Since 2010, the Patriots have finished no better than 25th (of 32 teams) in total defense, measured by total yards allowed. Part of that is due to Bill Belichick’s “bend but don’t break” defensive mentality. The defense has certainly bent, but hasn’t broken quite as often. They have ranked 8th, 15th, 9th, and 10th in scoring defense the last four years.
Not exactly the statistics you would expect from an elite defense. Certainly a far cry from 2003 and 2004, when they were ranked 1st and 2nd in scoring defense, respectively.
However, the makings of a great defense are in place. Just ask Devin McCourty.
On Tuesday, McCourty made an appearance at Boston Children’s Hospital and answered a few questions for reporters, including one about whether the Patriots defense could reach an elite level like that of this year’s Seattle Seahawks.
“I think we can,” McCourty responded. “Just last year, we went through a lot defensively and as a team, and to see guys continue to work hard and try to get better and go out there to win as many games as we did – to fall a little short, but it gives you the confidence going forward we know we have the right guys to build something.”
McCourty is of course referring to the injuries that devastated the Patriots’ defense over the course of the 2013 campaign. Vince Wilfork went down with a torn Achilles in Week 4. Jerod Mayo went down with a torn pectoral in Week 6. Devastating injuries for a defense that looked so strong early in the season.
Complimentary pieces Tommy Kelly and Adrian Wilson also suffered season-enders, which certainly didn’t help. Prior to Wilfork’s injury, the Pats’ D allowed 34 points in three games. Granted, they weren’t playing against elite offenses (Bills, Jets, Bucs), but 11.3 PPG should not be ignored. Barring an Aaron Hernandez-esque offseason disaster, a healthy New England defense will be starting their 2014 campaign in a similar state.
Maybe even a little better. The beauty of this defense is their youth. And while another year will make an old defense slower, that same year makes a young defense better. And the average age of the projected starters in 2014 is a mere 27. The defensive line could be a concern with Wilfork, Kelly, and Ninkovich all in their 30s (and two of them returning from injury), but the linebackers and defensive backs are on the up and up.
Jamie Collins looks primed for a huge sophomore year. Dont’a Hightower looks like he’s ready to make the jump to be an every down linebacker. The cornerback position will be in great shape with Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, and Logan Ryan all showing signs of improvement. While the injuries to the defense may have been devastating in 2013, they should help the 2014 defense; a lot of young players were given a lot of responsibility and it has only made them better.