Yesterday, we took a look at the season-ending grades for the Patriots’ offense. Today, it’s onto the defense and special teams.
It was truly a bizarre year for the Patriots’ defensive unit. As a whole, they were impressive. They were second in the league in points allowed per game (17.8), tied for third in takeaways (30), and eighth in opponent third down percentage (30.1 percent). In just about every key metric, they ranked top-10 in the NFL.
Yet at the same time, the unit felt incomplete at key moments. Early in the season they failed to come away with stops late in games, then after the bye faltered against the Colts, Dolphins and twice against the Bills.
Special teams saw a noticeable dip, as the unit finished with a negative DVOA for the first time since 1994. In just about every aspect of the kicking game, the team took a step back from 2020, and general success over the past few seasons.
How much of these units’ successes in 2021 are replicable moving forward? And where were the gaps that caused the issues late in games and late in the season? Let’s take a look position-by-position at the performance in 2021.
But first, the same qualifiers from the offensive side of the ball apply. First, the grades are as much based on preseason expectations as they are overall performance. Second, the grades are weighted with a recency bias. Football is a ‘what have you done for me lately’ game, and these grades reflect that. Strong showings early in the season factor in, but teams tend to base their end of year evaluations on what players looked like at the end of the season, so we’ll do the same.