The New England Patriots defense was done a disservice in my game recap of Sunday’s contest between the Patriots and the St. Louis Rams as they barely received any credit or mention for their part in the team’s victory. Since I am the one who wrote the article, the lack of attention given to the Patriots defense is actually my fault, but this is neither the time nor the place to start assigning blame. What is important is that I will rectify the oversight and give the Patriots defense their due by showing on which down the unit was at its stingiest against the Rams.
The answer to which down the Patriots defense was best on during Sunday’s contest was certainly not on first down as the Rams offense had the most combined success on that down, whether they decided to pass or run.
On 13 of their 20 first downs, before the Rams pulled quarterback Sam Bradford from the game and gave the contest up as a lost cause, the Rams offense elected to throw the ball and had an average of 10.4 yards to gain to get another first down. Those thirteen pass plays netted the Rams an average of 9.3 yards per play, which meant the Patriots were particularly susceptible on first down pass plays.
When the Rams ran the ball on first down, the team also found success, although not nearly the amount of success as when they threw the ball. The seven times they ran the ball on first time, the Rams had an average distance of 10.7 yards to go for a first down and gained a respectable 4.0 yards per rush.
For second down plays, the Patriots ratcheted up their defensive intensity, at least when the Rams decided it was a good idea to try their luck passing the ball. The Rams had eight second-down pass plays with an average of 9.9 yards to go to get a first down, but only gained 4.1 yards per play, not nearly enough to sustain a drive for very long.
They were better running the ball on second down as they gained an average of 6.9 yards per rush on their seven second-down running plays; on those plays, the Rams had an average of 4.3 yards to go for a first down. Still, since the Rams only scored seven points in the game, the success the Rams had against the Patriots defense on running plays did not go anywhere.
As good as the Patriots defense was in defending second-down pass plays, the unit reserved their most dominating defensive performance for when the Rams tried to pass on third downs, which they attempted on nine of their ten third-down plays. For those third down plays, the Rams had an average of 7.6 yards to go for a first down, but only gained a paltry 2.8 yards per pass play.
The one time the Rams did run on third down, they picked it up by gaining three yards on a 3rd & 2 situation, but just that one first down could not override the lack of success the team had against the Patriots defenses on third downs in total.
With the lack of offensive success the Rams offense had against the Patriots defense on third down, it is no surprise all but one of their possessions stalled out and left them with an inability to put points on the scoreboard. A defense that can keep an offense from sustaining drives as the Patriots did on Sunday by being progressively better on second and third downs can easily limit their opponents’ scoring opportunities.
The Patriots offense will get most of the credit for the victory, but the Patriots defense demonstrated that they are capable of stopping an offense. Now the defense will need to show that it can do it on a consistent basis.