The defense has been the Achilles heel of the New England Patriots over the past three seasons. Year after year, they’ve had an offense envied by every team in the league, but a defense that has continued to struggle. In 2012, the defense improved steadily all year and looked to be turning a corner, but took a step back Sunday night.
The Patriots’ main problem on defense over the past few years has been their passing defense. In the 2012 NFL Draft the team attempted to rectify that by selecting defensive end Chandler Jones and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard. While Jones and Dennard had strong impacts on the team, they still struggled early in the season which contributed to the team having a disappointing 3-3 start.
The Patriots made another big move latter in the season when they traded for Aqib Talib and moved Devin McCourty to safety. The move made an immediate impact as both players excelled in their new environments.
But as the season wore on the defense steadily began to improve. While the defense could not be counted upon to make stops at the end of games early in the year, they began to step up and make plays. It looked as though they were on their way to being a strength for the team instead of a weakness.
In Week 17 the Patriots’ defense shutout the Miami Dolphins which is something that Patriots fans are not used to seeing. But Sunday night the Patriots’ defense struggled mightily against a team not known for their offense, the Baltimore Ravens. It showed that the Patriots’ defense is not quite where many had hoped they were.
The Ravens are a team led by defense. While they have two Hall of Famers on defense in Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, the main job of their offense is not to lose games. Last season leading into the AFC championship game against the Patriots, Ravens players publicly insulted quarterback Joe Flacco saying they couldn’t win with him. Despite this they were able to accumulate 356 yards and 28 points on the Patriots’ defense Sunday night.
While the NFL is still an offensive league, a team can’t win if they struggle on defense. Eventually the offense is going to be stopped and if that’s in the postseason, the defense must respond. The Patriots’ defense looked to be taking steps toward being strong on both sides of the ball, but on Sunday night took a step back. That will be a primary concern this off-season.