The Patriots defense has been dominant so far this season. They have allowed opponents just 10.64 points per game, and have forced 2.64 turnovers per game. Not only does this make them the #1 defense in almost every statistical category, but it has provided a much-needed boost to an often stagnant offense, via field position. On top of this, the special teams have been dominant as well. This was evident in the recent victory over the Cowboys, the #1 rated offense in the league, sneaking out with a 13-9 victory, largely due to winning the field position battle. Quite possibly the most important play of the game was a blocked punt, starting the Pats offense in the red zone, which led to the only touchdown of the game.
So, the question then becomes, how good is this defense historically? That can be a complicated question. The defense has a fatal flaw, an inability to stifle the run effectively. Yet with that being said, they are still on a historic pace, putting up numbers that at times seem outlandish.
They excel in the secondary, specifically in their cover one and cover zero sets. This means that they have little to no help over the top in pass coverage, which is risky, but extremely effective if it can be executed correctly. They have the talent to cover extremely well in man to man scenarios, specifically with All-Pro corner Stephon Gilmore. This leaves more defenders to rush the passer, leading to hurried throws and poor decisions, causing turnovers.
Another aspect that can never be overlooked when it comes to the Patriots, is coaching. Bill Belichick is seen by most experts as the greatest coach to ever do it. His teams never beat themselves, yet always seem to force the opponents to have several self-inflicted errors. You can count that on any given Thursday, Sunday, or Monday, the Patriots will be the best-coached team on the field. This has led to a culture of selflessness and comradery. Especially on the defensive side of the ball, all eleven players on the field appear to play as one group, all thinking and reacting similarly, whilst knowing what they have to do individually on every play, their job.
However, the Pats defense does have an Achilles heel at times, their run defense. Despite being the second-best defense in terms of rushing touchdowns allowed, and ninth in yards allowed, this is not what the eye sees when watching games. This is because the Pats give up the tenth highest yards per carry in the league. This has not come back to bite them except in their only loss to the Ravens, because they play with a lead most of the time. This causes the need for other teams to air the ball out, abandoning the run. This will be tested in the upcoming weeks though, with tough matchups against the Texans, Chiefs, and Bills in three of the next four weeks.
So where does this leave the defense in terms of all-time greatness? To be determined. It is fair to say that the secondary is one of the best in recent memory, but the unit as a whole needs to see slight improvement as the regular season ends and the postseason advances. If the defense manages to carry the struggling offense to a Superbowl victory, there will then be plenty of arguments to be made.
[Ed. note: Griffin Waryas is a senior and the quarterback for the Bellows Falls Football Terriers.]