FOXBORO -- The Patriots had myriad problems in pass defense Sunday against Pittsburgh as the 50 pass attempts by Ben Roethlisberger showed. Bill Belichick said Wednesday that the team's issues at corner barely registered.After speaking about the scouting process that brought corners Antwaun Molden and Phillip Adams aboard, I asked Belichick if the performance of those two players against Pittsburgh made him feel OK with last Friday's release of Leigh Bodden. "I think they both played competitively in the game," said Belichick. "I'd say the problems we had in the Pittsburgh game, I wouldn't put that at the top of the list."While Bodden wasn't reminding anyone of Champ Bailey over the first six games of 2011, there seemed -- to the layperson -- no indication that Molden and Adams were upgrades. In fact, Molden got the hook in the third quarter after playing terrified (sorry, no other word for it) and confused. Molden played 42 of the 80 defensive snaps. Adams came in and played 19 snaps. Belichick asked me for an example of poor corner play. Three popped to mind -- Molden and James Ihedigbo butchering a goal-line play by not getting their signals straight (touchdown Pittsburgh); Molden sprinting downfield away from Mike Wallace when Patrick Chung came on a safety blitz giving a 25-yard cushion that turned into a 12-yard gain; the miscommunication that led to an end zone double team and an Antonio Brown touchdown (Molden again).Belichick got the point and interjected, "I wouldn't say that every play was a good play. The number of plays that happened on the perimeter of the field relative to the plays that happened well inside the numbers I don't think there was any comparison."Perhaps not. Butif corner play -- whether it be Molden, Adams or Devin McCourty(Kyle Arrington played pretty well it seemed) -- wasn't at the top of the list, it was in the top three. The communication on the back-end was awful. The safety play seemed addled. The schemes being used were questionable as well. And the fact that a player the team will sink 4 million into this season was home watching instead of on the field makes one wonder how exactly that makes the team better.
Continuity along the offensive line was one of the reasons the Patriots were able to have the season they had in 2016. They tossed aside the early-season experiementation that Bill Belichick favored at times in order to establish a starting five that could be relied upon, if healthy, start to finish.
They attacked 2017 with the same approach, but because of injury the consistency simply has not been the same. Both starting tackles, Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon, have missed time injured this season, and Cannon will sit out again on Sunday as he continues to deal with an ankle injury.
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The interior of the line has remained largely in place until this week when center David Andrews came down with an illness, missed two practices, and was ruled out.
On a line where familiarity is key, where the center is the one making the calls, the one in constant communication with Tom Brady, what now?
The Patriots will likely turn to second-year man Ted Karras, who has the ability to play both guard spots and also backed up Andrews for the vast majority of training camp. The 6-foot-4, 305-pounder was released at the end of camp, quickly signed to the Patriots practice squad, and then he re-signed to the active roster in Week 1 when Malcolm Mitchell was placed on injured reserve.
Karras, drafted in the sixth round in 2016 out of Illinois, was named a practice player of the week earlier this year and he earned some praise from Belichick before the Patriots took off for Mexico City.
"Ted works hard," Belichick said. "He loves football. He gets there early, stays late."
Belichick noted that Karras (nine snaps, all against the Broncos) hasn't played much this season, but he did see plenty of work early last season when he filled in for an injured Shaq Mason. He was the Week 1 starter at right guard in a win ver the Cardinals and he played 41 snaps in Week 2 against the Dolphins.
The Patriots offensive line could also potentially turn to Joe Thuney at center. He's practiced there before and got some experience at the position during his time at NC State. This seems like the less likely move since the Patriots would then have to deal with two new players at different spots -- center and left guard (whether the player replacing Thuney would be Karras or rookie Cole Croston) -- which could have a domino effect on the rest of the line.
However the Patriots choose to handle it, they'll face an interesting test south of the border. The Raiders feature a pair of talented pass-rushers in Bruce Irvin and Khalil Mack, who Belichick says play all over the offensive line, yet Oakland is tied for last in the league in sacks.
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If the Patriots are about to go up against one of the more talented punters in the league, one way or another, you're bound to hear about it from Bill Belichick.
Sometimes Belichick will go into great detail on opposing punters in one of his weekly press conferences. Sometimes he'll go out of his way to highlight a punter during one of his "breakdowns" on Patriots.com.
He went the latter route this week, gushing over Raiders punter Marquette King.
"We usually don't have the punters on the highlights here, but King's a very athletic punter," Belichick said. "He runs a lot of fakes, a guy you have to really be conscious of as a both holder on field goals and punts on fakes."
King is the No. 2 punter in the league when it comes to net punting (45.5 yards), and he's tenth in the league in terms of the number of punts dropped inside the 20-yard line.
"King is an athletic guy," Belichick reiterated, "and he can change field-position big time."