The Patriots defeated the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, 37-31, continuing a streak of home wins against the Bills that dates back to 2000. As I said after the game, 6-3 sounds a hell of a lot better than 5-4 – no doubt there was a feeling of relief when the Patriots luckily eeked this one out. But despite the victory I couldn’t help but be frustrated after watching this game. The Patriots seemed to do everything in their power to give the opponent a chance to score and beat them by a single point at the end of the game; yet again. Which begs me to ask the question – are the Patriots really that good?
Hear me out. Last year the Patriots went 13-3, made the Super Bowl, and easily could have won it. They managed to do all of that with one of the worst defenses in terms of yards allowed in NFL history. This year the running game has improved significantly, the defense was bolstered via the draft, and the Patriots primary areas of concern were seemingly addressed. Yet they’ve already lost as much as they did last year, and they’re finding themselves almost losing to the Bills at home despite putting up 37 points – that ladies and gentlemen, is a problem.
So who is the culprit? I’ll tell you who is not to blame – the offense. Tom Brady is once again quietly putting together a remarkable season that few will truly appreciate. Brady’s prodding along with a 100+ QB rating, 18 touchdowns, and only 3 interceptions. Better yet, New England’s running game has finally blossomed into the multi-pronged attacked Bill Belichick has wanted for so long.
Which brings us, naturally, to the defense. The Patriots pass defense continues to be horrendous – they are currently 29th in the NFL, and they turn the Ryan Fitzpatrick’s of the league into the second-coming of Peyton Manning. The acquisition of Aqib Talib could certainly help – it’s going to have to if the Patriots are to be considered a true contender. If we can’t stop the Bills’ passing attack, what’s going to happen when we play the Peyton Manning led Broncos? Any team with a top-tier passing attack will literally rip the Patriots secondary to shreds – at the moment.
The bigger issue to me may actually be the Patriots’ defensive line. While the Pats are in the top 10 in the league in run defense, the Bills showed that against a formidable running attack they aren’t that good. CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson tore up the Patriots for 150 yards and 2 touchdowns - simply unacceptable when you can’t stop the pass, either. But I think the real issue may be the defensive line’s ability to pressure the passer. Without a formidable blitzing scheme any good QB will continue to pick them apart, and the lack of pressure on the QB makes turnovers even more difficult to come by for an already struggling secondary.
Make no mistake about it – Devin McCourty’s interception that sealed this victory for the Patriots was not an example of “playmaking” – it was Ryan Fitzpatrick pressing and making a goofy mistake that cost his team the game. For a team that has lost two Super Bowls as of late to a team with probably the best pass rush in the NFL, the Patriots need to open their eyes. Without making the opposing quarterback uncomfortable, their will be no chance of the Patriots capturing another Lombardi trophy.