New England's Start Should Freak Out The Rest Of The NFL

New England's defense has become the unstoppable unit, overshadowing Tom Brady and the offense

Keith Allison, Flickr
  • Even though the Buffalo Bills gained nearly twice as many yards per rush as them, the New England Patriots pulled out a hard-fought 16-10 in Week 4 to improve to a perfect 4-0 on the season.

  • New England blocked a punt for a touchdown on special teams and forced four interceptions, including the game-winning Jamie Collins pick on third-and-nine in New England territory with fewer than 90 seconds to play. 

  • Bills quarterback Josh Allen (concussion) was knocked out of the game and the Patriots defense dominated yet again. 

  • Through four weeks, New England’s defense has allowed one touchdown. 

  • The Patriots also have a league-leading ten interceptions, five more than the Bills, New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers, who are all tied for second.

Week 4 Win Against Buffalo

The New England Patriots jumped out to a quick 13-0 lead in the first quarter, but the Buffalo Bills hung around thanks to their success running the football. The Patriots forced a Josh Allen interception as Devin McCourty snagged his league-leading fourth pick of the season on Buffalo’s first drive. The Patriots took advantage of the turnover and marched into the end zone to take an early 6-0 lead after a missed extra point.

The following Bills possession was even worse. The Bills went three-and-out on offense, but their punt on fourth-and-14 was blocked by J.C. Jackson. Patriots special teams ace Matthew Slater recovered the blocked punt in the end zone to give New England an early 13-0 lead. 

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The Patriots took advantage of Buffalo’s miscues, but they could not establish much offensively the whole game. Brady completed fewer than fifty percent of his passes with no touchdown passes and an interception in the red zone. New England ran for just 3.2 yards per carry, and their longest run of the day went for just 15 yards. On the other hand, Buffalo hung around because despite their own struggles passing the ball, their run game was consistent on Sunday. The Bills ran for 135 yards and averaged 6.1 yards per carry and gave themselves a few opportunities to score in the second half before their drives ended in turnovers.

The Patriots would not score another touchdown in the game, but that didn’t matter as the defense held Buffalo to just ten points. The Patriots allowed Allen to complete just 13-of-28 passes for 153 yards while throwing no touchdowns and three interceptions before he left the game. The Patriots used a variety of blitzes and spies to make Allen uncomfortable in the pocket until he was knocked out of the game after an ugly helmet-to-helmet hit by Jonathan Jones (which somehow did not draw an ejection) left him in concussion protocol. Matt Barkley came in to replace Allen and completed 9-of-16 passes for no touchdowns but also threw the game-sealing interception to Collins with 1:27 to play. 

Overall Stats + Historical Nature

The Patriots have looked unbeatable at times this season, but after four weeks, it is clear that the defense is carrying the offense. The Patriots’ passing attack has been respectable, but not elite thus far. New England ranks 10th with 271.0 passing yards per game, 14th with 7.4 yards per passing attempt and 23rd with a 62.4 completion percentage. However, the normally-strong New England running game has been pedestrian at best. The Patriots have had one of the least-explosive rushing attacks thus far as they are one of seven teams with zero carries for more than 15 yards on the season. New England ranks 28th with 3.2 yards per carry and 24th with 91.2 rushing yards per game. Despite the struggles to rush the ball consistently, the Patriots are tied for sixth with five rushing touchdowns and are fifth in scoring offense as they average 30.5 points per game. 

Part of the reason they have scored despite the statistical struggles on offense has been the stellar defense giving them golden opportunities. The Patriots have picked up right where they left off in the Super Bowl and continuously shut opposing offenses down early this season. New England boasts the best rushing defense in the NFL with just 61.2 rushing yards per game allowed. They rank fifth in the NFL with 3.5 yards per carry allowed. The Patriots defense is also tied for second with just one rushing touchdown allowed. Only the 49ers have not allowed a rushing touchdown (although the 49ers have only played three games while most teams have played four). 

As good as the Patriots have been against the run, it is even scarier for the rest of the NFL that they have been better against the pass. The Patriots defense is allowing the second-fewest passing yards per game (181.8 yards) in the NFL. New England is the only defense yet to allow a passing touchdown this season while every other defense has surrendered at least three passing scores. 

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The Patriots also have a league-leading ten interceptions, five more than the Bills, Giants and 49ers who are all tied for second through just four weeks! The Patriots have allowed the lowest opposing passer rating of 41.3 in the league. The next-lowest passer rating is more than 20 points higher at 64.3. A key contributor to lower opponent passer ratings has been pressure. The Patriots are tied with the Carolina Panthers with 18.0 sacks for the most of any team. New England’s 39 passes defended is the best in the NFL, and six more passes defended than the team with the second-most passes defended through four games. 

This is the first 4-0 start for the Patriots in four seasons. The defense has led the way as they have only allowed 27 points to date, by far the fewest points allowed through four weeks. The Patriots are on pace to allow the fewest points of any team that has ever played a 16-game schedule. If they continue at this ridiculous pace to allow 108 points (which is highly unlikely as an uptick in competition looms), they will shatter the previous record by the 2000 Ravens who only gave up 165 points over the regular season.

Individual Standouts

While the offense has yet to click thus far, the New England defense has had some outstanding individual performances through four weeks. There are only 34 players in the NFL with 2.5 sacks or more, and four of those 34 are Patriots: Collins (3.5), rookie defensive end Chase Winovich (3.0), defensive tackle Adam Butler and middle linebacker Kyle Van Noy (2.5). Outside linebacker Jamie Collins leads the team with 3.5 sacks, ninth-best in the NFL. Collins also ranks second in the NFL with three interceptions. The only player with more interceptions is his teammate and Patriots free safety Devin McCourty with four. Cornerback J.C. Jackson is also among the 15 NFL players with multiple interceptions through four weeks (and he also has a punt block which led to a touchdown recovery). 

Looking Ahead

If the Patriots defense continues to produce near its current level, they’re essentially a lock to win the AFC East and secure a first round bye in the playoffs. The Patriots have just two teams remaining on their schedule with a winning record through four weeks: at home against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 12 and at home against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 14’s AFC Championship rematch. This will give the Patriots plenty of time to gel offensively while still winning games as they have done early in the season. It is imperative that Julian Edelman stays healthy for this Patriots team which does not have its historical strength at tight end due to Rob Gronkowski’s retirement. Furthermore, losing first round pick N’Keal Harry for the season also means that the Patriots will continue to rely upon Josh Gordon and Phillip Dorsett II. 

The Patriots already have wins against every AFC East team through four weeks and are just one of three undefeated teams in the NFL. The Patriots haven’t quite clicked offensively, but their defense has shown it is elite, with the chance to become historically great. Look for Brady to find his rhythm with his receivers on offense over the next month while Bill Belichick continues to annihilate teams defensively. 

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