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Hannable: Can we fully trust the Patriots defense? Not quite yet…

Ryan Hannable
November 14, 2017 - 10:37 am

There’s no question the Patriots defense has gotten better over the course of the year and deserves credit for the dramatic improvement.

Over the first four weeks, the Patriots defense was ranked dead last in the NFL allowing an average of 32 points per game, but in the five games since, the defense is allowing only 13.4 points per game and hasn’t allowed more than 17 points once. New England is now ranked 14th in points allowed.

Over the last three games, the Patriots are allowing 12 points per game, which is fourth in the entire NFL during that span. Due in large part to the improved communication, the Patriots defense is playing the best it has all season.

“The only thing we're worried about each and every week is being a better football team than we were the week before and I think progressively over the season we have been able to see that especially defensively,” safety Duron Harmon said Monday. “We didn’t start out the way we wanted to but we've actually been making a lot of strides. It’s not about being the best in the NFL right now. It’s really about, like I said, just getting better, being better than you were the week before, trying to make constant improvement and being able to learn from the tape which allows you to be better next week. So we're going to watch the tape this week, watch it today, learn from it and then try and get better and improve on areas that we weren’t as good at or where we want to be at.”

Following the 41-16 win over the Broncos Sunday night in Denver, some have wondered if the defense can be trusted for the remainder of the season and into the postseason?

Certainly, there’s no denying what the Patriots have done the last five weeks, but we need to see a little bit more and on a more consistent basis.

Consider the quarterbacks the Patriots have faced the last five games: Jameis Winston, Josh McCown, Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers and Brock Osweiler. Only one of these quarterbacks is in the top 10 in passing yards per game (Ryan) and in these games there have still been a few causes for concern.

Even with the steady improvement, the Patriots still rank 32nd in the NFL in total yards allowed with 408.3 yards per game. Points allowed is the most important defensive stat, but giving up all these yards are an indication the opposition is stalling after sustaining drives. Some credit needs to go to the Patriots defense, but is this really sustainable, especially in the postseason against the best offenses?

In addition, the defense is still allowing a number of big plays. Over the years the New England defense has been known for limiting big plays, but that hasn’t been the case this year. In 2016, the defense allowed 56 plays of 20 yards or more, and in the first nine games this season the defense has already allowed 41. The unit is on pace for 73, an astronomically high number for the Patriots.

Even against Osweiler and the Denver offense, the Patriots allowed five plays of 20 or more yards.

In order to fully trust the defense, these things need to be cleaned up.

It’s also worth pointing out we were saying these same things last year in the second half of the year and it didn’t take until really the second half of the Super Bowl against the Falcons to completely believe in the defense. But, the eye test right now says the Patriots defense cannot 100 percent be trusted, as there are still a few flaws and inconsistencies.

We need to see one or two more strong performances, not only limiting the opposition to less than 20 points, but not allowing big plays along the way. In the playoffs, these are the kinds of things that can come back to hurt and potentially end a season.

With seven games remaining in the regular season there’s still a lot of football left and time to reshape the narrative surrounding the defense entering the playoffs because right now there’s still a hint of skepticism.

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