Bernie’s Week 4 Extra Points: The Stunning Collapse of Bill Belichick’s Defense

How bad is the New England defense? Bad. Really Bad. Shockingly bad. So rotten, in fact, that the Patriots have turned opposing quarterbacks into Tom Brady. No, really. They have.

Brady has a 116.6 passer rating for the Patriots through four games. The four quarterbacks encountered by New England this season — Alex Smith, Drew Brees, Deshaun Watson, Cam Newton — have combined for a 116.5 rating against the Patriots defense.

Brady has thrown for 10 touchdown passes; opponents have zapped the Patriots for 11 TD passes.

Brady has averaged 9.0 yards per attempt; opponents have averaged 9.4 YPA against the Bill Belichick (and Matt Patricia) defense.

With one-fourth of the 16-game season in the books, the Patriots have been torn apart for an average of 32 points per game. In his first 17 seasons as the Patriots coach, Belichick never had a defense give up more than 21.6 points per game in a season. And since the 1970 merger, only two defenses have been ravaged for 32 points or more per game in a full season: the 1981 Baltimore Colts (33.3) and the 2008 Detroit Lions (32.3).

The Patriots’ current yield of 468 yards per game would be the worst by a defense since the 1970 merger. That 116.6 passer rating would be the highest against a defense since the merger. The 9.49 YPA would be the highest against a defense since the merger. The average of 324 net passing yards would be the highest against a defense since the merger. The Patriots have been popped by opponents for 9.2 yards per touch from scrimmage. That would be … you guessed it … the highest against a defense since the merger.

This is THE GREAT BELICHICK we’re talking about here. Doesn’t he have a solution for everything? This is the coach who can take average players and coach them up and make them better. He builds defenses that are an example of the old phrase “The sum is greater than the parts.”

And the Patriots, after all, are returning nine starters from last year’s defense. The Super Bowl winning defense. But the Patriots don’t have much pass-rush sizzle. Offensive coordinators took note of the Patriots’ linebackers struggling in pass coverage against running backs. And sure enough, through four games, running backs have 24 receptions for 320 yards (13.3 per catch) and three touchdowns against New England — with five of the pass plays covering 25+ yards. And the Patriots secondary is making too many coverage mistakes and blowing assignments –especially newcomer Stephon Gilmore, whom the Patriots signed as a free agent last offseason.

Brady is putting up points as fast as he can; the Patriots are second in the NFL with an average of 32.3 points per game. And Brady’s offense has scored at least 27 points in each game this season.

In Belichick’s first 16 seasons, when the Patriots put up at least 27 points in a game, the team’s record was 154-10, including postseason. This year, the Pats are 2-2 in such games.

Don’t look now, but the Patriots and the lowly New York Jets are tied for second place in the AFC East at 2-2, one game behind the 3-1 Buffalo Bills.

Five Game Balls:

1. Let’s give the first two game balls to two first-year head coaches, the Two Seans. Of course we’re talking about Sean McDermott in Buffalo and Sean McVay in Los Angeles.

The Bills are 3-1 and on top of the AFC East. McDermott, who earned respect as a longtime defensive coordinator in the league, has turned the Bills into a tough, bold, confident team that’s knocked off two of the NFL’s best, Denver and Atlanta, in the last two week. Buffalo is allowing a league-best 13.5 points per game, and opponents have scored only four touchdowns from scrimmage.

And McVay’s Los Angeles Rams are 3-1, averaging a league-best 35.5 points per game, and emerging as a genuine threat to Seattle in the NFC West. Sunday’s Cowboys 35-30 win at Dallas turned the Rams into the early-season buzz team in the NFL.

To put that average of 35.5 points per game in perspective … over the previous 10 seasons (2007-2016), the Rams finished at the NFL muddy bottom with an average of 16.4 points per game and were last in the league in touchdowns from scrimmage, TD passes, yards per game, and average yards per pass attempt. Oh, and they also had the league’s worst winning percentage over the 10 seasons, going 46-113-1 (.291.)

