Patriots

Will defense betray Patriots in the end?

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Will defense betray Patriots in the end?

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com

The Patriots' defense allows an average of 374.6 yards per game. They are on pace to alow 5,994 yards. A big play or two in the final two games against the Dolphins and Bills and they'll give up more than 6,000. How do teams that allow 6,000 total yards in a season normally do? Not awesome. Here's the results since 2001. 2009: Chiefs (4-12), Browns (5-11), Lions (2-14)2008: Seahawks (4-12), Chiefs (2-14), Lions (0-16)2007: Lions (7-9)2006: Nobody2005: 49ers (4-12)2004: Chiefs (7-9), Saints (8-8)2003: Texans (5-11), Falcons (5-11)2002: Cardinals (5-11), Chargers (8-8), Lions (3-13), Chiefs (8-8)2001: NobodyThat's a combined record of 80-179. Nary a team among that group with a winning record. And believe me, I get it. It's "points, not yards" and "bend, don't break," and a lot of the numbers have beenrolled up in blowouts. The point of this exercise, the reason for pointing out that the Patriots are 12-2 despite having been moved upon with startling ease, is to illustrate what an anomaly their defense is. Because the New England defense is not bad and it is not good. It is timely. But after watching the Packers roll up 369 yards behind just-out-of-the-womb Matt Flynn, it is worth wondering if the time may run out on them. So let's call this"Alarmist Tuesday" and look atfour major concerns with the Patriots defense. 1. Defensive Line DepthThe Packers ran 84 offensive plays Sunday night. Vince Wilfork played 75 of them, as tabulated by the estimable Mike Reiss at ESPNBoston.com. Gerard Warren, meanwhile, played 59 and Eric Moore played 53. New England is short on the defensive line and having to use their two wide-body veterans for so many plays is not conducive to their long-term viability. The Patriots really could use injured guys like Mike Wright (concussion), Myron Pryor (back), Ron Brace (concussion) and Brandon Deaderick (shoulder injury vs. the Packers) to take the heat off the older guys. Sunday night was an aberration - the Patriots aren't going to often get doubled up in time of possession - but Wilfork is the key to their front-seven and he is a vital playoff cog. 2. Secondary DisciplineI'm in the minority, but I think Brandon Meriweather's been pretty good this season. He's a much better hitter than in 2009, when he seemed to pass on contact against bigger players. Unfortunately, his hitting on Sunday extended to teammate Devin McCourty, who Meriweather wiped out on a 66-yard touchdown pass to James Jones. Not only was Meriweather taking too shallow an angle, it appeared he needed to be further back in support on the play. Same thing in the second half when he nearly collided with Kyle Arrington at the goal line on a pass that Arrington should have picked. Patrick Chung, outstanding at the start of the season, has not been as solid in coverage as he was earlier in the year. Aside from a timely late-game tackle on Sunday, he's been pretty quiet since the early part of the year. The back part of the Patriots' defense is - depending on the playoff opponent - going to be key. If the Patriots match up with the Colts or San Diego (as opposed to Kansas City of the Jets, for instance, the play of the safeties will be a key factor. 3. Stopping the Run In Sub DefenseThe Patriots were horrendous at stopping backs when they had their nickel-and-dime defenses on the field earlier this season. They fixed it for a long stretch, but Sunday night it re-emerged.Discipline and being able toread and communicateare thekeys to success in those situations.4. Linebacker TacklingThe Patriots missed Brandon Spikes on Sunday night. Gary Guyton - despite all his athleticism - does not arrive at the ball under control very frequently. That's on checkdowns and regular handoffs. Rob Ninkovich, who's usually pretty reliable at wrappingup, slipped Sunday and allowed a simple checkdown pass to turn into a touchdown. And Tully Banta-Cain has had issues all season wrapping people up on initial contact. The poor tackling was the first thing linebacker Jerod Mayo lamented after Sunday's game. With what happened Sunday night, there may be talk of the Patriots defense being "exposed." The truth is, when you're on pace to allow 6,000 yards, the mediocrity of the defense has been hanging out there for everyone to see. But just as the convincing blowouts of the Jets and Bears served to make the Patriots defense seem more daunting than it is, the same holds true for the Packers game and the perception they're vulnerable. They are what they are. If they don't get flagged and do get turnovers, they will - despite their statistical atrociousness - be able to take a bow when it's all said andor done.

Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

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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