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Patriots Are Pushing the Limits of the “Bend, but Don’t Break” Defense

Lee Schechter
Lee Schechter on Twitter
October 24, 2016 at 5:00 am ET

Patriots Are Pushing the Limits of the “Bend, but Don’t Break” Defense(PHOTO: Charles LeClaire - USA TODAY Sports)

🕑 Read Time: 2 minutes

The Patriots are the epitome of a “bend, but don’t break” defense right now.

Fans are getting pretty upset about the Patriots defense. I’ve received and seen tweets calling the defense “terrible”, “awful”, “pathetic” and “a joke”. But are they really as big of a problem as we are making them out to be?

The current state of the defense is starting to feel a lot like the defenses from the late 2000s. Everyone remembers seeing this team give up a boatload of yardage, especially through the air and then they would find a way to get a turnover right at the breaking point. The Green Bay Packers employed the same defensive style a couple of years ago when they had an historically bad secondary that was giving up ridiculous amounts of yards through the air. But, the Packers forced turnovers and ended up being a pretty good team. But, how long can a “bend, don’t break” defense really last?

The Patriots have too much talent on the defensive side of the football to really be falling into this category. In fact, they are so far away from reaching their full potential that it is wrong to even give them the “bend, but don’t break” label. But against the Steelers, they fell victim to exactly that style of defense. The Patriots surrendered 281 yards through the air to a lackluster Landry Jones-led offense (Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell righted the ship). But, the big statistic of the day was the fact the Patriots held the Steelers to a 1-for-4 day in the red zone. So, maybe this team is taking a step in the right direction.

The Patriots have allowed teams to score touchdowns on 71.5 percent of all red zone trips so far in 2016. That puts the Patriots at 29th in the NFL in that stat category and makes them seem like they don’t just bend but they break. Bill Belichick cannot be happy about such performances. But, fitting even more into the “bend, but don’t break” label, the Patriots have been inconsistent on third down. The Patriots have allowed teams to convert third downs 44.2 percent of the time, putting them at 27th in the NFL. That combination of allowing red zone scores and third downs at alarming rate puts the Patriots in “bend and break” range.

Except, the most interesting statistic of all is that the Patriots still rank second in the NFL in points allowed per game with an average of 15.2. This puts the Patriots firmly in the “bend, but don’t break” category.

How can a team that is getting gashed in the red zone and on third down only allow an average of 15.2 points per game?

Well, the Patriots are 12th in the league in yards allowed per game and are in the top ten in the league in rushing yards allowed per game. And with eight takeaways on the season, the Patriots are getting the job done defensively.

Can the defense improve? Absolutely.

Should we be worried and call this a bad defense? That’s a hard no.

The Patriots aren’t allowing teams to score and they are winning football games. So, don’t call this defense “sad” or “pathetic” or “the worst”. They need to generate a pass rush and once they do, this team won’t be sitting back and bending.

They will be dominating on the defensive side of the ball.

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