Patriots

Brown reflects on defensive opportunity

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Brown reflects on defensive opportunity

FOXBORO -- When Troy Brown was tapped to play cornerback in 2004, the way Julian Edelman was this season, he didn't get to wade slowly over to the other side of the ball. He had to dive, head-first, into defense.

"From the moment I was told, I left my locker and went straight to the practice field," Brown said. "I didn't fully, really understand all the concepts, but I understood basic stuff. So I went out and did one-on-one's and I did seven-on-seven with the 'D'."

Here he stopped. Grinned.

"It wasn't pretty."

Edelman describes the move the same way. It's not transition so much as addition. It's just more of everything, Edelman says. He comes in to Gillette and gets an early scouting report on offense. Then he works with defensive coaches. Then he goes back to offense.

He names the Patriots' constant use of situational football as his best asset. Even though Edelman never worked with the defense in the past, he's been on the field with it as a scout team slot receiver. He would have gone up against the starters and seen exactly how the Patriots nickel packages were used.

"The coaches help you during practices," Edelman explained, "making situations as hard as they can to try to slow down the game and let you play fast. By no means have I made every tackle or covered every guy. I've got to work on those plays."

Some of those early full-speed practice might not have been, as Brown would say, too "pretty."

But the pressure isn't unmanageable. Brown said the coaches know that having a guy split time between offense and defense might mean he isn't razor sharp on both sides -- even if they don't say it. They might not say anything at all.

"Nobody ever really gave me exact expectations," said Brown. "As far as meetings and that type of thing, I was told, Go to the defensive meeting today,' and that's what I did. And I was already familiar with the offensive terminology, I just had to make sure I had all my notes on that stuff. Then I'd get my reps in."

The support of teammates and coaches can't be understated. When Edelman was asked who's been the biggest help in managing his defensive workload, he rambled on like a first-time Oscar winner.

"Coach JB -- Josh Boyer -- Coach Matty P. Matt Patricia, it's been Coach Belichick, it's been defensive captain Jerod Mayo, Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung's been out there helping me. Even Nate Jones, he's helped me with little things."

There are little things. There are big things.

Edelman doesn't have bad habits to break (leading with his helmet, for example) and his shoulders aren't banged up from absorbing countless opponents. He gets low on targets and wraps them up. He hits hard.

Brown is impressed by Edelman's ability to chase down plays or limit yards after a catch. So maybe the new defensive back is missing some jam, some reroute. Those aspects of his technique can be practiced if the Patriots really want to make something of this.

At least one person thinks it can work.

"I wish I had started playing defense earlier in my career. I had fun doing what I did, but I probably could have made my career just a little bit more...." Brown mingles his search for the right word with a laugh. "...A little more fun."

"If I was able to do that when I was younger, it would have been awesome. It's actually a great opportunity for Edelman, if he could find out a way to do both of those things well."

Edelman has 18 combined tackles in 94 snaps as a defensive back (five games, according to ESPN.com). Not bad for a stop-gap guy. He has none of the interceptions that were so impressive about Brown, but again, that could come. It all depends on how he's used.

"With the offense the way it's been, you've either got to get better or you've got to expand," said Edelman. "I've tried to do both and the coaches have given me an opportunity to do something different. All I can ask for is opportunity."

The Patriots hope giving Edelman a chance doesn't turn out to be the easy part.

Energized Patriots defense forces 'critical swings' with turnovers

Energized Patriots defense forces 'critical swings' with turnovers

“We’re a blue-collar team…”

Devin McCourty didn’t hesitate when asked about the Patriots’ identity. Moments prior, McCourty and his teammates had just stomped the Oakland Raiders in Mexico City, 33-8, to run their win streak to a half-dozen games. The Pats are tied for the best record in the AFC with the Steelers

“We played at a high level,” said McCourty. “They made some plays, but I thought we executed our game plan and did exactly what we wanted to do today.”

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After surrendering a 100-points per game through the first month (ok, it was only 32), the Pats defense has flexed their muscle during this stretch, allowing 12.5 points per game, which would be the best in the NFL were this a season-long thing. We’re not looking at the same unit even though the personnel is largely the same. If anything, from a talent-level, this defense has less skill than it did when the season started. Their best player, Dont'a Hightower, is out for the year, lost during the first win of this 6-game streak. They’ve also survived three-game absences from $31-million cornerback Stephon Gilmore and their most consistent interior defender, tackle Malcom Brown. Yet the defense keeps showing up, keeps improving and its confidence is growing by leaps and bounds.

“We’re just playing together…we’re kind of figuring that out,” said McCourty. “We’re understanding how we need to prepare, how we need to practice, whether it’s a hard, full-padded practice, whether it’s a walkthrough, we know what we need to do on each of those days and when we do that, we give ourselves a chance. You’re seeing that on Sundays. Everyone running around, everyone knows their job and it’s all about execution.”

“I thought our players gave a great effort tonight,” said Bill Belichick. “We came out and performed well early, throughout the game and played really good situational football.”

The Pats were opportunistic, forcing three turnovers, including one in a huge spot, when Marquis Flowers stripped the ball from wideout Seth Roberts as the Raiders were knocking on the door. It was 14-0 at the time, and Oakland had life. Second-year cornerback Jon Jones battled Roberts, Flowers popped the ball free and safety Pat Chung pounced on it. Instead of milking the clock and heading into halftime up two scores, the Pats turned that fumble into points, driving to midfield before Steven Gostkowski kicked a career-long 62 yarder. That further energized a Pats team that was already surging.

“It’s something we talk about every week,” said McCourty. “We’re playing solid defense, executing the game plan, but changing the game with turnovers - you know, even Duron’s interception was a third down so it was kind of like a punt. The energy that brings - when the offense takes the field after we get a turnover - that’s huge. And then with them driving again in the red area before the half is what we talked about, getting that stop.”

“We had some real critical swings with those turnovers,” admired Tom Brady, a chief beneficiary of those change in possessions.

Earlier this week, I asked McCourty if he got a sense that the team was coming together at the tail end of their stay in Colorado Springs. He smiled and joked initially, but you could sense the veteran safety can see and feel what the rest of the league is now a witness to.

“I hope so. I mean, it’d probably be terrible if I say yeah and then we go on a five-game losing streak. I can see the headline: ‘McCourty was wrong.’ So, no, I think we understand how the season starts to pick up. You know, each game means more. We understand that seven wins (now 8) doesn’t mean anything. We have to continue to get better. So, I think why we end up usually improving is because it’s the understanding of there’s no tomorrow.”

The defense ordered that Code Red after losing to Carolina in Week 4, and since then, they have worked harder, worked longer and cleaned up so many of the issues that ailed them that opening month. It’s a credit to the players, “they won’ the game tonight,” said Belichick, and the coaching staff as well. if you’ve followed this team over the years, you know even now, they’re not satisfied. There are “things to work on” added Belichick and they’ll start that work on the flight home from Mexico City to Foxboro. 

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