This space has often been dedicated to the Patriots' woeful passing defense, which has made a home at being 32nd in the league in yards allowed.
Sometimes this season, we've talked about red-zone offense and the inability to take advantage of scoring opportunities. New England's inconsistent run game has also been a concern.
Those weaknesses were on display in the Patriots' 34-27 escape over the Redskins. The Patriots gave up 301 passing yards — including a 49-yard touchdown pass thrown by WR Brandon Banks. Tom Brady and company scored only one touchdown in four trips to the red zone. And the rushing attack mustered 79 yards.
Never, though, has the Patriots' run defense deserved a rant.
Last season, the Patriots weathered a poor passing defense with stout "D" vs. the run, finishing 11th in the league, and they had been pretty good this season. But the unit gave up 170 rushing yards to Washington, the most an opponent has gained against New England all season, and that included 126 to rookie Roy Helu.
The Pats have been without one of their top run stoppers, ILB Brandon Spikes, for a while now, and SS Patrick Chung, who also brings good run support from his safety position.
But that doesn't excuse New England for giving up a 5.0-yard rushing average to Washington.
The Patriots can't really afford to stuff eight in the box and focus a lot of attention on an opponent's run game because of the deficiencies in the secondary. Getting Spikes back will help, but the defensive ends and outside 'backers need to do a better job of setting the edge, as Helu was able to get to the second level often. DT Vince Wilfork and ILB Jerod Mayo are still two of the best in the league against the run and DE Andre Carter has provided good run support all season, but the supporting cast failed on Sunday.
If teams can run the ball with ease against the Patriots, it does a lot to ruin New England's game plan in addition to setting up even easier passing plays. Running the ball well and controlling the clock keeps Tom Brady off the field.
AFC teams will look at what Mike Shanahan's one-cut running game did against the Patriots. There are some elite backs that the Patriots could face in the postseason — Ray Rice, Rashard Mendenhall and Arian Foster.
The group gets a big chance to redeem themselves this weekend against the league's top-ranked rushing offense. With Broncos QB Tim Tebow's struggles throwing the football, the Patriots can afford to put more defenders in the box to stop the run. Denver is not a high-scoring offense, which should play into the Patriots' hands, but if they allow room for Tebow and Willis McGahee to run like they did against Washington, the Pats will be the next to be Tebowed and it will add yet another vulnerability to a team that is supposed to be among the AFC's best.
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