You don’t have to be a keen observer to note that the Patriots’ secondary has struggled mightily. Injuries have only compounded the problem, as New England was without both of its starting safeties (Steve Gregory and Patrick Chung) on Sunday and had only one player -- cornerback Kyle Arrington -- playing in his natural position.
But Vince Verhei of Football Outsiders has an interesting statistical breakdown (Insider) that validates in numbers what the naked eye told us: That lack of depth has never been more exposed than it was against the Jets.
Consider the following from Verhei:
* In the Jets’ 35-9 victory over the Colts in Week 6, only two of Mark Sanchez’s 18 passes traveled 10 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage, and neither were complete. A week later in New England, he threw 14 passes that went 10 or more yards and 10 were complete (and one was intercepted).
* The last five quarterbacks to start against New England (Sanchez, Russell Wilson, Peyton Manning, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Joe Flacco) have an average QBR of 51.7. That's about what guys like Jay Cutler and Carson Palmer have done this season. Against the Pats, all five of those men played better than their season rate, with a collective average of 76.0. That's close to what Tom Brady and the Mannings have done this year, and those three have been the best quarterbacks in football. In other words, the Patriots are making mediocrities look like Hall of Famers, and making Hall of Famers look unstoppable.
* The reason why? The deep pass. Teams have thrown 64 passes 16 or more yards downfield against the Patriots, the most against any team in the NFL. And they’ve been successful 45 percent of the time.
And here is former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi's take on the pass defense, excerpted from his ESPNBoston.com chat today: "The big plays are very concerning. This is a reputation the Patriots defense has developed -- to test them down the field. To see Mark Sanchez have success down the field is very discouraging. I think what's most worrisome are the injuries to Steve Gregory and Patrick Chung. Not only does that affect your safety position, it affects your cornerback position becasue you're taking your best CB (Devin McCourty) and lining him up at safety. There is a trickle-down effect. Until they get healthy, offenses will continue to challenge them down the field."
So what’s the answer? Is it as simple as getting Gregory and Chung back? Verhei points out that duo was around in Weeks 3 and 4, when Flacco and Fitzpatrick combined for 732 yards and seven touchdowns.
We’re putting it out to you, our readers: What do you think the Patriots can do to improve their pass defense, particularly on the deep ball? Vote in the poll above and share your thoughts in the comments section.