The New England Patriots’ defense ranks No. 32 in total yards allowed and is getting eaten up in the passing game. Is this a fatal flaw, or is there a quick fix for the defending Super Bowl champs?
Almost nobody predicted the Patriots would start 2-2. Even fewer had New England’s defense—featuring three Pro Bowlers in the secondary—ranking dead last in total yards allowed and dead last against the pass. But here we are: The Pats have given up the most yards per pass attempt and per game, and have surrendered the league's worst opponent passer rating. To figure out what's going on with Bill Belichick’s team, I reached out The MMQB’s film-study expert, Andy Benoit.
FELDMAN: What is wrong with the Patriots' defense right now?
BENOIT: It’s simple: New England’s secondary has had an unusual number of communication breakdowns and mental errors. Newcomer Stephon Gilmore and mainstay Devin McCourty, in particular, have been on different pages, but it’s a widespread issue that everyone must fix.
FELDMAN: How can it be fixed?
BENOIT: Abstractly, with experience and some quality team meetings. Tangibly, by doing a better job against presnap motion. The Panthers killed the Patriots by motioning to three-receiver bunches. The secondary frantically tried to sort out who had whom, but Cam Newton would get the snap and a receiver would be uncovered.
FELDMAN: Is this a fatal flaw for the defending Super Bowl champs?
BENOIT: Not even close. It can be corrected immediately, and it’d be surprising if it isn’t. This is really New England’s only issue. The front seven has been sound as always with gap assignments in run defense. The pass rush is ordinary at best, but better than a year ago given the continued development of Trey Flowers and emergence of fourth-round rookie Deatrich Wise. And that secondary is capable of playing man-to-man across the board. It’ll flourish just as soon as they figure out who has which man.
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1. After Mitchell Trubisky's first practice as the Bears’ starting QB, the rookie said, "I'm just going to be depending on my teammates a lot and my job is to get the ball to the playmakers and just be a distributor and manage the offense as best I can." Meanwhile, the local media seems to believe in the kid.
2. Andrew Luck is back . . . on the practice field. The Colts’ QB will return today as he continues to recover from January surgery for a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Still, game action remains a ways away.
3. Kayvon Thibodeaux is one of the best high school football players in the country. But those who know him say he's a lot more than that.
4. Former NFL coach Marty Schottenheimer opens up about living with Alzheimer's Disease.
5. The NFL reduced Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan's suspension for his brutal hit on Packers receiver Davante Adams to one game on appeal. Meanwhile, there's a chance Adams could play Sunday against the Cowboys. (Green Bay running back Ty Montgomery is also hoping to play as he recovers from multiple broken ribs sustained in the same game.)
6. Is Scrambling Alex Smith back? And is that a good thing? Smith had more rushing yards in Monday night's win than he did in any game last season.
7. Bob Sturm goes deep to figure out how Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips did just enough to help defeat his former team.
8. Sunday, Antonio Brown threw a fit on the Steelers’ sideline after Ben Roethlisberger didn't throw his way. Yesterday, both coach Mike Tomlin and Roethlisberger scolded their wideout for his behavior.
9. Sean Payton spoke out about gun violence after the Las Vegas massacre, and after losing former Saint Will Smith to a gunshot last year. "It's frustrating," Payton said. "Sometimes you see things from afar, and you think it's madness."
10. In need of an offensive boost, the Vikings get receiver Michael Floyd as he returns from a four-game substance abuse suspension.
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Could this Instagram caption regarding pizza rolls contain the secret to the Chiefs' early season success?