Patriots Defense suffering from revolving door player policy

FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 01: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots reacts during the game against the Carolina Panthers at Gillette Stadium on October 1, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 01: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots reacts during the game against the Carolina Panthers at Gillette Stadium on October 1, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images) /

Bill Belichick’s willingness to oust valuable assets is catching up with him as the Patriots defense stoops to new lows in 2017.

The struggles of the New England Patriots defense in 2017 are well publicized. They rank dead last in total defense and are the only team allowing over 400 yards of offense per game.

This unit, which has been so reliable for so long, is on pace to be the worst in NFL history. The notion that a Bill Belichick led team is in the running for such a title is completely bizarre.

But, it is reality.  The constant defensive personnel changes from year to year have finally caught up with them.

Though nobody could ever have predicted their struggles to this degree, and we should have foreseen a drop off in play coming into the season. Two home losses already this year highlight the impact of the floundering defense.

It could easily have been three home losses if not for Tom Brady’s intervention in the dying seconds against Houston.

New England hasn’t lost twice at Gillette Stadium in the regular season since 2012. You have to go back to 2011 to find the last time they had a bottom five defense.

The stats don’t read well, and the tape is arguably worse. Let’s look at the toils of this defense and why they are leaking points and yards at such an alarming rate.

Patriots defense by the numbers

The 2012 Saints now hold the unwanted title of the worst defense in NFL history. That rather infamous defense allowed a whopping 7046 total yards at a shade over 440 yards per game.

They had no defensive pro bowlers and fell to a 7-9 season a year after going 13-3.

At this rate, the Patriots project to exceed those numbers with ease. They are on pace to give up 7308 yards at 456.8 yards per game.

This is quite frankly astonishing considering the men in charge of this unit. Matt Patricia and Bill Belichick have churned out effective defenses year by year despite frequent personnel changes.

Patriots defense
FOXBORO, MA – DECEMBER 04: New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia looks on during the game against the Los Angeles Rams at Gillette Stadium on December 4, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

Since Patricia formally took over as defensive coordinator the Patriots haven’t had a single bottom five defense. In fact, the past two years they have ranked inside the top ten in the league in this category.

New England conceded 250 points in the 2016 regular season. Through four games in 2017 they have already given up 128. This includes 105 points at home.

In 2016 they only conceded 124 points in Foxborough.

They have the NFL’s worst passing defense which is allowing 324 pass yards per game.

In comparison, they conceded 237.9 yards last season. The secondary, which is Belichick’s speciality, is weak and has been picked apart by all four opposing quarterbacks thus far.

The 2017 Patriots defense is allowing a league worst 7.2 yards per play as well as a bottom five team for penalty yards. Giving away chunk yardage and conceding penalties on a regular basis is a sign of bad communication and inexperienced players that are out of their depth.

The Chiefs in particular pounded all three levels of the Patriots defense, compiling 555 yards of offense on the night in one of the worst losses of the Brady/Belichick era.

The defeat at the hands of a struggling Panthers offense on Sunday may have topped that though.  On multiple occasions Carolina receivers got wide open, such as Fozzy Whittaker’s 28 yard touchdown reception.

Hint; he was left wide open on a short screen whilst multiple defenders tracked Christian McCaffrey on the opposite side of the field.

Statically they are awful. Personnel wise, they could be even worse.

Patriots personnel problems

Every year it seems as though the Patriots defense has a whole new cast of players. Nobody is safe from being cut or traded. For the most part, the ability of the organization to replace pieces has been unrivalled.

But, recently things have started to go awry.

It might be time to call out Bill Belichick for his sometimes bizarre willingness to trade, cut and part ways with talented players. The Patriots have been involved in some surprising trades in recent years that have often seen them giving up important pieces.

In 2016 they traded two of their best front seven players in Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins.

Patriots defense
BALTIMORE, MD – NOVEMBER 10: Wide receiver Steve Smith /

Collins was one of the fastest rising young defensive stars at the time of his trading. The All-Pro linebacker’s versatility and speed are traits missing from the Patriots defense.

