Felger: This stat misses the point on Patriots' defense


Points allowed feels like such a bottom-line statistic that it's often treated as the final word.

But, unfortunately for the Patriots, even this stat can be deceiving.

Take a look at the Pats' defensive rankings across the board. In virtually every case they are, at best, middle of the pack. In many of them they'e closer to the bottom than the top.

A sample (from the official league stats release):

  • Yards allowed: 14th
  • Rushing yards allowed: 13th
  • Rushing yards per attempt: 11th
  • Passing yards allowed: 18th
  • Passing yards per play: 13th
  • Interception percentage: 29th
  • Sacks per pass play: 24th
  • Third down efffeciency: 20th
  • Defensive passer rating: 15th
  • Takeaways: 23rd (tied with three other teams)
  • Red Zone: 21st

There is, in fact, only one defensive metric where they're elite. And it's the one that is said to be the only one that matters: Points allowed. They are third (17.9 per game).

How is that possible? How can you be bad on third downs, mediocre against the pass, leaky in the red zone and not take the ball away -- and still be the third best team in points allowed?

How? Try the competition.

The Pats have played only two offenses currently ranked in the top half of the league in scoring, and only one in the top 10. But even that's misleading. The top 10 team was Buffalo, and not only are the Bills mediocre but they were without LeSean McCoy in the second meeting. The other was Pittsburgh, currently ranked 13th. The only issue is that they didn't have Ben Roethlisberger when they played the Pats. Kind of a big deal.

Meanwhile, the Pats have played the 20th- (Arizona), 22nd- (San Francisco), 23rd- (Seattle), 27th- (Cincinnati), 28th- (Jets), 29th- (Houston) and 30th- (Cleveland) ranked offenses in the league. And next up is the 32nd-ranked Rams, meaning the Pats' points-allowed number is about to get even better.

And it will continue to be a mirage. The weight of the other evidence is too overwhelming. The Pats on defense are average at best.

So does that mean they're sunk? Absolutely not. They should still have home-field throughout the playoffs and will surely be favored over anyone they face on the AFC side. With a break here and a bounce there they can still win it all -- just like 2011, when they took an even worse defense all the way to the last minute of the Super Bowl. Maybe this time they make that one extra play and claim a title. I wouldn't rule it out.

All I know is that when the Pats have these kinds of teams, meaning defensively deficient, it usually doesn't end well.

E-mail Felger at mfelger@comcastsportsnet.com. Listen to Felger and Mazz weekdays, 2-6 p.m. on 98.5 FM. Watch the simulcast daily on CSN.


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