(Note: This post will be one of those ones that’s a little long and has numbers in it. So for the readers who complain that blogs like this scare and anger them, here’s a bird riding on a turtle. Enjoy!)
This has been building since Week 1 of the season. What started out as legitimate concern about the state of the Patriots defense grew into mild worry. Then it became serious anxiety, expanded into major worry, then morphed into all-out, irrational panic. Until finally it exploded into a full-blown, four-alarm, Griswold family holiday emergency.
I’m serious. Listen to sports talk radio right now. It’s unlistenable. They can’t take a phone call about the NFL without it degenerating into a hysterical rant about how badly the Patriots defense SUCKS! Tony Mazz went into his car alarm voice some time around the Week 3 loss in Buffalo and hasn’t returned to normal human voice since. But it’s the callers too. And the same in the bars. Hell, I can’t even escape it at work. Monday morning after the win in Washington, I didn’t even have my coat off before one of the useless mouth-breathing nincompoops I work with got all up in my grill. “Their defense in the 2nd half was TERRIBLE. They SUCK! There’s no way they can win with that defense.” So I asked him how many points the Redskins scored in the half. “Huh? I don’t know… 21?” was his guess. I don’t blame the doofus for thinking that. He was just aping what he’d heard on the radio on the way into work. But the correct answer is 7. They gave up 7 in the 3rd quarter, 0 in the 4th. On the road against a subpar-not-awful team they gave up one touchdown in the final 30 minutes of the game. But the reaction was the same then as it has been all year. And like it is now. No way in hell they can win anything with this defense.
And it’s been unanimous all season. Through 11 wins. On the way to the best record in the AFC. The No. 1 seed in the playoffs. Their 9th AFC East title. Two wins over the Jets. Over San Diego and Dallas. And beating Jesus’ brother in the midst of a 7-1 hot streak. But all we keep hearing is they can’t win in the playoffs because (altogether now) they have the Worst Defense in Football.
Well I’m sick of saying “Why not?” Now instead I’m saying “Why the fuck not?” First of all, take this notion we’re still hearing that “Defense wins championships,” (or as Ray Lewis said on the opening screen of Madden a few years back “Deep ends bins blampy chips“) is an anachronism. Something left over from the leather helmet days. Like saying “you need to run the ball to win.” No you don’t. Not anymore. In the NFL 2011 you win Super Bowls by chucking it the way Rodgers, Brees, Roethlisberger and the Manning brothers did each of the last 5 years. That “defense” talk is as ’90s as “Home Improvement.”
Second, I reject the premise that the Pats have the Worst Defense in Football (“WDiF”) because it’s ludicrous. The official NFL rankings that have them last in the league go by yards surrendered. And by that metric the Pats ARE last. But that’s like ranking pitching staffs by the distance of the home runs they surrender instead of runs given up. Consider:
*The Patriots’ WDiF is 32nd in the league in Yards Allowed and is 16th in Points Allowed, with 297. Now call me nuts, but I think points are semi-important. By way of comparison:
-Jax is 5th in yards, has given up 293 points
-NYJ: 7th in yards, 315 points
-Phi: 10th in yards, 311 points
…And I contend they’ve given up more meaningless, garbage time points late in blowouts (ie 21 to Indy) than any team in the NFL, so that point total is actually better than it looks.
*They give up 414.4 Yards Per Game. Now as far as the argument that you can’t win that way, here are two other elite teams that just so happen to have won the last two Super Bowls:
-GB: 397.8 YPG, 31st in the league
-NO: 366.1 YPG, 25th
…And the next time I hear someone say either of those two have no shot in the playoffs will be the first
*The “Bend But Don’t Break” thing is hard to watch, I’ll grant you. But it works. It’s like watching Dice-K walk the ballpark every start but go 18-3. The Patriots scheme is designed to take away quick-strike deep passes and they’re good at it. They lead the NFL in plays over 20 yards, but they’re near the bottom of the league in plays of 40+. And they’re 1 of only 2 teams that haven’t given up a 60+ yarder. Those 22 yard 3rd & 18s are maddening, but it’s Belichick coaching his guys to play deep and keep plays in front of them. And that system has them atop the AFC, so who are we to question it?
*So they’re conceding the underneath stuff and making teams move the ball between the 20s in an effort to keep them off the scoreboard. And that too is working. They’ve kept opponents from scoring in the red zone 20% of the time. Only 5 teams have done better.
*Another common complaint is the Pats WDiF has no “playmakers.” But they’ve forced 28 Turnovers. Only 4 teams in football have more.
*And like Brady said this week, the number one determining factor between winning and losing is the turnover battle. On that front, the Pats are 3rd in the league with a +12. Only SF (11-3) and GB (13-1) have done better.
I’m not saying they’re great or even among the best in the league. I’m just saying they’re far from the WDiF. And I’m not saying the Patriots defense is the 2000 Ravens. I’m just saying they don’t have to be. With this Scorched Earth offense, they don’t have to dominate. In a conference playoffs full of Flaccos, Sanchezes, Yateses and banged up Roethlisbergers, they just need throw the occasional stop sticks on the road, play like they have in the red zone and keep forcing turnovers as they’ve done. In the last couple of weeks we’ve sat here and watched the Pats top competition in the AFC get crushed by San Diego, Philly and Carolina, lose to freaking Indy, and put up 3 points on San Francisco. Meanwhile the Patriots… and the WDiF… keep rolling. Do I guarantee they’ll win Championship 4? No. But I am saying that looking at the rest of the NFL and the way football is played now, you’d have to be out of your goddamned mind to think they can’t. @JerryThornton1