Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots proved to be flawed on both sides of the football, not just on offense.
Once upon a time in Foxborough, the then-defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots were off to a 8-0 start and fielded a defense that had given it first eight opponents that season fits. Bill Belichick’s club had allowed only 61 points and a mere four offensive touchdowns. The Pats has forced a mind-boggling 25 turnovers during their undefeated start.
But all would prove to be not so well for this unit. In the team’s 27-13 win over Cleveland in Week 8, Browns’ running back Nick Chubb and company gashed New England for 159 yards on the ground.
Seven days later on a Sunday night at Baltimore, the Ravens handed the Patriots their first loss of the season and amassed 210 yards rushing in the process. Belichick’s team allowed 16 offensive touchdowns in a 4-4 finish. And in the playoffs at home against red-hot Derrick Henry and the Titans, the Pats saw Tennessee run for 201 yards.
New England’s defensive issues continued this past season as the combination of losses due to trades, free agency and COVID-19 opt outs saw the team slip to 15th in the league in terms of fewest total yards allowed while only six clubs allowed more yards on the ground. The Patriots went from giving up a league-low 225 points to allowing 353 points. A club that finished with 36 takeaways in 2019 forced only 22 turnovers this past season.
While plenty has been made about the money the franchise has spent this offseason in free agency, much of the discussion has focused on the offensive additions such as tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, wide receivers Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor and tackle Trent Brown — the latter reacquired via trade from the Raiders — Belichick did not ignore the defense.
The newcomers include defensive linemen Davon Godchaux (Dolphins), Henry Anderson (Jets) and Montravius Adams (Packers). The team welcomes back linebacker Kyle Van Noy after he spent 2020 in Miami. Edge rusher Matt Judon (Ravens) and fellow linebackers Raekwon McMillan (Raiders) and LaRoy Reynolds (Falcons) join the club, as does former Eagles’ cornerback/turned safety Jalen Mills. And will linebacker Dont’a Hightower return in 2021 after opting out in ’20?
While a lot of eyes will be on quarterback Cam Newton in his second season with the club, the Patriots need their defense to rebound as well. New England has 10 picks in the upcoming NFL draft and they could also provide some answers when it comes to filling needs on this side of the ball as well.