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Inside the numbers: Patriots chase history with woeful pass defense

10.15.12 at 1:05 am ET
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Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin registers one of three touchdown catches against the Patriots on Sunday. (AP)

The good news for the Patriots is that their pass defense a year ago fairly could be characterized as horrible — particularly at the start of the season — yet the team advanced to the Super Bowl. The bad news for the Patriots is that, to date, this year’s secondary appears to be worse, at least statistically.

A year ago, after all, there was some measure of bend-don’t-break operating in the Pats secondary at the start of the season. There were grounds for concern based on the staggering volume of yards that New England permitted last year, but ultimately, the Pats limited opponents to 10 passing touchdowns while picking off eight passes in the first six games to limit the damage, allowing the team to get off to a 5-1 start.

This year? There’s been a lot of breaking. The Patriots’ 24-23 loss to the Seahawks highlighted what seems like a considerable vulnerability, chiefly, an inability to defend adequately against downfield passes.

Consider: Russell Wilson entered Sunday having thrown five touchdowns while getting picked off six times. On Sunday, he threw for three touchdowns and wasn’t picked off. He also completed six passes of 20 or more yards — including the game-winning 46-yard bomb to Sidney Rice in the final two minutes — after not having completed more than three such passes in any of his first five games this year.

It would be one thing if getting shredded by the rookie was an aberration. But to date, the Patriots’ struggles to shut down the passing game appear to be an eye-opening trend that teams undoubtedly will try to continue to exploit going forward.

Here’s a look at the brutal start by the Patriots’ passing defense:

  • The Patriots have allowed 15 passing touchdowns, tied for most in the NFL. They are on pace to permit 40 touchdown passes, which would break the NFL record of 38 in a season set by the 1969 St. Louis Cardinals. If one includes AFL teams, the 2012 Pats are on pace to tie the record for most touchdowns allowed in a season, set by the 1963 Broncos.
  • The 2012 Patriots are on pace to demolish the franchise record for most passing touchdowns allowed in a season. The current record of 29 was set by the 1995 team that finished 6-10.
  • The 2012 Patriots have allowed more touchdown passes through six games than any other team in franchise history. The previous record of 13 was set by the 1961 and 1994 teams.
  • Prior to this season, 24 teams in the Super Bowl era had allowed 15 or more passing touchdowns in their first 6 games of the season. Two (1986 Jets, 2002 Titans) made the playoffs.
  • The Patriots are on pace to permit 275+ yards in 11 games — which would break the team record of 10, set in 2011
  • The Patriots have allowed 275+ yards passing in four straight games, tied for the longest streak in team history (previously done in 2011, 2005, 1996, 1962).
  • The defense has permitted an average of 288.8 passing yards per game, 28th in the NFL. It is the second highest passing yards per game average of a Patriots team through six games in franchise history. (Last year’s Patriots team allowed 322.2 passing yards per game in the first six contests of the season — the second highest yield through six games of any team in the Super Bowl era.)
  • Opponents are completing 64.4 percent of passes, 25th in the NFL
  • The Patriots have permitted two or more passing touchdowns in four games, on pace for 11 such contests, which would tie team record, previously set by 1995 and 1961 Patriots.
  • The Patriots have allowed 33 completions of 20+ yards, first in the NFL — and it’s not even close. Second highest total: 26.
  • Opponents have a 100.9 QB rating, 27th in the NFL. That mark would shatter the previous record for the worst ever permitted by the Patriots in a season (92.2, 1972).
  • The Patriots have allowed 79 passing 1st downs, 27th in the NFL.
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