Duron Harmon: Pats defense "can't get no more simpler"
The Patriots defense has been grasping at straws over the first quarter of the 2017 season. After holding opponents to a mere 15.6 points per game last year and adding Pro Bowl cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the 2017 incarnation was widely thought to be among the league's best. Yet after four weeks, each of the Patriots' opponents has racked up over 400 yards, and there of the four have cracked 30 points.
A lot of the blame has to fall on communication miscues. Two especially prominent errors on Sunday led to a pair of touchdowns for Carolina (one to running back Fozzy Whitaker and one to wideout Devin Funchess, both left largely uncovered). One of the first things many defensive coordinators do when a unit is facing communication issues is simplify the concepts. With more familiar, easier assignments to execute, stars are free to make plays and let their natural ability shine on the field. However, Pats safety Duron Harmon indicated after the loss that that's not really an option for New England--because the Patriots have already tried it. Per WEEI:
“We’ve simplified," Harmon said. "Can’t get no more simpler than what we’re doing. Like I said, we just have to really take a look in the mirror — everybody, top to bottom defense-wise and just see what can I can do to be a better football team for the Patriots. What can I do to make sure I do my job each and every play when I get an opportunity? We just have to look in the mirror and have to really understand there’s nobody but yourself. We just have to be better.”
Both Harmon and fellow safety Devin McCourty indicated that they felt the defense's play so far was "unacceptable" and "frustrating." Cornerback Stephon Gilmore (who has played a key role in many miscommunications and drew a fatal hands-to-the-face penalty in the last minutes of Sunday's game) and linebacker Dont'a Hightower both promised improvement from the unit. But after three weeks of excuses and promises, it's tough to believe either of them until fans can see progress.
If, as Harmon says, the defense is truly as simplified as Bill Belichick will make it, the Pats might be in serious trouble. While players will certainly jell as the season goes on, continued communication problems on par with the ones we've seen so far could easily prove fatal down the stretch or in the playoffs. For the sake of all involved, we'll just have to hope the team rectifies the situation before it reaches that point.