Patriots

Harrison disappointed in Patriots soft coverage

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Harrison disappointed in Patriots soft coverage

There was once a time when opposing wide receivers feared the Patriots defense.

Rodney Harrison. Ty Law. Lawyer Milloy. Tedy Bruschi. Mike Vrabel. The list goes on.

If Hines Ward was to skip a game against the Pats in those years, it wouldn't be because he wasn't needed by his team. It would be because the Steelers would be worried that Harrison could end his season.

You can understand then why it was so painful for Harrison to watch the Patriots secondary get run all over.

"Well, I think the biggest thing for me is when I look at that secondary and that defense, they blitzed Pittsburgh, yes they did, but I saw those corners and those linebackers playing so timid, playing soft coverage," Harrison told Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran on 'Quick Slants'. "You need to get up there. I know those guys are fast, Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace and those guys, they're very fast, but you have to get up there and challenge these guys. I just see just such soft coverage and I'm very disappointed in that."

So now the offense is a "finesse" style and the defense is "soft". Hey, when did the Patriots cheerleaders make the 53-man roster?

The secondary is a glaring weakness on the Patriots, one that opposing teams (at least the ones who did their homework) will surely take advantage of on a weekly basis. Curran points out that the Jets and Cowboys didn't do it, but why wouldn't anybody else?

Harrison is quick to note that the young and defenseless Pats are supposed to make up for inexperience with speed -- speed that they don't seem to have.

"Well, I mean, when coach Bill Belichick developed this defense and he brought younger guys in, the one thing I hear everyone say is, 'Well, he wants to get younger, he wants to get faster.' Well, where's the speed? I don't see a fast defense. I don't see an explosive defense out there.

"When I look at other defenses I see the speed. I see the speed on Green Bay's defense or even Pittsburgh's defense. But I don't see that fast speed with the New England Patriots. I'm just very disappointed because I look at that team and I say, you know, get up there and jam those guys, play some man-to-man coverage, blitz, and force the quarterback to make some mistakes."

At least the Patriots can fall back on their offense, right? It's bailed them out many times before, but when the playoffs roll around, it's got to be a team-wide effort, or again they'll be one and done.

"I think the thing is Belichick understands the strength of this team is in the offense," Harrison said. "They believe that they can go out and score 30 points a game even if they give up 23 points or 400, 500 yards on defense, it doesn't matter.

"But my problem with that is, when you start reaching in November and December in those critical months and the playoffs and stuff like that, you're going to have to be able to come up and play good defense and you can't rely on your offense because now you have to run the ball more and you have to have shorter passes."

'Man, why do we continue to do this?' Patriots FG block work finally pays off

'Man, why do we continue to do this?' Patriots FG block work finally pays off

FOXBORO -- Stay low. Drive off the tight end's inside shoulder. And whatever you do, keep your feet. You don't want to be falling into kicker and picking up a penalty. 

Those were the kinds of things that were bouncing around somewhere in Cassius Marsh's subconscious as he lined up to try to block Falcons kicker Matt Bryant's field-goal attempt from 37 yards away at the end of the first quarter. Swimming past his blocker off the snap, Marsh got both arms extended and into the path of Bryant's kick, knocking it down and giving his team a boost. 

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"Guys work hard on that every week," Bill Belichick said after his team's 23-7 win. "Cassius has gotten some opportunities in practice. It’s hard to block Steve [Gostkowski]. Steve gets good height on the ball, gets the ball off quickly. I think this one with not quite as much height maybe as Steve's ball, or at least what Steve's balls were in practice, Cassius got a hand on it. 

"It was a big play for us because, again, we worked so hard on that and that’s everybody across the board. That’s all 11 guys, not just the guy that blocks it. The other guys have to do their job and if they block Cassius and take him away then that gives somebody else an opportunity so we never know how that’s going to go. We just want everybody to come hard and do their job right and wherever the opening is it is. That was a big play for us . . . 

