Opponent Preview: New England Patriots
Still as big an offensive juggernaut as ever, the New England Patriots’ defense may be their undoing in 2012.
The Patriots defense is 19th in scoring defense, 23rd in total yards per game and 29th in passing yards per game. It’s a big reason the Patriots are 4-3 despite having one of the most potent offenses in the league.
The driving force to the Patriots offense for a decade has been QB Tom Brady. At 35, Brady is still playing at a high level. Brady has thrown for 2,104 yards, 12 touchdowns and a 65.3 percent completion percentage. Brady has also rushed for two touchdowns while throwing only three interceptions.
Brady’s weapons are numerous and rival those of any team in the league. Wide receivers Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd possess two different skillsets: Welker is one of the premier slot receivers in the league, while Lloyd offers big-play ability. On the season, Lloyd has 407 yards receiving while Welker has 54 catches for 688 yards and two touchdowns.
But the hallmark of the Patriots offense is their dual tight ends. Tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez both pose major threats to a defense. Gronkowski has 434 receiving yards and leads the team in receiving touchdowns with five. Hernandez has had a disappointing season, missing three games and only compiling 143 yards, but he can still present a matchup issue for defensive backs and linebackers alike.
Running back Stevan Ridley is the first legitimate rushing threat the Patriots have had in years. Ridley’s rushed 135 times for 589 yards, a 4.4 yard average, and four touchdowns through their first seven games. The Patriots’ reputation is of a high-flying offense – they’re first in points per game and yards per game, and fifth in passing yards per game – but their rushing game, also fifth in the league in yards per game, is just as dangerous.
Defensively, the team has a lot of recent high draft picks but little to show for them. The Patriots have allowed a league-high 39 passing plays of 20-plus yards en route to allowing 16 touchdowns through the air, also a league-most.
They do have some standout players on the defensive side of the ball, though. Corner Devin McCourty had a fantastic rookie year in 2010 before taking a step backward in 2011, but he’s enjoying a better year thus far in 2012. Linebacker Jerod Mayo leads the NFL with 72 tackles through seven games.
But maybe the biggest story on defense for the Patriots has been first-year DE Chandler Jones. The younger brother of UFC fighter Jon “Bones” Jones, Chandler Jones leads all rookies with five sacks. Jones was also the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month for September.
The Patriots give up a ton of yards and points. But as long as Brady & Co. are running the show on offense, they’ll win more games than they lose.