The Patriots defense has been destroyed by analysts for the better part of three years now for a myriad of specific reasons, and lately the big problem everyone wants to talk about is the back end of the defense.
There’s no question the Pats have struggled against the deep ball, however another area that they’ve had problems in is their defense in third-and-long situations. For our purposes here we’re defining “long” as 6 or more yards.
Here’s a look at some Patriots teams in the past, and how they’ve fared on 3rd down with 6 or more yards to go. These numbers signify the percent of time the Pats defense failed and gave up a first down:
- 2001 - 30.2%
- 2003 - 29.1%
- 2004 - 28.4%
- 2007 - 24.8%
- 2008 - 35.7%
- 2009 - 28.2%
- 2010 - 34.5%
- 2011 - 30.9%
- 2012 (thru 7 games) - 41.7%
As you can see so far in 2012 getting off the field on third and long has been a problem. And even when you look at the Pats in situations where it’s 3rd-and-7-plus yards they’re still at a 41.0%.
Let’s compare to a few other teams around the NFL this year for some more context:
- Ravens - 23.6%
- Saints - 27.9% (32nd in yards/game given up)
- Bills - 32.7% (32nd in yards allowed)
- Texans - 15.4% (what a match-up vs Pats O this will be)
- Jets - 41.1% (well that makes me feel slightly better)
- Dolphins - 22.0% (what?)
Ironically the Pats have had fewer 3rd-and-longs than any of the other teams mentioned above, which is clearly indicative of how many long balls they’re giving up. But even when they do get teams in a favorable 3rd down situation, where they can force a punt and get the ball back to the offense, they’re not delivering like they have in the past.
Of course for me this comes back to getting more pass rushers on the field in these situations, however at this time the Pats just don’t have the personnel to be able to replace Vince Wilfork with a more up-the-field type.
It seems that Wilfork has been left out there for protection against the run, but it’s not the run that’s been the problem. Just once has a third-and-long been converted via run this year and that was a scramble by Jake Locker. Otherwise no team has even attempted a run when it’s less than 10-yards to go.
Perhaps Myron Pryor is the answer, but who knows if/when he’ll be back and at what capacity. This should surely be an area the Pats need to address during the bye week.