Young defense will hold Patriots back

I credit Bill Belichick for rebuilding the Patriots defense on the fly, but the unit just isn’t good enough right now. I’ve said it before, but the Patriots just don’t play a championship-caliber defense.

The Patriots play very soft zones and don’t disguise them well enough to throw teams off. They also don’t have decent edge rushers. If you look at them statistically, they have the worst overall pass defense, they’re the worst on third down and they’ve also given up more first downs than any other team.

Thus, the rest of the league just doesn’t fear the Patriots defensively.

The only reason they’re 9-2 is because Tom Brady has been that good. He’s managed games, he doesn’t turn the ball over and he doesn’t put the defense on a short field. Brady has been excellent with ball-control, short passing game and has led the Patriots to a lot of points.

But I don’t believe the Patriots defense is good enough to beat the Jets, win the AFC East or go deep into the playoffs.

Belichick has rebuilt the defense on the go by working in six first-year players this season — guys who are really still learning how to play the game. But the biggest problem with the Patriots’ 3-4 defense is the lack of strong outside pass rushers. You need just one consistent edge rusher, but they haven’t had that player since Mike Vrabel left. To get to the quarterback out of that defense, you must have a rusher like the Steelers, Cowboys and Dolphins have. The Patriots don’t have that player.

Belichick knows this and it’s why he’s trying to change things up. But he’s ultimately playing much of the same defense he did with the Giants in 1986. In this league, you have to get free hitters to the quarterback, overload pressure and break down protections better than the Patriots do. Belichick is still playing defense as if he has Lawrence Taylor and Carl Banks.

I think the deficiencies on defense are part of the reason why the Patriots unloaded Randy Moss. Belichick knows they have to beat the Jets, and his offense couldn’t hold the ball long enough for Moss to get open. Taking advantage of their two rookie tight ends gives the Patriots flexibility with personnel packages and match-up advantages in the passing game. And by utilizing shorter, quicker players like Danny Woodhead, Wes Welker and Deion Branch, it allows the league’s most accurate quarterback to play pitch and catch to keep the Patriots defense off the field.

Belichick had a defense that went to four Super Bowls, and he realized that he couldn’t keep winning by bringing back old players. He drafted the youngsters, teaching them the game and allows them to gain experience while he puts the ball in the hands of his franchise quarterback to carry the team.

Eventually, though, the organization will need to hit on a pass rusher in the draft. It’s the one ingredient the Patriots are missing.

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