The Patriots are giving up an average of just over 11 points per game. How much of that is a credit to the improved defense, and how much of that is due to playing weaker opponents?
Jason: I'm not sure the defense has improved significantly from the end of last year (when it was actually pretty good). None of the Pats' previous opponents have any realistic aspirations for more than 6 wins this year. If Geno Smith or Josh Freeman are hanging 20+ on your defense, just give up football and go play checkers. You're supposed to hold those teams to 11 ppg.
Raj: On one hand, you feel good that your defense is playing well. On the other, you might not feel so good since the Pats wins this season have been over weaker opponents. They have a big task to complete in Atlanta, who is a much stronger opponent. But this is not to say the defense will implode (at least I hope not). As they say..baby steps first!
Derek: While it's true that the Patriots have yet to stop a high-octane offense this season, you can only play who's on your schedule. I think Sunday will be the true test to tell us what this defense is capable of. That being said, I wouldn't brush off what we've seen from the defense just because they happened to have played two rookie quarterbacks and the now-benched Josh Freeman. A year ago, the Patriots defense was routinely getting torched regardless of who was under center. This defense has given up three touchdowns in three games, and one of those was on a short field after a Brady interception. They are getting off the field on third down and avoiding getting burned on long plays. They are forcing turnovers. Other than a slightly improved pass rush, I don't think you could ask for much more than the defense has shown so far.
Has the New England defense turned the corner or is this still a unit that should worry Pats fans?
Jason: You can still count me as concerned. The defense has been staked to early leads in the past two weeks and benefitted from several gift-wrapped turnovers, so we haven't seen what they can do in a close game when the pressure is really on and the other team isn't making awful mistakes. At best, the defense is still a huge question mark, but I suppose that is an improvement over what I would have called them a few weeks ago.
Stephen: The defense is no longer a nightmare, but it's still far from a strength. Overall the Patriots have limited the big plays that killed them early in the season, but the pass rush has still been suspect. Besides Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, it's been almost nonexistent. With Jermaine Cunningham out for the next four games (suspension), it could become an even bigger issue. Luckily the play of Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo has been fantastic, and Devin McCourty and Vince Wilfork have stepped up recently, too. By the end of the year the defense could be good enough, but there are still some kinks to be worked out.
Derek: The Pats defense hasn't become the '85 Bears overnight, but I no longer think the unit is a huge liability. Early on in the season, it seemed like no matter what the offense did, the defense was going to find a way to let the opposition match it. The Patriots got shredded on numerous big plays and, ultimately, Brady just wasn't able to turn the faucet on strong enough to make up for what was pouring out of the huge drain. However, I've seen some big strides from the defense since McCourty moved to safety and Talib came to town. This defense is now good enough to slow opposing teams down enough to have the offense jet right past them. With their three losses coming by a combined four points, the defense didn't have to get that much better to put the Patriots back on a winning track. At this point, the defense has improved enough to where the Patriots are legitimate title contenders and can hang with any team.