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Four thoughts on fast start for Patriots defense

09.13.13 at 1:51 pm ET
By
Aqib Talib

Aqib Talib

For all the talk about how the New England offense has struggled over the first two games of the season — particularly in the second half of Thursday night’s game against the Jets — the defense has had a very good start to the 2013 season. While the Patriots faced two rookie quarterbacks to start the season, the results have still been impressive. Consider the numbers:

• The Patriots have allowed three offensive touchdowns through the first eight quarters of play, and an average of 15.5 points per game. With the understanding that they’ve already played their second game of the season while just about everyone else is waiting to complete Week 2, their average points per game allowed is seventh in the NFL. (By way of comparison, New England yielded an average of 20.7 points per game last year, tied for ninth in the league. In addition, the Patriots had three games last season when they allowed one touchdown or less — the season opener against the Titans on Sept. 9, a 34-13 blowout, as well as the 45-7 victory against the Rams on Oct. 28 and the 28-0 shutout of the Dolphins on Dec. 30.) In addition, New England has held the Jets and Bills to a 32.3 conversion rate (10-for-31) when it comes to third down. (Last year, that rate was 40 percent for the season.)

• The New England secondary has done an excellent job when it comes to forcing turnovers. The Patriots have forced six turnovers through the first two games — cornerback Aqib Talib has a pair of interceptions and a forced fumble, cornerback Kyle Arrington has a pair of forced fumbles, and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard has a pick of his own. As a result (and thanks to some good field position when it comes to punt returns), the Patriots offense has had astoundingly good field position through the first two games. Thursday against the Jets, New England had an average starting field position of its own 38-yard line, and in the season opener, the Patriots had an average starting field position of the 31.

• One of the reasons the Patriots defensive backs have done such a good job over the first two games could be because they’ve been together on the field for a healthy number of snaps over that stretch. The Patriots utilized a 4-2-5 look for 59 of their 64 defensive snaps in the opener against the Bills, and were in nickel for 33 of 71 defensive snaps against the Jets. According to Pro Football Focus, Talib and Devin McCourty were on the field wire to wire against the Jets, while McCourty, Talib, Arrington and safety Steve Gregory were all on the field for the duration of the opener against the Bills. At first glance, it appeared that the odd man out defensively when New England favors nickel is linebacker Brandon Spikes — he played 16 of a possible 64 defensive snaps in the opener, and 31 of a possible 74 defensive snaps against the Jets. Not sure what this means for his season going forward, but the play time certainly bears watching.

• One wrinkle New England has tossed into the mix over the first two games is the decision to occasionally kick Chandler Jones inside from defensive end to defensive tackle, and while the Patriots have been judicious in their use of Jones on the inside, it seems like good things happen just about every time he’s inside head up against a guard. In the opener against the Bills, he was there a half-dozen times and was able to effectively cave in the middle of Buffalo’s offensive front. And on Thursday against the Jets, Jones was inside for 18 (10 in the first half, eight in the second half) of a possible 64 defensive snaps and caused plenty of havoc. He got both of his sacks Thursday when coming up the gut,and was so effective that it appears likely the Patriots will continue to utilize him in a similar role going forward. (One of the reasons New England was so successful with that look was that rookie Michael Buchanan did a nice job holding up on the edge when Jones kicked inside. Per PFF, the Illinois product played 16 snaps at defensive end, and while he wasn’t totally overwhelming, did well when working in tandem with Jones.)

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