LANDOVER, Md. — The Patriots’ defense has the statistics to back up the claim that they’ve played historically well so far this season. They deserve nicknames to match. It is a rule, written somewhere I’m sure, that good teams should have nicknames for their most dominating units.
New England’s linebackers have been worthy. Sure enough, there’s something they’ve been calling themselves.
“We’re the Boogeymen,” Dont’a Hightower said on Sunday.
It fits. In a 33-7 drubbing of the Redskins especially, the Patriots linebackers led the way in another dominant defensive performance. The proclamation here remains that the strength of this defense, if only one must be identified, is the secondary. If you wanted to make an argument for the linebackers, though, the win against Washington could help you make a good one.
“We want to go out there, we want to be the engine and the starting force of this defense,” Hightower said. “We know that if we go out and we play well, it’ll hype every other spot.”
From Hightower, Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy, Ja’Whaun Bentley, and Chase Winovich, the Patriots got 3.5 sacks that set the Redskins back 31.5 yards, six tackles for loss, five quarterback hits, three pass breakups, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. Hightower, in particular, should haunt Washington quarterback Colt McCoy’s dreams and was perhaps already doing so during McCoy’s waking hours Sunday. On one early play when McCoy was running with Hightower in pursuit, he straight-up dropped the football from his hands, as if his fear of the oncoming pressure willed the fumble into existence.
Hightower finished with a sack and a half, four tackles for loss, and two quarterback hits. A week after he missed the Bills while nursing a shoulder injury, he lived around the ball on Sunday. After what he described as a locked-in week of practice, Hightower felt as if he knew what was coming on the Redskins’ plays, including on his six-yard sack of McCoy on third down early in the second quarter, when he got into the backfield totally unblocked.
“Colt [McCoy] kind of called in [receiver Trey] Quinn to block the backside and there was no reason for him to call him in to block the backside,” Hightower said. “It was either the run play or it was going to be that play, so I took my guess, and I was right.”
As a whole, the Patriots defense gave up one early touchdown, then shut Washington out for the final 54 minutes of the game. The Redskins gained 220 yards all game, 65 of them on the end-around touchdown by Steven Sims Jr. that was their only score. Devin McCourty, Jason McCourty, and Duron Harmon all missed tackles on that play, which probably will not happen often.
“It should have been a 15-yard or 18-yard gain with a tackle,” Devin McCourty said. “We got to the sideline and talked about it, then we moved on.”
Since we brought up statistics earlier, let’s go back and do the math. All it’s going to tell you is that the Patriots defense has played really, really well so far and has a chance to set records, which you can probably tell without the arithmetic. But let’s do it anyway, since, numerically speaking, the opportunity to do so doesn’t come around often.
The Patriots have now given up 34 points through five games. That puts them on pace to allow 109 points all year, which would be by a significant margin the fewest by any team playing a 16-game NFL schedule.
Since the NFL adopted a 16-game schedule, seven teams have finished the regular season having allowed fewer than 200 points. The best mark belongs to the 2000 Ravens, who gave up only 165 points all year. Through five games, that team had allowed 55 points.
To come in under the 165 points-allowed mark set by the Ravens, New England would have to give up 130 or fewer points over its last 11 games. That’s roughly 11.8 points per game, more than the 6.8 points per game they are allowing now.
The Patriots also have the only player in the NFL with four interceptions so far this season, Devin McCourty, and the only player in the NFL with three interceptions so far this season, Collins, part of that versatile wrecking crew at linebacker. The proclamation here remains that the strength of this defense, if just one had to be identified, is the secondary, but the linebackers — the Boogeymen — made a good argument for themselves on Sunday.
“We have crazy depth,” Hightower said. “That only helps us. It’s great for our room, it’s great for the defense, it’s great for the team.
“In that room alone we’ve got guys that can play outside linebacker, inside linebacker, defensive end. We’ve got John Simon at the nose, I’m at the nose, Jamie’s at the nose, the three, the four, the five. The more you can do, Bill always says that. Whenever you’re versatile and we’re able to communicate, we’re able to give offenses different looks and different things each and every week because we know it, and we’re smart enough to make changes on the move.”