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Malcom Brown helps spark Patriots run defense vs. Jets

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Malcom Brown helps spark Patriots run defense vs. Jets

The Patriots use a defensive scheme that often asks its defensive tackles to do the dirty work. Two-gap. Take on multiple blockers. Free up linebackers to crash down and make tackles in one-on-one situations with opposing running backs. 

It's not the most glamorous job. Sometimes it's difficult to see in real time when one of the big bodies up front is executing his duties effectively or not. But it's a critical role all the same.

On Sunday at MetLife Stadium, the Patriots got some solid work from their tackles to help limit the Jets to 3.1 yards per carry and just 74 rush yards total. Malcom Brown stood out as the team's top tackle on the day, and one of his team's best defensive players overall. 

The third-year 320-pounder had four tackles that limited to the Jets to gains of two yards or less. He also picked up a sack when he chased Josh McCown across the field and touched him down behind the line of scrimmage in the third quarter.

Brown was flagged for a defensive holding call just before Austin Seferian-Jenkins' fumble -- he locked onto the first blocker that engaged him and then didn't release quickly enough when that blocker tried to move on to another Patriots defender -- but overall it was a strong day, according to his head coach.

"I think Malcom’s improved pretty much every week," Bill Belichick said on a conference call Monday. "I know he’s definitely helping us making some significant plays for us out there and, again, eating up a lot of plays in front of him so that other guys, like Elandon [Roberts], Kyle [Van Noy], Dont’a [Hightower] and those guys, can fit in and make the tackles."

Brown wasn't alone. Lawrence Guy was in on a pair of run stuffs that went for two yards or less, and he was credited with three total tackles. Alan Branch played in 22 snaps after being made a healthy scratch in Week 5, and Adam Butler saw 17 snaps on the line.

"I thought we got contributions from all those players . . . They all have a little bit different playing style, but they were all productive," Belichick said. "It certainly helps our linebacker play when the defensive line plays consistent and they can do a good job in front and then the linebackers can do a good job and then the secondary can fit off them, so it works in front of that. 

"But, I thought our defensive line did a lot of good things yesterday. There’s still a lot of things we need to work on, obviously. I’m not saying we’re there yet, but we did a lot of good things up front."

Coming into the game allowing 5.0 yards per rushing attempt, what the Patriots were able to accomplish against the Jets in the run game -- behind a stout performance by Brown and his teammates in the trenches -- can certainly qualify as a step in the right direction.

Only five games into season, Bruins already sending off bad vibes

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Only five games into season, Bruins already sending off bad vibes

LAS VEGAS -- Even though it's only five games into a new regular season, it feels like the Bruins are in danger of going off the tracks.

They finished their three-game Western road swing Sunday with an aimless 3-1 loss to the expansion Golden Knights, which came on the heels of a wretched defeat in Colorado and a victory over the winless Coyotes. Sunday was particularly disheartening, as they never tested their ex-goalie, Malcolm Subban, putting only 21 mostly harmless shots on net against a player they gave away on waivers just a few weeks ago,

They may only have three losses in five games, but it sure feels like there's trouble starting to brew in Bruins land.

“It could be a lot of different things,” said Brad Marchand about the loss to Las Vegas. "We may not have been as mentally prepared for that game as we thought we were. They wanted it more than we did. They out-battled us in a lot of areas and they were the better team. We were making it hard on ourselves. We were trying to do too much with the puck, and not directing enough of the pucks toward the net. You can’t get rebound and you can’t get bodies there if the puck isn’t going there.”

That is a lot of different things. A lot of different problems:

-- They couldn’t fight to get to the front of the net against a rugged Vegas defensive group that was going to make them battle to get there.

-- Once again they had too many passengers along for the ride, with both Ryan Spooner and Frank Vatrano failing to even be a blip on the game’s radar screen. Spooner suffered a lower body injury midway through the game, but while he was out there he was a non-factor once again. 

-- It felt like there was no flow at all to Boston’s game, with breakouts dogged by sloppy passing and players who weren’t hard enough on the puck.

-- When they did get a chance to create something they either missed the net with their shot, or opted not to even take the shot in the first place. 

-- They lost 67 percent of the 57 draws taken during the game, and saw Spooner, Riley Nash and David Krejci and Ryan Spooner go a combined 8-for-29 in the face-off circle.

-- They chased the puck for long stretches and certainly didn’t ever put together anything approaching a consistent, driving pressure in the offensive zone.

Missing stalwart veterans like Patrice Bergeron and David Backes certainly isn’t helping. It makes the Bruins a much smaller group up front that can be pushed around by bigger, stronger defensive units.

