Friday, December 14, 2007

Patriots Unsung Defense

With all the attention on the Patriots offense this year, people have overlooked how good their second-half defense has been. They've been in some close games, and pulled out the victory every time, and there's no way the offense could have done that alone. So here is the story of the second-most critical component of the team’s success this year -- the second-half defense.

Of the 13 games this year, 8 of them have been within 10 points at the half, and the defense has performed significantly better in the second half of 7 of those 8 games, holding the other team to few points and helping secure the win. (Note: I’m not including the 5 games where the Patriots held large leads at the half because such analysis would be pointless and misleading. Teams that fall behind by large margins often change their offensive play-calling and usually abandon the run, making them much easier to defend. So it wouldn’t tell us much to include those numbers.)

It is clearer all the time that Dean Pees was a great choice to replace Eric Mangini at defensive coordinator. Pees and his staff are making adjustments more quickly and more effectively each week, and they will likely get better as time goes on.

How much have those adjustments helped this year? Well, here are some of the numbers from the eight close games from this year:

1. They allowed 46% fewer points in the second half (51) than the first half (95). Points scored is clearly the most important thing in the game, and the defense allowed at least a touchdown less in the second half five times (including two second-half shutouts).

2. They allowed 19% fewer passing yards per game in the second half (88.6 vs. 109.6), and of the three teams that threw for more yards in the second half, the Jets barely did so (87 vs. 80).

3. They held the opposing quarterback to a 15% lower completion rate in the second half (56.7 vs. 66.6). Their halftime adjustments clearly paid dividends here – dropping the opposition from an efficient completion percentage to one that underperforms the league average.

4. They generated 60% more turnovers in the second half (8 vs. 5). The number of turnovers doesn’t sound impressive, but note that the defense virtually sealed wins with late turnovers against the Colts and Eagles, and got back into the game against the Ravens via a second-half turnover.

So while the offense rightly gets most of the attention (they are on pace for several NFL records), and we stand in awe of what the quarterback does on a weekly basis, please take some time to appreciate what the defense has meant to their success. Without their second-half improvements and timely turnovers, the Patriots would not stand at 13-0 and would be in a real battle for a favorable playoff position.

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 13-0!

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