FOXBORO -- Two things have gone under the radar during the early days of the NFL “tournament.”
The Atlanta Falcons, which I believe will sneak their way into New Orleans next month, and the New England Patriots defense.
We will save the Falcons for a later day (they will beat the Seahawks today).
As for the Patriots defense, while Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have stolen most of the pre-playoff headlines when the Patriots enter the discussion, today is a good day to focus on the other side of the ball.
We can pretty much surmise that Brady won’t have it easy beginning today.
If there is a blueprint on beating the Patriots over the last half-dozen years -- see Super Bowl XLII in Glendale, Az. -- it is to make Brady uncomfortable. That usually entails knocking him down several times.
We also understand that January and February isn’t October and November. The five-touchdown pass games just don’t happen this time of year.
In the last five AFC and NFC Championships (10 games in all), only three teams scored in the 30s. Barely. The Cardinals scored 32 (’09), Saints scored 31 (’10) and Indianapolis scored 30 (’10).
Defenses are not only better, but offenses play it closer to the vest, taking winning over style points.
Which brings us back to the 2012 Patriots. They have revolved soley around Brady.
They have young defense which appears to have matured before our eyes. Mind you, this was as flabbergasted a group, particularly in the back end, as any the Patriots have ever had.
While the Patriots run defense has picked up the pace in importance on this team in 2012, allowing a 9th lowest 101.9 yards per game, it’s 3.9 yards per carry is sixth lowest.The last time the Patriots defense was in the top 10 in both run defense categories was 2004 -- 98.3 yards per game and 3.9 yards per carry. That was also the last time the Patriots won the Super Bowl.
But that’s not the best news on defense. We’ve pretty much known the last six months, with 350 pounds mayhem in the middle (Vincent Wilfork), that running the ball against the Patriots was not going to be easy and isn’t easy.
The best news is the Patriots defesive backfield, which at one point led the NFL by allowing 42 completions over 20 yards through 12 games, more than they’ve allowed an entire season under Belichick.
One correlation back there has been the addition of Aqib Talib, who deserves as much credit as any defender for stabilizing too many sieve-like performances every other week.
Through 11 games, the Patriots allowed 293 yard passing per game. With Talib in place and understanding the defense, over the last five games the team allowed only 221 yards per game. And that includes a misleading 343-yard day from Jacksonville’s Chad Henne, who also threw three interceptions.
Over that same span, the Patriots run defense allowed only 93 yards per game, and that includes a 180-yard whopper against the 49ers, which would rank the Patriots fourth overall over that span.
The point is the Brady, who has arguably the most talent he’s ever had on offense, also has some help this year on defense.
Is the defense great? No.
But it is good enough to win in January and February, allowing Brady to make some plays rather than having to make every play.
You can email Bill Burt at email@example.com.