When you consider Bill Belichick’s history as a great defensive coordinator before he became a great head coach, it’s surprising the New England Patriots have never had the undisputed best defense in the league.
Dating back to 2006, Pro Football Focus has had the Patriots graded first in defense only once (2016). The Patriots defense has never finished first in Football Outsiders’ DVOA over a full season in the Belichick era. The Patriots have not led the NFL in yards allowed under Belichick. They led the NFL in points allowed in 2003 and 2016, and have had some outstanding defenses through the years.
But perhaps never one like this year.
It’s still early in the season but the Patriots’ defense looks like it could be the best of the Belichick era in New England. The Patriots take on the New York Giants on Thursday night, a game that can be live-streamed on the Yahoo Sports app. The Giants are coming in shorthanded too, with running backs Saquon Barkley and Wayne Gallman, tight end Evan Engram and receiver Sterling Shepard all ruled out. The Patriots defense should have another big day.
The Patriots have a few marquee offensive stars, but it’s the defense that stands out this season.
Patriots’ defense ranks No. 1
The Patriots have benefitted from an easy early schedule. They have played some of the worst teams in the NFL already. And they have dominated them all. They also shut down the Pittsburgh Steelers when the Steelers still had Ben Roethlisberger.
New England has the No. 1 grade on defense in Pro Football Focus’ rankings. The Patriots are No. 1 in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA per-play metric. The Patriots lead the NFL in yards allowed and points allowed. This is the best defense in football this season.
The reason is the secondary. The Patriots have a stifling 92.6 coverage grade on Pro Football Focus, easily the best in the NFL. They’re getting great play from just about everyone in the secondary. According to PFF, Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones are the Nos. 1 and 3 graded cornerbacks in the NFL. Devin McCourty is the No. 7 safety in PFF’s grades.
It’s a passing league, and the Patriots aren’t letting anyone pass the ball on them.
Daniel Jones has a big challenge
The defensive backs aren’t the only Patriots defenders off to a great start. Jamie Collins is the top-graded linebacker by PFF. Kyle Van Noy, listed as an edge rusher by PFF, has the No. 3 grade among edge rushers behind Chicago’s Khalil Mack and Philadelphia’s Brandon Graham. There are a number of players filling their roles quite well.
Now for the caveat. Since opening with the Steelers, the Patriots have faced the Dolphins, Jets, Bills and Redskins. They’re all offensively challenged. The Dolphins, Jets and Redskins have zero wins combined.
New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones might be in some trouble this week. The No. 6 pick of the draft has mostly played well, but this is a different challenge altogether, going against the best secondary in football on a short week. Missing four key offensive skill-position players is an awful blow. According to MassLive, Belichick’s teams are 19-5 when facing a rookie quarterback and 12-0 at home. Good luck, kid.
The Patriots will face some tougher offenses as the season goes on and we’ll see if they really do have the best defense in football. So far, it looks like the best one Belichick has had in New England.
– – – – – – –
More from Yahoo Sports: