3. Matt Patricia, the new Dean Pees? The New England Patriots’ defense is officially a problem. We’re all for clutch plays when they count most, and yards allowed can be a horribly misleading statistic. But there’s no sugarcoating what is happening with Patricia’s unit.
They’re disorganized. They’re not particularly fast. They have not shown that clutch gene we’ve come to know with this team.
At 2-2, the Patriots are in no way in trouble. But they can’t ask Tom Brady to bail them out every week. Brady was magnificent again Sunday, leading two TD drives in the final nine minutes. He has yet to throw a pick this season despite missing his favorite target, Julian Edelman.
That’s incredible — and yet the defense has been bad in pretty much every game this season. Aside from a few plays against the New Orleans Saints, the Patriots’ defense has looked like the worst unit in the NFL. And the statistics back it up.
This is a stunning development, even with a few injuries on that side of the ball. They didn’t force the Carolina Panthers to punt in the first 52-plus minutes of the game and let Cam Newton — who had been mostly bad this season — light it up after his early interception. That pick, by the way, was just a bad overthrow. It was a gift to the Patriots defense.
One of the stranger problems has been the communication issues in the Patriots secondary. There have been blown coverages in all four games, and many of them can be attributed to crossed signals.
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore, he of the $13 million salary this season, has been pretty awful since arriving. He was called for a crucial illegal use of hands with just over two minutes remaining that wiped out a sack. The Panthers would have been facing a 4th-and-18 from their own 16-yard line. Instead, the first down gave them new life in a game they would go on to win on that drive.
Safety Devin McCourty has not helped police this unit and hasn’t made big plays. It’s truly puzzling to see a Patricia- and Bill Belichick-coached unit look so unprepared. Malcolm Butler has rebounded since a tough start to the season, but there are too many plays allowed all over this secondary.
There’s precious little time to iron this stuff out, too. They head to Tampa Bay for a road game this coming Thursday to try to stop Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson. Otherwise, they could be facing a 2-3 record.