Tom Brady won't mind if you give the Patriots defense some credit. He needs time to sync up with crop of new and young pass catchers, and the 'D' is giving it to him.
New England's offense is only scoring 19.7 points per game (a leap down from last season's league-leading 34.8), but the defense is allowing just 11.3. The unit has been particularly stingy against opponent pass attempts, surrendering an average of 188.3 yards to rank No. 6 in the NFL.
Head coach Bill Belichick can't deny having 10 returning starters helps. A lot.
"That’s definitely something that over the past, I’d say, two years now, going on three, that even though we’ve added some new people last year like [Dont’a] Hightower, Chandler Jones, Aqib [Talib] coming in in the middle of the year, there’s still a pretty good group of players from ’11 and ’12 and now ’13 that now have played a lot of snaps together."
Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly is the only fresh face in New England's base defense this season and he's fitting in fine. Kelly already has a sack and a half, and a fumble recovery in three games.
Playmaking comes from communication and awareness; communication and awareness improves through shared experience as a unit. As a whole, the Patriots have seven takeaways, including four interceptions and three fumbles.
"In each of the three weeks, but especially the first two, we saw a number of things that took some adjustment on the field," Belichick noted. "A lot of times you just have a second or two defensively -- when the offense comes out of the huddle and they get lined up and put a guy in motion, or they line up in a different split with the receivers, a bunch formation or put the back at a different location -- to make a quick decision as to how you’re going to play it and communicate it, and then those two or three people have to all be on the same page and understand it and anticipate it, hopefully, before it even happens."
The Patriots defense faces its toughest test yet this weekend in Atlanta. Julio Jones currently leads the NFL in receiving yards and has helped propel the Falcons to a seventh-ranked passing offense with 289.0 yards per game.
Belichick expects his team to be up to the task. The fact his guys have worked together on a consistent basis, not just for this season, but for the better part of two, can only help.
"That’s how you improve and I think that’s been a big benefit for us," the coach said. "It’s great for one guy to be out there, but the guy he’s working with, if that person doesn’t happen to be out there, then you lose a certain amount of anticipation and communication and that type of thing. You can really move ahead on when it’s the same guys are doing it continuously."