Deep answer for Patriots success

Deep answer for Patriots success
December 26, 2013, 12:00 pm
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Earlier this week, it was pointed out to Bill Belichick that the Patriots are doing better defending deep passes this season.

He agreed. And then added these two words: “Thank God.”

Watching the Patriots try to defend downfield in 2011 and 2012 was a little slice of hell for anyone that enjoys watching competent defense. Prior to the acquisition of Aqib Talib that allowed the Patriots to move Devin McCourty to safety, you could set your watch by the downfield breakdowns. Usually about three hours after kickoff.

There were nine pass plays of 20 or more yards in Week 3 last season in the loss at Baltimore. A week later against Buffalo there were seven of those. The Broncos had five in Week 5. The Seahawks had six in Week 6 including completions of 66, 50 and 46. They allowed 24 pass plays of 30 or more yards last season. So far this season, there have been 18 plays of 30 or more yards allowed.

Below the line.

“I think overall our decision-making and playing the ball in the secondary has been obviously a lot better than it was last year,” said Bill Belichick. “Not that that would take a lot, but it has been better.”

Continuity has played a big role. The Patriots entered the season with their two safeties – Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory – back in the spots they were in last season. Their corners – Talib and Alfonzo Dennard - were back. Kyle Arrington was back as the slot corner and the Patriots appear to have hit on their draft choices in the secondary this season with Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon.

Doug Kyed at NESN dug up the numbers on Pro Football Focus on passes over 20 yards over the past three seasons.
2013: 26-84, 30.9%, 9.25 YPA, 777 yards, 5 TDs, 6 INTs, 4 DPI penalties
2012: 35-88, 39.8%, 12.1 YPA, 1,067 yards, 12 TDs, 9 INTs, 4 DPI penalties
2011: 39-78, 50%, 15.7 YPA, 1,226 yards, 6 TDs, 3 INTs, 5 pass interference penalties

Alarming to see a team that was in the Super Bowl in 2011 and the AFC Championship in 2012 was so poor at such a critical aspect of defense. Amazing they made it where they did with those issues.

And the improvement there helps explain – in part - why the team has been able to deal with poor results elsewhere and remained a team that wins 70 percent of its games.

“We’ve certainly put a lot of time and work into it,” said Belichick. “It could definitely be better but it hasn’t been anywhere close to the issue it was last year. Obviously the players are doing a good job. But we’ve spent a lot of time on it and we’ve spent a lot of time on the deep part of the field because it’s so critical. Hopefully we can continue to play fairly well back there because it’s just so important.

“When it all happens in one play – there’s nothing else you can do. There’s no chance of stopping in the red area. It takes a lot of other people out of the game too. There’s nothing a nose guard can do about a go-pattern. There’s nothing the inside linebacker – those plays are so far beyond them that it kind of takes them out of the game. When you’re giving those up, that’s below the line. Our below the line comments from last week – we just can’t play like that. Those guys have worked hard. Our safeties have good range back there, our corners have played the ball pretty well. We haven’t had a lot of pass interference calls.”

Weathering the storm against Jumpball Joe Flacco, who has a proclivity for drawing DPI’s, was a key to Sunday’s win over the Ravens. One interesting thing about the looming AFC playoffs, the presumed No. 1 seed Denver has a quarterback who cannot challenge downfield the way he used to.