Patriots

Bedard: Patriots have a linebacker problem on defense vs. good teams, without many options

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To be sure, the Patriots gave up a lot of yards to the Seahawks in Sunday night's 35-30 loss. So no matter which way you slice it, it's not going to look good.

The Patriots allowed the Seahawks to gain an average of 7.2 yards per play. That was the worst single-game performance for a Patriots defense since the Dec. 2018 loss at Miami (9.0).

To put it in perspective, the worst performances for last year's defense were 5.7, set twice — in the losses at Baltimore, and the season finale vs. Miami. So, yes, defensively, that was worse than what Lamar Jackson did to the Patriots' defense.

It was just the 18th time since 2001 that a Bill Belichick defense allowed at least 7.1 yards per play.

But the Patriots were particularly worse in one area on Sunday night against the Seahawks, and it set a trend other good teams are going to follow.

The Patriots didn't play one snap of base defense against the Seahawks — not even when they went to 12 (two tight ends) or 13 (three tight ends) personnel.

Not counting the final drive (the goal is different for Seattle — they're playing against the clock, not just defense) and short-yardage situations, the Patriots played 30 snaps of nickel defense (five defensive backs) and 25 snaps of dime (six).

The results:

Nickel: 6.2 yards per play (two touchdowns)
Dime: 8.52 yards per play (three touchdowns)

Nickel wasn't great. Dime was worse.

You'd figure dime would perform poorly against the run, since the offense has the size advantage. And it did. Patriots allowed 6.4 yards per rush on 10 carries.

But what was even a bigger issue was dime against the pass. Here, the Patriots should have an advantage with six defensive backs against one back, one tight end and three receivers.

Not so.

Seattle averaged 9.9 yards per snap and had three touchdowns against the Patriots' dime — and that includes a penalty, two sacks and three incomplete passes.

On their nine positive plays against dime, the Seahawks averaged 18 yards per play.

But the big problem with the dime wasn't really the coverage – most of the big plays made by Seattle were just great plays by Russell Wilson and his receivers. The other team gets paid too, and sometimes you can have the best coverage in the world, but a great pass and catch will just beat you. You just have to tip your hat and move on to the next play.

The issue, to me, starts at linebacker.

Josh Uche was out and inactive with a foot injury that just cropped up, after being a healthy scratch in Week 1. Anfernee Jennings played all of two snaps. Brandon Copeland, who has always been a better edge player than inside linebacker, had to play 30 snaps at linebacker.

And then there was Ja'Whaun Bentley, who played every snap.

It's fine to go light at linebacker if you have a really good linebacker. Obviously Bentley, right now, is far from that. He's good against average to poor offenses like the Dolphins, but he was exposed against a fast offense like Seattle.

Of the 54 linebackers who played at least 46 snaps on Sunday, ProFootballFocus.com had Bentley rated 52nd, with an overall rating of 29.4.

When you are athletically deficient — or just poorly staffed — at linebacker, you compensate by putting more safeties on the field. People misread the increased safety role in Week 1 as being a nod to them being deeper at safety. Actually, it's just the opposite with another game of data: the Patriots have no faith in their linebackers, and they're trying to compensate for it.

The Patriots got away with it against the Dolphins, a line with four new starters, including two rookies and Ted Karras. The defensive line could handle that offensive line.

But against a Seattle line that isn't all that good — they're just average — the line could not dominate, and that allowed more blockers to get out on Bentley, Copeland and whatever safety they put near the line (Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger).

All of that set up a second half where the Seahawks were basically unstoppable, except when Seattle stopped itself by throwing deep on third and 1 when the Patriots were in nickel against 11 personnel. The Seahawks scored touchdowns on three of four drives, with all three scoring drives gaining over 50 yards — and Seattle didn't need to penetrate deeper than the New England 18-yard line to score a touchdown.

The big problem was that because of the issues against the run and being outmanned, the Patriots could never get to their third-down pressure packages.

The Patriots forced the Seahawks into just seven third downs. That's just the third time since 2001 that the opponent has run at least 60 plays and the Patriots have failed to get them into third down less than eight times.

That just indicates how inept the defense was as a whole, and that starts with first down defense, and stopping the run. You're not getting any negative plays (two of 25 rushes went for no gain) and there were just seven incompletions on 30 attempts.

That's called getting pushed around.