Patriots defense shows encouraging signs

Oct 5, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; New England Patriots free safety Devin McCourty (32) and New England Patriots strong safety Patrick Chung (23) combine to tackle Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate (middle) during the second half of an football game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

A much-maligned unit through the first quarter of the season, the Patriots defense had an encouraging performance against the talented Bucs offense Thursday Night. In last week’s defeat at the hands of the Panthers, the defense looked like a shell of its former self. The uncharacteristic mistakes and communication issues represented an impossible obstacle to overcome in just four short days.

With that said, on short rest, the Patriots defense came out and led the team to their third win of the season. It was a crucial win for it being this early in the season.

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The Patriots gave up over 400 yards on offense, however, much of that came at the end of the game when the Patriots sat back with a lead. (Three drives for the Bucs at the end of the game; 84 yards, 78 yards, 54 yards). Through the first half, the Patriots held the Bucs to 138 yards on six drives. The result of which were a touchdown, four punts, and a missed field goal to close out the half.

In the end, the Patriots came up big on third down, something that has plagued them the last few games. The defense held the Bucs offense to 4-of-13 on third down conversion attempts. In particular, the play of defensive backs, Patrick Chung and Stephon Gilmore stuck out as much improved. The two combined to play 141-of-142 snaps on defense.

Gilmore did a good job of keeping Bucs receiver Mike Evans in check. Evans hauled in five passes on eight targets for just 49 yards as he was followed by Gilmore for much of the game. Chung and Devin McCourty both had their best game of the season and they attribute much of that to switching to man coverage.

“Sometimes it works a bit better for us,” McCourty told WEEI about the switch to man coverages. “It really worked with a short week and I think it allowed Gilmore and Butler to gain some comfort.”

“The key for us was just playing fast and being aggressive,” McCourty added. “It didn’t matter what defense we were in or what the call was, we just needed to be on the same page and be alert.”

After playing back-to-back games against mobile quarterbacks, Deshaun Watson and Cam Newton, the Patriots were able to abandon some of their zone coverages of previous weeks that fostered the miscommunication issues. Head Coach, Bill Belichick, lauded the leadership efforts of McCourty and linebacker, Dont’a Hightower in a post game conference call. With the team reeling after a bad loss to the Panthers, the direction of the team, in particular the defense, hung in the balance.

“I thought that High and McCourty really gave us some great leadership defensively in our preparation and having the right attitude to go down and play in the game with what we needed to do,” Belichick said via WEEI. “It was a short week and I thought they really stepped up from a leadership standpoint with that group. They did a great job for us. It’s always good to see and I just wanted to recognize it because sometimes you just see it play out on the field and obviously they are very, very important, but there are a lot of things with how it all comes together and I thought those two players defensively did a really good job for us this week.”

The benefit of getting through a short week with a victory is that the team now has 10 days to refocus and get healthier as the prepare for their first divisional matchup of the season. The surprising Jets will host the Patriots on October 15th and hopefully, it will mark the next step forward for the Patriots defense as they attempt to regain their championship form.

– Ian Glendon is the National Editor for cover32 and the Managing Editor for cover32/Patriots. He covers the NFL and New England Patriots. Like and follow on and Facebook.

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