The New England Patriots are off to a 5-1 start, holding a one-game lead in the AFC East and are the lone remaining one-loss team in the entire AFC.
The Patriots offense has rightly garnered the majority of the team’s headlines, although New England’s defense has also put forth an impressive effort. The Patriots limited the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals to just 13 and 17 points, respectively, in back-to-back Week 5 and Week 6 performances. The team enters Week 7 second in the NFL allowing opponents just 15.2 points per game, trailing only the Minnesota Vikings.
However, New England ranks 29th in red zone scoring defense, letting opponents secure 6 points on 71.4 percent of their red zone opportunities. The team has also struggled on third-down defense, ranking 27th in the NFL.
Star linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who claimed the AFC’s Week 6 Defensive Player of the Week, spoke on the issue Thursday:
Donta Hightower says Patriots’ defense “absolutely” needs to improve third-down defense. 27th in the NFL pic.twitter.com/C42tSekmzg
— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) October 20, 2016
New England will have ample opportunity to improve on third downs against a Pittsburgh Steelers offense that will be without franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on Sunday afternoon.