"You can see the whole team – we were all excited. Sideline, players, guys on the field. That was a big moment for us. Our special teams units work very hard. They take a lot of pride in their job. The return teams, the coverage teams, the field goal and the field goal block team. It’s good to see that hard work pay off in a big play like that."

It was a big enough play that it earned Marsh a high-five from his coach. Marsh laughed about his reception on the sideline, remembering that the last time he got that kind of recognition from Belichick it came after a Week 4 sack.

"That's pretty much it that I can remember," Marsh said, beaming. "He only really smiles in situations like that so you've gotta cherish those moments."

The Patriots recovered at their own 26-yard line and embarked on an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to get them on the scoreboard.

"With the defense playing as well as they were, to be able to preserve the shutout at the time was big," said special teams captain Matthew Slater. "Those are huge momentum plays when you're able to block a kick. It's not a traditional play that happens every game. Huge play. A UCLA guy stepping up, who would've thought? 

"You gotta tip your hat to those guys because they coach that, they work that and sometimes it seems like, 'Man, why do we continue to do this?' But it paid off for us tonight. You tip your cap to not only Cash but the rest of the guys on that unit." 

While Marsh's block was the highlight, it was a strong night overall for New England's special teams units. Every Falcons drive started inside their own 30-yard line, and Gostkowski had kicks returned to the 12, 19 and 18 before they were stopped.

Slater called it the most complementary game the Patriots played all season. Offense, defense, special teams. They all worked together to make Sunday perhaps their most dominating performance of the year. 

"That's the effort that we've been looking for and striving for all year," Slater said. "I think that's a good starting point for us. Lot of football left. Nine games left so we're going to have to continue to do it and be consistent week in and week out."

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Butler credits improved Patriots defense for 'playing smarter'

Butler credits improved Patriots defense for 'playing smarter'

FOXBORO -- As safety Duron Harmon emerged from the showers following the Patriots 23-7 win over the Falcons, he noticed a crowd gathered by his locker. As one of the captains of the team - and a man nicknamed by teammates as “The Voice” because of his ability to articulate the right words at the right time, the affable safety is a must listen postgame. But for a change, Harmon knew the mass gathering of media wasn’t there for him - at least not yet. We were there for Malcolm Butler, who had just played his best game of the season.

“You all want to talk to Malcolm?” Harmon sang. “I’d want to talk to Malcolm too.”

Devin McCourty got in on the act as well with some good-natured chirping in Butler’s direction. Both safeties were energized by the victory but also, it seemed, by the performance of a player they’ve come to rely on in games just like this. 

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“Awww man, Malcolm. . . Malcolm was great for us,” said Harmon later. “We need that.”

It's hard not to draw the parallel between Butler having his best performance of the season a week after making two of the biggest plays in the game against the Jets. He did all this while the man who indirectly caused so much of the 28-year old’s troubles - Stephon Gilmore - hasn’t been able to play because of a concussion. Meanwhile, an undrafted player in his 6th year, Johnson Bademosi, has emerged opposite Butler to play very sound football.

“Communication,” said Butler of the team’s defensive improvements. “Just playing smarter and better. That’s all.”

Butler himself didn’t want to spend much time analyzing his own performance. That’s usually not his thing. And it wasn’t as if that performance was perfect. Far from it. But Butler’s energy was evident right from the jump. He stuck his nose in there on running plays to his side, including a terrific submarine tackle of Tevin Coleman in the opening quarter. Butler also got his fair share of Julio Jones over the course of the night. Even though he surrendered that late touchdown to the Falcons wideout, he showed not only a willingness to play the big dog, but to go right at him. That is - after all - a Butler trademark. 

“Just competing,” said Butler. “Great player; you just got to compete.”

It’s not just competing, but it’s playing with confidence, something Butler said was an issue for him in the aftermath of his snap reduction in New Orleans. But now? That seems long gone and hard to find.

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