Could this be a bad combination for the Patriots when the teams meet in a Super Bowl LI rematch on Sunday night (NBC, 8:30 p.m. ET)?
"I've coached against a lot of Bill Belichick defenses and I've never seen one give up this many big plays," NBC studio analyst Tony Dungy remarked Tuesday as he previewed the game. "That's something they just don't do historically. To see week after week, the long plays, I know they'll get that straightened out. But that has surprised me, six games in, that we're still seeing a ton of big plays."
The Patriots have given up 26 passing plays of 20 yards or more this season, which puts them on pace for 69 on the season. They gave up 44 of those plays all of last regular season.
This has also surprised former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison.
"Being in that locker room for so long, and understanding how important attention to detail is, the fact they look so unorganized out there and miscommunications. I was just a little surprised that Matt Patricia was as patient as he was," Harrison said. "Even on Sunday, you think they have it all figured out, and guys are still running free in the secondary."
In some cases, such as a 30-yard catch by receiver Jeremy Kerley on the opening drive in which he was tightly covered along the right sideline by cornerback Jonathan Jones, it's simply a play in which the opposition deserves a tip of the cap in a competitive situation. It was an excellent throw and catch. Well defended, too.
But most of the big plays given up by the defense this season aren't falling into that category, such as Kerley's 31-yard touchdown in the second quarter when cornerback Malcolm Butler gambled to make an interception by taking a bad angle. Or the 32-yard catch by Robby Anderson on fourth-and-12 on the Jets' final drive, when there wasn't a defender close by on a play that could have ended the game.
Now the unit faces a Falcons passing offense that, while still trying to find itself in 2017, has the potential to hit the big play -- especially if Jones is targeted more.
"Their shot plays are very dangerous with the speed they have at the skill positions," noted Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. "Julio Jones is just an unbelievable, incredible player; an amazing wide receiver and a huge problem."
A huge problem in an area that remains a huge problem for the Patriots in 2017.