New England Patriots' Defense Needs To Improve

By Dan Charest
Ben Tate
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots gave up 385 total yards to the ailing Houston Texans in Sunday’s 34-31 come-from-behind triumph. While the offense continues to impress as shown by today’s outburst (453 total yards), the defense has been struggling. What was once the reason why the Patriots stayed in games when they battled injuries to the offense early in the season has looked eerily similar to the putrid defenses of two and three years ago.

Over the last four games, the Patriots’ defense has averaged 394 yards against and allowed an average of 26.75 points per game. It was different against the Texans however. The three games prior pitted the defense against quarterbacks of high pedigree in Ben RoethlisbergerCam Newton and Peyton Manning. On Sunday, Houston had Case Keenum starting the sixth game of his NFL career and at times exposed significant holes in the New England defense.

Keenum’s fourth-quarter bomb down the left sideline to DeAndre Hopkins for 66 yards put another mark on Kyle Arrington’s ability in single coverage. Also, whenever Keenum was pressing to find a receiver open, he found Andre Johnson, who had eight catches on nine targets for 121 yards, exposing more problems to the New England secondary.

Fortunately for the Patriots, Keenum was inexperienced enough to lead to the Texans to their 10th-straight defeat. His first-half red zone interception took points off the board that would have dug the Patriots into a deeper hole, and was only 15-of-30 in passing the pigskin (7-of-21 when not passing to Johnson). If New England was facing either Roethlisberger, Newton, or Manning on Sunday, they would have lost.

That was just the passing game, however. After allowing Knowshon Moreno to gallop for 224 yards a week ago, one would think that improvements would be made to the rush defense during the week. In fact, the Texans have struggled so mightily at rushing the football in 2013 that they only had two rushing touchdowns on the season going into Sunday.

By the time the Texans took a 17-7 lead with 4:50 to go in the first half, Ben Tate had doubled the season tally. He added one more early in the fourth quarter, finishing the day with 102 yards. On each touchdown, Tate was virtually untouched, rushing through a gaping whole that would have scored even the slowest of NFL running backs, like England’s LeGarrette Blount.

The Patriots can get away with poor defensive efforts now, especially with the upcoming slate of undaunting opponents coming up (Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills) to round out the season. However, when the playoffs come, the defense must find a way to get their act together, especially when they will be going against aerial shows like the Denver Broncos or running attacks like the Kansas City Chiefs.

Dan Charest is a Patriots writer for Follow him on Twitter @DannyACharest or add him to your network on Google.

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