His ability to line up across all four linebacking positions, get to the quarterback in blitz packages as well as from the edge and his natural play-making ability have not been replaced in the lineup.

Collins is strong against the run and capable in coverage and his versatile nature is exactly what Belichick loves in defensive players. His trading was reportedly as a result of a lack of effort and freelancing plays at times, combined with an unwillingness from the organisation to reward his play with a big contract.

At the time Belichick said:

"“In the end, we did what we thought was best for the football team. There are a lot of things to take into consideration. I’m sure we could bring up a lot of points to talk about, but in the end, that’s really the bottom line,”"

Collins’ attitude may not have been the best but receiving a compensatory draft pick for a player of his ability is just bad business. The same can be said for what they got in return for Chandler Jones.

Patriots defense
GLENDALE, AZ – OCTOBER 23: Outside linebacker Chandler Jones /

Pro Bowl edge rusher Jones has been highly productive for the Cardinals with 15 sacks since he arrived from New England.

In this time, no player on the Patriots defense has more than 10 sacks and 3 of the top 4 leaders in sacks from 2016 have also left the team.

Jonathan Cooper came over from Arizona as part of the deal for the pass rusher and did not play single a game in New England.

They added Kony Ealy in free agency but strangely let him go before the season even started. The culture and scheme reportedly didn’t fit and this is a recurring issue with some players and the Patriots.

Players such as Collins and Jones had their battles with Belichick due to a lack of commitment in his eyes. The intensity of the organization and the high standards they hold players to just isn’t a fit for everyone.

This is playing a role in the mini exodus of defensive talent.

These are the two highest profile instances of trading away top players. There have also been plenty of players who haven’t been resigned that were productive pieces in Belichick’s scheme.

More from With the First Pick

Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long are on new teams this season despite contributing nine sacks between them in 2016. The absence of this pair, and the retired Rob Ninkovich, has impacted enormously upon the pass rush.

Trey Flowers, Malcolm Brown and Dont’a Hightower are the only players on the roster who had multiple sacks last season. Ninkovich is being sorely missed in this respect.

His ability to line up as a DE or an outside backer depending on the package, was invaluable.

He consistently produced key plays in big moments over several years for this team. His experience is also a big loss.

The lack of veteran leadership, particularly with Hightower missing time, has been a big issue.

Communication problems have plagued the defense, and secondary in particular. This comes part and parcel with chopping and changing personnel so often.

The secondary is struggling mightily because of this and are big reason New England ranks dead last in passing defense. But, the lack of a pass rush is a contributing factor too.

Without sustained pressure, opposing quarterbacks have had time in the pocket to let plays develop or make yards with their legs. Deshaun Watson exposed the lack of speed in the linebacking corps in this way.

Minus Collins and Ninkovich, the linebacker group is thin and probably the least talented that Belichick has had in his time in New England.

Patriots defense
FOXBORO, MA – OCTOBER 01: Tom Brady /

There are major holes at almost every position. Rookies and inexperienced journeymen are filling roles that they are simply not up to, particularly considering the complexities of the system.

The willingness to let players go simply because they don’t fit the Patriot way perfectly is impacting on defensive production. The only reason this team isn’t 4-0 is because of number 12.

The offense leads the league in total offense yet again and Brady is winning games by himself at this stage. They had no right to win at home against Houston.

The ageless Brady pulled a W out of the hat in the dying seconds as he has done so many times.

Personnel is a major problem right now in Foxborough. Even Belichick’s unrivalled footballing brain might not be able to turn the New England Patriots defense into anything like a Super Bowl worthy unit.

The problems are deep-set and far-reaching. The talent is simply not there like it has been in the past and if one thing is known, it’s that talent runs this league.

Next: NFL Power Rankings – Week 5: Several teams making a jump

Belichick and co have a tough job on their hands to resurrect this season,. But who would actually doubt their ability to do just that. Especially when the offense is ticking with Brady playing peerless football. Still, the personnel issues could prove fatal to their hopes of reaching yet another Super Bowl.