The brutal truth is that the Patriots, even controlling for the tomato can competition, are putting together an incredible defensive run:
Here’s the thing, though — even when taking into account opponent strength adjustments, the Patriots are still historically great on defense. As Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders points out, even with the mediocrity of their opposing offenses, the Patriots still have the best opponent-adjusted defense of the DVOA era (DVOA is FO’s primary play-to-play efficiency metric) — an era that currently goes back to 1986.
And here’s the other thing — when you go back and look at what the 1985 Bears and 2000 Ravens faced, there was a lot of nothing there. Yes, the Bears beat the daylights out of Joe Montana and Joe Theismann, also losing to Dan Marino’s Dolphins in their only defeat of the season, but they also got to go up against New England’s Tony Eason (twice), Minnesota’s Tommy Kramer (twice), Detroit’s Eric Hipple (twice), Buccaneers quarterback Steve DeBerg (twice), Packers quarterbacks Randy Wright and Jim Zorn, Cowboys quarterbacks Gary Hogeboom and Danny White, and two guys for the Falcons — David Archer and Bob Holly — you’ve probably never heard of before.
The Ravens had a similarly filmy series of opposing quarterbacks. The Steelers threw Kent Graham and Kordell Stewart at them. The Browns went with Tim Couch, Doug Pederson (yes, THAT Doug Pederson) and Spergeon Wynn. The Bengals tried the Ravens with all-time free-agent bust Scott Mitchell and all-time draft bust Akili Smith. The Dolphins threw Jay Fiedler into Baltimore’s woodchipper and actually won. The Redskins somehow did the same with Brad Johnson (the primary quarterback for another defensive all-timer, the 2002 Buccaneers), and the Titans presented the sternest tests with two instances of Steve McNair. Mark Brunell seemed relatively unfazed in two games for the Jaguars, but there aren’t a lot of gold jackets here.
Let’s not forget what Bill Belichick’s defense did to the Rams in Super Bowl LIII — that 13-3 score wasn’t a fluke. The Patriots clamped down on what had been a serially explosive offense through most of the season by giving Jared Goff different looks at different pre-snap points. After former linebackers coach and de facto defensive coordinator Brian Flores left to coach the Dolphins following that Super Bowl win, Belichick took a more active hand in his defense’s schematic and situational planning.
“I think I’ll be more involved this year defensively than I was in recent years,” Belichick told NFL Network’s Willie McGinest, the former Patriots pass-rusher, back in June. “Although I’ve always tried to be involved in all aspects of the game, especially the defensive side of the ball. But this year it will be a little bit more — I’m enjoying it, and eventually I’ll have less of a role. For right now, just to try and get things underway this year, I’ll try to be as involved as I can.
It seems pretty clear that Belichick was jolted by the end of the 2017 season — not only did Nick Foles shred them mercilessly in the Super Bowl, Blake Goddamned Bortles was moving the ball pretty efficiently against them in the championship game until Marrone decided to turtle. And after substantial improvement last year culminating in Belichick’s master class in the Super Bowl, they’ve just kept it up from there. If the Chiefs/Pats championship game we all expect happens, it’s going to be pretty fun.
This week, we’ll also be getting the opposite of this, with the thrilling matchup between the Miami Dolphins and one of the few organizations in worse shape than the Dolphins:
The Redskins are a perpetual motion machine of institutionalized dysfunction, a self-sustaining source of front-office machination and backroom intrigue that also, almost by accident, produces a football-like entertainment product every autumn.
The cycle has been in motion since 1999, when Snyder purchased the team and kicked off a generation of mismanagement, give or take a few brief eras of clarity. But with Gruden’s firing and the shenanigans surrounding it, the Skins have finally bottomed out.
Over the weekend, with Gruden’s job security in critical condition, embarrassing and quasi-incriminating videos that appear to show the coach’s off-hours carousing surfaced on social media. The timing was suspicious, and while the videos cannot be linked to the organization, Washington has a long history of strategically leaking information to embarrass employees who have fallen out of favor. (See: the sad, controversial ending to Scot McCloughan’s regime as general manager.)
Before the Smokin’ Jay videos made the rounds, Gruden reportedly distanced himself from the decision to draft rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who looked bad in his first NFL action against the Giants, but not so bad that a coach or organization should be eager to orphan him six months after drafting him.
While Allen said several times Monday that the organization is “thrilled” about Haskins and believes he has a “bright future,” he left the starting quarterback decision to Callahan, and the whole organization has been strangely ambivalent about Haskins since drafting him. (Allen also said “everyone signed off” on the Haskins selection, which is different from actually endorsing that decision.)
I think tanking is an overrated strategy but at least the Dolphins have a plan and with Tua sitting there it’s not impossible for it to work, while the Snyders are the kind of completely rudderless organization that causes some people to overrate tanking. And nobody deserves it more!