Patriots

Patriots looking to control Cardinals DT Dockett

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Patriots looking to control Cardinals DT Dockett

FOXBORO -- As defensive tackles go, Arizona's Darnell Dockett may be one of the most versatile and athletic in the NFL. Now in his ninth season, the three-time Pro Bowler has made a name for himself as one of the league's most productive and durable defensive linemen.

As the Patriots have studied Dockett this week, they've noticed just how disruptive he can be in the middle of the Cardinals defensive line. In Week 1 against the Seahawks he accumulated five tackles, a half-sack, five hurries and three quarterback hits.

After putting up 390 yards of total offense against the Titans last week, Dockett's Cardinals and their 3-4 scheme present what should be a more formidable challenge.

"He's probably one of the top defensive tackles in the league," Donald Thomas said of Dockett. "He's a leader out there, I think, for their 'D'-line and he's gets those guys going. He's been playing for a long time and he's a good player. You've got to be able to match up with him and control him and not let him get going."

At 6-foot-4 and 293 pounds, Dockett isn't the traditional space-eating defensive tackle. He's big enough to help Arizona protect against the run, but he's also quick enough to get after quarterbacks and make plays in the backfield.

"It makes him more explosive I think," Thomas said of Dockett's leaner build. "He's not one of those big 330 guys. He's fast, he can move, he's strong. He has a good combination of size and speed and I think that's what makes him such an elite player."

His desire stands out on film, too. For a guy who has started in every regular season game but one since he came into the league out of Florida State in 2004, Dockett still has a rookie's motor.

"I think it's his effort," said Logan Mankins in describing Dockett's strengths. "He's athletic, no doubt everyone in the NFL is, but he's a very high-effort guy. He's always playing very hard, always hustling up the field, always trying to get to the ball. I think that's his biggest attribute."

That effort up front doesn't always show up on the stat sheet, either. Helped by Dockett's strong showing in Week 1, linebacker Paris Lenon made two sacks. Daryl Washington, another Cards 'backer, had 10 tackles.

"They have big guys that move very well," Mankins said. "They have a very athletic front. They can pass rush, they play good against the run, they do pretty much all of it. They're a pretty complete defense."

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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