In 160 games over those previous 10 seasons, the Rams scored 35+ points in a game only seven times. This year, in four games, they’ve rung up 35+ points three times already.

3. A game ball to Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, who returned to his 2015 MVP form, at least for one day, making plays all afternoon to lead the Panthers to their 33 to 30 upset at New England. Newton passed for 316 yards and three touchdowns, and rushed for 44 yards and a touchdown. He had his swag back. Welcome back, Cam.

4. A game ball — emphatically — to Houston Texans rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson, who was amazing in his team’s 57-14 destruction of the soft Tennessee Titans in a key AFC South showdown. Making his third NFL start, the 12th overall pick in the 2017 draft completed 25 of 34 passes for 283 yards, zipped four touchdown passes, and ran one in to make it five total touchdowns on the day. Watson joined Fran Tarkenton as the only rookie quarterback in NFL history to pass for 250 yards, throw three touchdowns and rush for another TD in a single game.

5. The final game ball goes to Philadelphia Eagles running back LeGarrette Blount, who muscled through the Carson Chargers’ defense for 136 yards, averaging 8.5 yards per run, in a 26-24 road win. The Eagles have found their running game, having piled up 407 yards on the ground over their last two games. The Eagles are looking strong at 3-1, leading the NFC East, and having early-season division wins over the Giants and Redskins. Last season Philly lost seven of eight games on the road. This year they’re 2-1 on the road, and played well in their lone defeat at Kansas City. The nastiness in the ground game can only help second-year quarterback Carson Wentz.

Quick Hits: 

Matt Ryan, I know you lost wide receivers Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu to injuries during the game, but come on, dude … two interceptions and a lost fumble and a 23-17 loss at home to the Bills. Absolutely, Buffalo has a kick-ass defense. But you lost a game to Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor … and the last time I looked, I didn’t see Taylor throwing passes to Andre Reed or James Lofton. The Falcons and their quarterback had to find a way to win that one. Ryan, by the way, has more turnovers (six) than TD passes (five) through four games.

Jay Cutler’s last two games for Miami: an average of 192 yards passing, one touchdown, two interceptions, only one completion of 25+ yards, 70.6 passer rating, and guided an offense that scored six total points in the losses to the NY Jets and New Orleans. Cutler’s career record as an NFL starter is 69-73 — including an 18-31 mark in his last 49 starts. Cutler’s career earnings: $122 million. This may explain things if you were wondering why Cutler looks like a mopey guy who doesn’t care all that much when he’s competing.

It’s a good thing the Cleveland Browns passed over Deshaun Watson, twice, in the first round of the 2017 draft. With the 12th overall pick, the Browns opted to trade out of the spot and flipped it to Houston for a basket of draft choices. The Texans chose Watson. Cleveland went for quarterback DeShone Kizer later in the draft, and so far this season he’s completed 51 percent of his passes for three TDs and eight interceptions. The Browns are 0-4 and averaging 15.8 points per game.

Dear NY Jets: why are you 2-2? You are supposed to be tanking, playing appallingly ugly football, taking your beatdowns and losing 14 or 15 games so you can fetch a franchise quarterback by securing the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft. After Bilal Powell rushed for 163 yards in Sunday’s win over Jacksonville, you’re level at .500. Stop it. You’re ruining the plan.

The Tennessee Titans: is there a more puzzling, confounding enigma in this league?  In their latest visit to Houston for an important game in the AFC South, the Titans were obliterated by a 57-14 score. That’s the best you can do? Since Marcus Mariota became Tennessee’s franchise quarterback in 2015, the Titans are 0-3 at Houston, have been outscored 104 to 40, have turned the ball over nine times, have gotten sacked 10 times, have not thrown a touchdown pass, have been intercepted six times, and have a passer rating of 43.6. By the way: Mike Mularkey’s head coaching record is 29-48.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

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