Is the Patriots defense historically good?

NFL history is dotted with iconic defensive units.

The Steel Curtain of the ’70s Pittsburgh Steelers. The ’85 Chicago Bears. The Ray Lewis/Ed Reed/Terrell Suggs defenses of the Baltimore Ravens. And the Purple People Eaters of the ’60s Minnesota Vikings, to name a few.

The New England Patriots are looking to add this season’s unit to that list. So far, the numbers back that case up.

The Patriots put on another overwhelming performance on Monday, cruising to a 33-0 win over the New York Jets with perhaps their most dominant display of the season to improve to 7-0.

Brutal night for Sam Darnold

Patriots defenders regularly embarrassed Jets quarterback Sam Darnold, who tallied a 3.6 quarterback rating. The Patriots only tallied one sack, but regularly forced Darnold into bad decisions and bad throws with heavy pressure.

Darnold completed 11-of-32 pass attempts (34.4 percent) for 86 yards with four interceptions and no touchdowns. He lost a fumble and batted a loose ball out of the back of the end zone for a safety. It was a disaster for the second-year quarterback and the Jets offense, which managed to tally just 154 yards from scrimmage.

The Patriots defense is a juggernaut, but save the historical comparisons for after it has played somebody. (Robert Deutsch/Reuters)
The Patriots defense is a juggernaut, but save the historical comparisons for after it has played somebody. (Robert Deutsch/Reuters)

Patriots putting up historical numbers

As ugly as it was for the Jets, they weren’t the first team the Patriots have humiliated this season. It’s the second road shutout for New England, which beat the Dolphins in Miami in Week 2, 43-0.

They also beat a Pittsburgh Steelers team with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger, 33-3 in Week 1.

Through seven games, the Patriots have allowed a combined three touchdowns by opposing offenses — a 64-yard touchdown pass from New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones to wide receiver Golden Tate, a 65-yard run by Washington Redskins receiver Steven Sims and a one-yard sneak from Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen.

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That’s it. The rest of the touchdowns the Patriots have allowed while giving up a combined 48 points arrived courtesy of special teams or defensive scores.

Monday was the second time this season the Patriots shut out the Jets offense. New York scored all of its 14 points in a Week 3 matchup courtesy of a fumble return for a touchdown on a punt and an interception return for a touchdown.

Spectacular secondary

After Monday’s game, the Patriots have tallied 18 interceptions, the highest total through seven games since the 1996 Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, according to ESPN.

If you have the Patriots defense on your fantasy team, you’re in possession of a cheat code. The Patriots defense has tallied 154 points in standard scoring in Yahoo leagues, making it the eighth-highest scorer of the season through seven weeks. Only seven quarterbacks have tallied more fantasy points this season than the Patriots defense.

So yeah. This unit is outstanding. There’s no argument against it.

Competition matters

But what about the competition? While the Patriots are putting up historic defensive stats, they’re doing so against the dregs of the NFL. So far, the Patriots have beaten the Jets twice, Redskins, Dolphins, Giants, Bills and Steelers.

The only team in that list that constitutes a competitive football team is the Bills. The Dolphins, Redskins and Jets make a strong case for the three worst teams in football, with apologies to the Cincinnati Bengals.

This point is not raised to slight what the Patriots are doing. A team can only play the teams on its schedule, and the Patriots have done a fine job against all seven opponents thus far.

Hold off on the historical comparisons

But it is a note to pump the brakes on anointing the Patriots defense alongside the great units in NFL history. Save that for the end of the season. By then, the Patriots will have faced the Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans.

That means games against Deshaun Watson, Carson Wentz, Ezekiel Elliott, Lamar Jackson and — if he’s healthy — Patrick Mahomes still await. Those are all more than legitimate tests of a defense’s stoutness.

If New England can keep up any sort of a similar pace against those offenses and maintain it through the playoffs, then go ahead and anoint them.

But until then, it’s foolish to compare a team beating up on the league’s worst teams with units that have done it in the playoffs and stood the test of time.

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