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Patriots defense bends (a LOT), but to win Raiders must break them

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Don’t let the stats that say the Patriots have the worst defense in the league fool you.

Oakland Raiders v New England Patriots Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

One of my least favorite sayings is “Numbers never lie”. My response is usually that numbers almost always lie. They lie by omission. Because a single raw number rarely ever tells the real story.

Take for instance that the Patriots are the league’s worst defense. That comes from yards allowed, which is an astounding 408 yards per game. Raiders offensive coordinator Todd Downing isn’t buying it.

“With the thousands of stats that they have out there nowadays and all the different stat platforms you could probably find a stat that says they’re the greatest ever in something,” Downing said Thursday. . . “I don’t pay too much attention to the stats other than the situational stuff.”

Wise approach. Because having the worst defense doesn’t matter much to a team that’s 7-2 on the season.

The obvious first assumption to how that could be is the fact that they have the league’s number one offense. The assumption being that they are much like the Raiders last season in which the offense would have to score a lot of points to overcome what the defense surrendered. But that’s not happening either.

Last week’s demolition of the Broncos — much of which was due to special teams — aside, the previous four games the overall points scored between the Patriots and their opponents has been pretty low — 33, 41, 30, and 34. Each of the first four games of the Patriots’ season one team outscored those combined totals. And then 2-2 to start the season.

Oh, so the defense has simply improved and all the poor numbers occurred over the first four weeks then? Not really. They were surrendering 456 yards per game over the first four weeks to teams that average 365 yards per game. They have still been surrendering 370 yards per game the past five weeks to teams that average 336 yards per game.

The key appears to be in the old mantra that Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr likes to champion -- Bend but don’t break.

Even while surrendering what would be giving up the 7th most yards in the league over the past five weeks, the Patriots haven’t given up over 17 points in that time and average 13.4 points per game allowed. That means they are giving up yards right up until the opposing team looks to convert them into a touchdown and then they stiffen up and limit the damage to a field goal or a short punt.

“They’ve done a nice job of buckling down as drives have extended a little bit,” Downing continued. “They’ve kind of dug their heels in a little bit and stopped people from getting in the end zone. They are certainly playing sound defense. You don’t see a lot of free runners in their secondary. Their communication seems to be on point. We’re going to have to be on the details of our assignments if we’re going to sustain drives, move the chains and score points.”

So, basically, even with what appears to be the worst defense the Patriots have had in some time, they are still the same disciplined Patriots. They are among the best in the league (6th) with a +6 turnover differential. And though their 11 takeaways this season isn’t among the most, just 5 giveaways is second in the league to only the Chiefs (4).

Oh, and the last time the Patriots had a defense among the league worst was 2011. They were 31st in yards allowed, 15th in scoring allowed, and finished 13-3 and went to the Super Bowl.

Break them or they will wait you out until you collapse.