptions per game. And besides, Gilmore was out last week and the problems continued. Which brings me to …

Theory No. 2: It’s Malcolm Butler
Butler made some Butlerian, game-changing plays Sunday. His interception set up a touchdown. His strip fumble prevented one. He broke up two passes. And took Robby Anderson out of the game; McCown completed only two of his eight targets of Anderson. But there were also three total breakdowns by the defense, receivers left unaccounted for, and Butler looked to be at fault on each of them. On a 3rd & 10 on the opening drive, he got turned around by Anderson for 22. And late in the game Jermaine Kearse was left more alone than either Interstellar Matt Damon or The Martian Matt Damon. Meanwhile on the other side, Jonathan Bademosi, who just got here and has barely played anything but special teams, took 96 percent of the snaps and only gave up .44 yards per passing down, which is less than a third of the league average. How Butler can be blowing assignments after being a starter here for two-plus seasons is as surprising to me as it is inexplicable. But if it continues, it’ll be hard not to think it’s the contract thing. I hope like hell I’m wrong.

Theory No. 3: It’s the run defense
While we’ve been taking cover in the air raid shelters, it’s been hard to notice how effective the enemy’s infantry has been. As a team they have a total of three tackles for loss on run plays, which is pathetic. They’re especially on 1st down, giving up an average of 6.0 Yards per Carry on 1st. That makes opponents’ whole playbook available on 2nd & 3rd, which makes it infinitely harder to scheme against. The good news is they’re only 19th in rushing attempts against. The bad news is … why would you?

Theory No. 4: It’s the personnel
It was hard to argue their offseason approach. They kept all the major pieces from the defense that lead the league last year except Logan Ryan, and they seemingly upgraded him with the best cornerback on the market. Up front they added Kony Ealy and David Harris for nothing and let Chris Long go because his playing time went down late in the year. But all that evaporated in the span of a few weeks. Ealy spent Sunday knocking down both Tom Brady and Tom Brady’s passes. Harris spent Sunday watching Ealy from some undisclosed location on the sidelines. Long is making plays and giving money away to noble causes in Philly. Shea McClellin is due to return soon. But let’s not forget he played half the plays in the Super Bowl that Long did. Alan Branch has underachieved on the contract extension they gave him. And when Rob Ninkovich went through with a retirement that he pretty much sent everyone a Save the Date card for, the team’s Plan B was to trade for Cassius Marsh, who is doing alright but was a role player in Seattle and still learning the scheme here. I’m not about to sound like one of those demagogues who tries to blame the Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins trades, like Super Bowl LI didn’t happen. But I wouldn’t mind having Ealy, Long and Jabaal Sheard still in the mix someplace.

Theory No. 5: It’s the coaching
I don’t know how Belichick and Matt Patricia just all of a sudden forgot how to scout, gameplan, scheme, communicate and adjust while I was crushing beers on a float in my white trash, above ground, eyesore pool. If it’s anything, it goes back to what Belichick suggested. It takes time and triple digit practices to fully get their system in place. Some defenses are easier than others. This one isn’t predicated on elite athletes doing elitely athletic things. It’s about interlocking parts all working together. It’s about everyone being where they’re supposed to be, exactly when they’re expected to be there. With more calls and adjustments than most. Which is how they can be better with an Elandon Roberts in the middle than a Collins. And needless to say they are not there yet. Not by a damned sight. I just can’t imagine Belichick and Patricia won’t figure this out soon. There is too much experience and talent for this to be another disaster like the 2011 D. It just better be resolved soon because they face the Falcons, who have the 2nd most Yards per Play in the NFL right now.

In the meantime, all we can do is hope. And buy shirts to celebrate the coming end to this crisis.
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@jerrythornton1