The switch has been flipped for the patriots’ defense and it has been for a while. To start the year, Bill Belichick’s unit struggled to get off the field at crucial moments and was an Achilles heel for the club as it came out to a 2-4 start. However, the lights have gone on for the past five weeks on this winning streak and New England now possess the best defense in the NFL. For the first time this season, the Patriots were able to shutout the Atlanta Falcons 25-0 on Thursday-evening.
This was a continuation of what had been a dominant piece by New England for the past month. Since Week 7, when this streak began, the Patriots have allowed 10 points per game (first in the NFL) and 258 total yards per game (second in the NFL). They also hit a total of 13 sales and 15 sacks over this stretch, both brands being the best in the league.
To further emphasize how dominant this club has been, here are a few more nuggets about this unit:
That’s as dominant as you can get and this last display against Atlanta was just the latest example. They were able to put pressure on Matt Ryan early on and create three sacks in the first half. Then, in the second half, a revenue tsunami swept across the Falcons as the Patriots forced four straight interceptions (including a pick six) to end the game.
One of the hallmarks of a good defense is beating inferior teams and not allowing them to live unnecessarily during a match. While the Falcons are not the same caliber team that the Patriots will see on this long run or in the playoffs when they eventually get there, performances like Thursday flash the DNA of the championship class that this unit is beginning to develop.
A good example of this was the Mac Jones interception in the third quarter. New England had a 13-0 lead and the Falcons had a chance to make it a one-score game. Instead of snowballing things like they sometimes did to start the year for the Patriots, the defense kept points off the board because they kept the Falcons from advancing on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 of the New England 16-yard line. It’s that kind of complementary football that will be vital if they want to go into the postseason.
Again, in a vacuum, closing the Falcons on Thursday shouldn’t be too much to raise your eyebrows. However, the way they did that, combined with how this unit has moved up in recent weeks, makes the Patriots one of the more feared teams in the NFL right now.
Competitions to follow on Sunday
Now that New England has Sunday off after playing on Thursday, this is a good chance to look deeper into the league in the coming weeks. The Patriots’ next opponent is the Tennessee Titans, who they will host in Week 12 at Gillette Stadium. The Titans will face the Houston Texans in Nashville. Admittedly, there may not be much to take out of this game as Tennessee faces a club in last place, but it will be interesting to see how it continues to look without star Derrick Henry slumping back nonetheless.
With that game certainly important, here are two other games that deserve a lot of attention:
- Foals at Bills. This matchup is worth watching on a number of different fronts. On top of having both teams scheduled for the Patriots in the coming weeks, if Indy upset Buffalo, New England would be the only one to hold the top spot in the AFC East coming out of Week 11. .
Of course, it’s also important to simply scout how these teams are performing. The Bills were able to bounce back into week 10 with a great win over the Jets after falling to the Jaguars the week before, but there were some questions about Buffalo deteriorating a bit after a strong start to the year . Now that the Bills face stronger competition in the Colts, maybe we’ll get a better idea of where Sean McDermott’s team is. Meanwhile, the Colts were a sloppy 5-5 team and are still very much in the game for a wildcard spot in the conference, meaning they are a direct competition for New England, especially if Buffalo maintains its lead in the division .
- Cowboys at Chiefs. This is more of a macro view of the AFC playoff photo. So far, no elite team has really revealed themselves at the conference, which of course makes the Patriots’ prospects that much more interesting. However, the Chiefs resembled their former elite selves last week as they dropped 41 points and Patrick Mahomes threw for 406 yards and five touchdowns in a win against Las Vegas. If they really turn a switch and are back in shape, that will be a major threat to New England.
Bill Belichick vs. freshman head coaches
Belichick’s impressive record against starting quarterbacks has been remarkable for many years. However, the 2021 season shows us that Belichick is also having tremendous success against first-year head coaches.
So far this season, Belichick is 5-0 as he takes on a starting head coach with the final win on Thursday against Atlanta’s Arthur Smith. He also twice defeated Robert Saleh (Jets), David Culley (Texans) and Brandon Staley (Chargers). On top of that undefeated record, Belichick’s Patriots have surpassed those new head coaches by 156-65.
The last freshman NFL head coach on the schedule for Belichick is Urban Meyer, when the Patriots host the Jaguars on Week 17.
One of the better stories during New England’s dominant run on the defensive side of the ball is sophomore safety Kyle Dugger. He is currently the Patriots’ lead tackler this season and returns for weeks with eye-opening plays. Last week, he took out against Cleveland Baker Mayfield that really opened the floodgates on the way to the blowout. This week he was tasked with beating Falcons star rookie tight end Kyle Pitts and came through early with a great PBU on a third and nine throw from Matt Ryan on the Atlanta opening drive.
Pitts was attacked three times when Dugger covered him on Thursday and made only one catch in 16 yards. Dugger also finished the game with seven tackles.
N’Keal Harry clearly didn’t live up to his first-round draft status when the team took him as No. 32 overall in 2019. It remains to be seen if he will ever ascend to become the player the club hoped he would be in drafting him, he has played a solid role for himself recently. Going into Week 11, Pro Football Focus had Harry as the No. 2 blocking wide receiver in the NFL, finishing second on the team in their Week 10 blocking win over Cleveland, trailing only Trent Brown. That’s an underrated contribution Harry is making to this team, especially for a club that spins as much as New England.
He also showed a little spark in the passing game during Thursday’s win over Atlanta, catching both his goals for 14 yards. It’s also notable that each of those grabs weren’t targets for Harry’s knockdown time as Jones faced him on the opening New England round and he touched the ball again during the team’s third possession of the evening. There was also a chance that Harry’s contributions as a recipient were even greater. In the third quarter interception of Jones on a pass intended for Jonnu Smith, the rookie appeared to have an open Harry on that same side of the field and closer to the sidelines as corner AJ Terrell pulled towards Smith.
Obviously we’re past the point of hoping/predicting Harry will have a breakout, but if the Patriots can unlock just a little bit more of him as a pass-catcher that would be a fascinating wrinkle for the last few weeks. could be the attack of the regular season.
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