3. Can the defense step up and stay up?
Key stats: Points (18.4 points-per-game, 5th), Third-Down Conversions (42.9 percent, 20th)
Overall, the 2021 Patriots defense has been solid, especially when it comes to how many points they’re letting up, but their problems have been more specific and situational. Against Miami, they lacked the clutch play to get a final stop to give their offense one last chance. Against New Orleans, they couldn’t get a stop after the Patriots closed the gap to a one-score game in the fourth quarter. Against Houston, it was third down that was the problem in the first half before they turned it around and kept the door open for a comeback.
In spurts, and certainly against Tampa Bay, they’ve shown some intriguing potential but it hasn’t been consistent enough to truly make this a game-changing unit that can be counted on. With a schedule loaded with potent offenses, the Patriots defense has some significant challenges lined up, starting this weekend against the Dallas Cowboys.
There are still plenty of intriguing questions around this unit. How will Jamie Collins factor in? Can Matthew Judon keep up his torrid pace? Is there enough depth at cornerback, especially if Jalen Mills continues to miss time? This should be an ascending unit but they need to start stringing together 60-minute performances and making more big plays in the big moments.