FOXBORO, MA — In true Bill Belichick style the Patriots have played the type of defense that has helped get them to where they are right now.
The Patriots currently find themselves ranked 7th in the league in points allowed per-game, despite being ranked 24th in yards allowed per contest. They have given up the most first downs in the AFC, yet are ranked as one of the best in the league in redzone defense.
It’s another example of the “bend don’t break” style of defense they have played this season, where when they’ve needed to make a play or force a fumble they’ve been able to do it. They’ve stopped the run inside the 20-yard line and with a shorter field have caused opposing offenses to sputter.
According to Belichick one factor has simply been that it’s easier for a defense to shut down the pass with a shorter field once opposing teams get inside the red zone.
“I would say better execution and it is a little bit easier to play pass defense when you have less field to defend,” said Belichick. “The pass rush doesn’t become as much of an issue because the ball has to come out pretty quick anyway [and] they can’t stretch the field. I would say that those would be the main reason.”
Meanwhile the Carolina Panthers are currently ranked 24th in the league in points allowed per game, allowing an average of 22.0 to opposing offenses. That works out well for New England who is averaging 22.0 points-per game (10th in the NFL) in a game that despite what many people may think has a lot of meaning for them. A victory clinches them their first AFC title since 1997 as well as a chance at a possible first round bye. In all the games they could have had a let down this season, it simply hasn’t happened.
With their defense preparing for a team that is dismal in nearly every offensive category, they’ll need to pretend they’re playing St. Louis when they take the field on Sunday. Carolina is last in the league in average time of possession, 30th in 3rd down efficiency, last in 1st downs per game, last in total yards from scrimmage, and last in average yards per play.
It’s surprising that a head coach like George Seifert who won two Super Bowl rings as head coach of the 49ers to be coaching a team that is playing so poorly. He’s in danger of setting an NFL record for consecutive losses after dropping the last 14 games after opening the season 1-0, and may also be in jeopardy of losing his job after the season. The Panthers have had a host of injuries including most recently to tight-end Wesley Walls who was just selected Wednesday to the Pro Bowl.
Belichick says that Seifert is still a good coach, and that you have to look at the total picture before evaluating his record this season.
“Obviously George is a very experienced and a good coach I don’t think there is any question about that,” said Belichick. “I don’t think you can just put up the records, you have to look at the total situation.”
“They have a lot of salary cap problems. [They] had to rebuild different parts of the team, but they have been very competitive all year. They have been in a lot of close games that have come down to the last play, the last quarter, I don’t know whatever it is nine, ten games decided by a eight points or less or whatever the numbers are they all look pretty close. So if a few of those plays or games go the other way you are looking at a whole different story.”
Carolina played St. Louis tight several weeks ago and almost caught the Rams napping. Now it’s up to Bill Belichick to make sure that doesn’t happen to his team this week. Quarterback Chris Weinke finished that game 24-of-51 for 312 yards and a touchdown, and Belichick will need to make sure that the 29-year old rookie isn’t able to put that many yards up this week.
They spent a lot of time during the bye week trying to improve on both their pass offense and defense. Hopefully it pays dividends for them this week.