But even so, there’s a sense the Bruins can’t consistently bring their 'A' game to the rink with them and don’t seem to have much fight when they fall down by a couple of goals. Trailing by just two goals going into the third period, the Bruins had four shots on net for most of the final period until a late flurry produced a score by David Pastrnak.

Perhaps of more concern, though, is the growing feeling that the Bruins aren’t all on the same page.

Marchand vaguely referenced that the Bruins weren’t prepared to play Sunday, and Tuukka Rask said he’ll no longer comment on anything except his own goaltending. Rask has always been candid and willing to be frank about any shortcomings after Bruins losses, but it appears that’s not something that is any longer welcome inside the B’s dressing room.

“I just try to go out there and give us a chance to win every night. That’s what I’m focused on,” said Rask. “I’m not going to comment anymore on team play that much. We can just talk about goaltending. That’s just the way it is. Sorry.”

Meanwhile, Krejci was similarly short in his postgame thoughts and started talking about avoiding pointing fingers after a frustrating loss.

“There’s no reason to point fingers," he said. "Yeah, we lost a game and it was a frustrating loss. But it’s just the fifth game of the season, so we don’t need to make a big deal out of it. We’re going to back to Boston, we’re going to work hard in practices and we’re going to get ready for the next game.”

Clearly, the fact this stuff is coming to the surface just five games into the season is a cause for concern. But it makes sense, given the way the Bruins are letting an easy portion of the season slip through their fingers.

In their first 10 games of the year, they're facing only one team that made the playoffs last season and they've got plenty of spaced-out stretches in the schedule to get off to a strong, healthy start. Instead they’re losing to subpar teams and highly unproven goalies, and doing so with a real lack of energy or purpose on the ice.

Certainly management would be smart to think about shipping underperforming players like Vatrano back to the AHL in place of Peter Cehlarik or Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson. And a few more games like Sunday’s snooze-fest could advance trade talks for a player like Matt Duchene.

But there aren’t going to be any easy answers. It comes down to hard work and hunkering down together as a team, and Sunday’s pitifully inept loss in a very winnable situation was yet another sign the Bruins aren't even close to being there yet.

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Alan Branch sees 22 snaps vs. Jets after being benched last week

Alan Branch sees 22 snaps vs. Jets after being benched last week

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Alan Branch had a pretty significant change in mentality Sunday from the one he took into his team's last game down in Tampa. 

"My mentality was there was an opportunity I was going to play in the game rather than watching on TV," he said. "I was ready for the game rather than not be here at all."

Branch was a healthy scratch for the Patriots win against the Bucs in Week 5. He didn't even make the trip. But he was back in uniform and on the field for Sunday's24-17 win at MetLife Stadium, playing in 22 snaps -- his second-highest snap total after the 42 he saw in Week 1 -- and was credited with one tackle for a loss in the second quarter. 

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"I was really anxious," Branch said. "I just wanted to be out there. No one plays the game not to play. It felt good to be out there. I was just waiting for my opportunity and I'm glad I got that opportunity today." 

Branch played in 12 snaps against the Panthers and in just six against the Saints in Week 2. There were times when he was handled one-on-one, and it seemed as though he found himself on the turf through four weeks more than he had for most of last season. Too often, he did not look like the player who dominated the middle of the line of scrimmage for the Patriots defense last season. 

Though he indicated his benching against the Bucs served no motivational purpose, he acknowledged that he's trying to "get back to playing good football."

"I don't need the coaches to motivate me to do that," Branch said. "I know how good I can play. If I'm not doing it, I always try to get better. Even today I think I could have done a lot better."

Without the benefit of film review, it's hard to know how well Branch executed in his nearly two-dozen snaps. The Patriots played sound run defense against a Jets running game that came into the game as one of the league's top-15 units. They allowed just 3.1 yards per rush and 74 total rushing yards. 

Part of that could have been that the Jets were without Bilal Powell, their top back. But part of it was that played like Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy and Branch (at times) won their matchups in the trenches.

"I usually wait to watch the film to say how good we did or not," Branch said. "I don't know what the stats were. It felt better, but if we were out of gaps in certain plays . . . Lucky is sometimes better than good, but I'd rather be good than lucky."

The Patriots entered the game as a bottom-third run defense, allowing five yards per carry. Sunday marked a step in the right direction for them in that regard, and Branch believes that the team will improve with time. 

"We want a flat wall on the front," he said. "Sometimes there's dips. Sometimes we have issues on the edge. Sometimes in the middle we don't get the knock-back that we need. Pretty much all across the board we need to get better every game until the time when the real season starts, you know?"

After being told to stay home last week, it's advice his team surely hopes he's heeding himself.

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