When the offense was struggling at the beginning of the season, the Patriots were winning football games because of their strong defense. They had a strong pass rush, a tough run defense with Wilfork and Spikes stuffing the holes, and an improved secondary with Aqib Talib’s tight coverage and McCourty moving to Safety. But when Defensive captains Vince Wilfork and Jarod Mayo went down with injuries, the strength of the team shifted to the offense.
The defense began to struggle, specifically with stopping the run. The Patriots had to replace their best defensive player in Wilfork with two free agent rookies, and now are 31 in the league in rush yards allowed. With that being said, the team is still winning games despite their defensive injuries. The secondary has still done a good job and the defense is making stops when they need to.
The real question is however, can the Patriots win the Super Bowl with their banged-up defense? By first comparing yards per game averages of other Super Bowl champions, it is possible to begin to answer this question.
As shown, the Patriots give up a similar amount of yards per play as other Super Bowl winners even though they rank 21 in the league in the category. When the Giants won the 2011 superbowl, they were ranked even worse than the Patriots in average yards per game given up. The Patriots are known to have a defense that gives up a lot of yards, even when healthy. Many experts call the Bill Belichick defense one that “bends, but does not break,” meaning they give up a lot of yards, but not a lot of points. By comparing the 2013 Patriots to the other five Super Bowl winners in points per game allowed, we can see if this is the case and once again compare their defense to other Super Bowl champions.
The Patriots, despite giving up more yards then four of the last five Super Bowl champions actually give up on average less points per game than three of them. They also rank close to the top of the league in this category on the season.
The Patriots, as mentioned, haven’t had the same defensive success since losing Vince Wilfork in the Falcons game and Jarod Mayo the following week. Although the Patriots own the ninth best opponents points per game average in the league, a lot of that can be credited to the work of those two players. Without them, the Patriots are giving opponents an average of almost five points per game more on the season. Without Wilfork and Mayo, this is what the Patriot’s points per game average looks like compared to the last five Super Bowl champions.
Without those two players, they give up more points per game than either of the last five champions—with only the Giants anywhere near them. Their defense could definitely hurt them come playoff time unless their offense fires on all cylinders. Their Defense, especially when defending the run, once again looked suspect against the 32 ranked Texans this past week. Their troubles stopping the run definitely is a big reason why this number has inflated.
There is one other defensive statistics that plays a big role in whether a defense is strong—takeaways. When a defense forces the other team to turn the ball over, it gives the offense a shot to get good field position and potentially score. It also takes away an opponents opportunity to score. Even if a defense is ‘bad,’ if they create a lot of turnovers, it significantly helps the team win games.
If the Patriots were to average the same amount of takeaways per game as they have all season, this is how they would compare to the last five Super Bowl champions.
They would have more than all but one team, but their numbers do not really ‘jump’ off the board.
Now as seen by all the statistics, none of the Super Bowl champions besides the Steelers had a “shut-down” defense. Instead, they all had more middle to even below average defenses. This is where the Patriots stand in comparison to the rest of the league this season. Because of this, it is hard to say that the Patriots would have a good enough defense to win the Super Bowl, especially without their two defensive captains, but since the other champions all had similar defenses (stat wise), there is no reason to believe this unit is not strong enough to potentially win the Super Bowl.
As seen last week, only a couple of the last five champions also had ‘high-powered’ offenses. Therefore, there is more than just statistics that show if a team can win the Super Bowl. It comes down to individual matchups. On Wednesday, we will take a look at how the Patriots match up to potential playoff contenders.