With only four games remaining in the regular season the Patriots still don’t have a true identity on defense. Each week Bill Belichick has sent out players varying in history with the team all the way from just being signed that week, to even being a wide receiver/special teamer on the team. This isn’t exactly how Belichick drew things up at the beginning of the season, but because of some injuries and lack of production from some players it is what it has become.
Sunday’s game against the Colts was no different as the Patriots sent out special teams captain Matthew Slater as their starting safety paired with Nate Jones, who the team just signed with the team this week. Also starting was linebacker Niko Koutouvides, who has been off and on the team’s roster all the way back since training camp. The unit also saw wide receiver/special teamer Julian Edelman see some time at corner back in sub packages.
Even with the lack of experience the unit got the job done in a 31-24 win, although it was not a pretty fourth quarter, as the Patriots defense allowed many big plays and the Colts to get back into the game. To their defense all four players previously mentioned played well. They were filling in for safety Patrick Chung who was still sidelined with an ankle injury and linebacker Brandon Spikes was also still out. I believe both players could have played Sunday if the game actually meant something, but playing the winless Colts gave the Patriots the luxury of keeping them out an extra week.
With the Patriots not having facing a team’s starting quarterback since the Jets in week 10, and won’t until the last game of the season against the Bills it is really difficult to gauge at what level the defense is at. As a whole the unit has looked good at times, but with the level of competition it is difficult to project how they would fair against a playoff team and a playoff quarterback.
That is where the Patriots are at right now. There is little doubt that they will make the playoffs. With the last two seasons ending in early playoff exits because of poor defensive play, the topic of discussion each week has been how is the defense playing? With all the injuries and other players seeing significant playing time it is really hard to say.
The unit will be getting Chung and Spikes back very soon and with that they will get the full complement of players they will have in the playoffs. The remainder of the season will be used to get the group playing together and be ready for what is to come in the playoffs. With that being said it will be really difficult to have any idea what to expect come the playoff time and the team facing a quality team and quality quarterback. One would hope that the team has learned from the past two seasons and be ready to play come January.