New England Patriots: Defense will be severely tested

Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images /

Despite an 8-1 record, all is not necessarily well with the New England Patriots and their celebrated defensive unit these days.

It was Week 8 at Gillette Stadium and the reigning NFL champion New England Patriots came up with a 27-13 over the mistake-prone Cleveland Browns. Bill Belichick’s team had another opportunistic outing, forcing three turnovers in the victory. But something else came out of the club’s eighth win of the season and it wasn’t a positive.

When Browns’ running back Nick Chubb did hang onto the football, he wound up gashing Belichick’s squad for 131 yards on 20 carries. And his team finished the afternoon with 159 yards rushing on 22 plays. But was that loss by Cleveland the sign of a looming issue for the Pats?

One week later, the AFC North-leading Baltimore Ravens had their way with the New England defense as well. There were 41 attempts for 210 yards, with Mark Ingram getting more than half (115) of that latter total and second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson chiming in with 61 yards and a pair of running touchdowns.

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On Sunday, the Patriots head to Philadelphia and take on an Eagles’ team that has cranked up the ground game as of late.

While New England’s defense entered the week as the top-ranked unit in the league in terms of fewest yards allowed, it has slipped to 11th in the NFL against the run. Could Belichick’s team be in for another frustrating outing if the Birds lean heavily on the ground attack?

The Eagles recently brought back Jay Ajayi, who is expected to see playing time today (via NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport) with Jordan Howard nursing a shoulder injury. Miles Sanders and Boston Scott figure as well.

But the focus here is on the New England defense. After this tilt with Philadelphia, the club hosts Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys. One week later, it’s the Houston Texans and the NFL’s fourth-ranked ground attack with Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson and Deshaun Watson.

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So could the Patriots’ run defense prove to be the team’s undoing in the long run (no pun intended)?