Patriots Pass Defense's First Challenge For 2012: Be Better on 3rd Down

Ian Logue
September 09, 2012 at 11:31am ET

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One of the most frustrating parts about watching last season was New England's inability to get off the field on 3rd down, which lead to a lot of extended drives and points that probably should never have happened.

Chandler Jones should help them improve on third down in passing situations this season. (FILE:USPresswire)

The pass defense in general as we know wasn't exactly great last year. Overall they averaged 293.9 passing yards per game allowed, which left them 31st in the league in that category.  Taking a look at the numbers from last season out of the 14 different QB's they faced, eight finished with a completion percentage over 60% (Rex Grossman came in at 59% and nearly made it 9), while three of them finished over 70%.

The good news is they did a great job preventing teams from scoring points, finishing 15th in the league at 21.4 points per game, which all things considered is quite an achievement.

One area that was completely frustrating was the number of times they had teams in 3rd and long last year, only to allow them to convert and keep the drive going.   When facing 3rd and between 8 and 10 yards last season, opposing quarterbacks were 22-of-38 (58%) throwing the football in that situation, with 16 of those completions converting for a 1st down.

In 3rd and over 10, opposing quarterbacks completed 14-of-22 attempts (64%) but they weren't as successful converting as you would have thought. Only four times did they convert by throwing the football, with Ben Roethlisberger accounting for three of those completions, and Tim Tebow had the other.

Overall through 16 games on 3rd down opposing QB's were 89-for-143 (62%) with 10 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.  Over that span New England combined for just 14 sacks.

Down in the red zone, the story is certainly a bit different. Of the 14 quarterbacks who had attempts in scoring territory, just five had a completion percentage above 50%, while nine had a percentage of 50% or below, four of which were even under 40%.

Touchdown-wise of the 26 passing touchdowns given up last season, you didn't see too many big scoring plays as the Patriots definitely made them work for it. New England's opponents scored 22 of those in the red zone, forcing seven interceptions.

It's easy to look at the overall numbers in terms of the amount of points given up compared to the amount of yards allowed last year and say the "bend, don't break" mentality worked out just fine because they won 13 regular season games and nearly won a Super Bowl. They got away with it because their offense scored a lot of points, but on the other hand it's hard to argue that they could have certainly made things a little easier on themselves.

Bill Belichick was likely thinking the same thing when he addressed the defensive side of the ball over this past offseason, and it's hard not be excited to see how much they'll improve in 2012.

After all, it's a new year and the slate is wiped clean.  There are new pieces in place that should see an improvement on the defensive side of the ball, including rookie defensive end Chandler Jones who looked great during the preseason. We also saw much improved play from the defensive line and linebacker group that really did a great job of making some noise over the past few weeks.  Part of the reason why teams had so much success last season was New England's inconsistency in creating pressure, which allowed opposing quarterbacks additional time to survey the field and keep the chains moving. That appears to be something we'll see them be better at this time around.

Thankfully they made the necessary moves this offseason to potentially make themselves better.  We'll get to see for the first time on Sunday how it translates over the course of a full game and we'll be devoting a section in our stats database this season to track their progress in those situations, so be sure and keep an eye out for that.