Patriots defense 'is what it is'

962893.jpg

Patriots defense 'is what it is'

FOXBORO -- In New England, everything "is what it is." The saying is a Bill Belichick favorite, a standard retort to nearly any question regarding his football team.
And it kind of works. The Patriots defensive effort Sunday night? It is what it is.
New England surrendered 425 yards to the Texans in this weekend's Divisional Playoff. Matt Schaub completed 34 of 51 passes for 343 yards (just the second time he passed the 300-yard mark in 18 games this year), two touchdowns, and one interception.
But Houston lost, 41-28, so all that offense is what it is: A bunch of numbers that don't add up to making Schaub feel better about the day.
It is another night the Patriots gave up a bunch of scores and didn't lose.
"I think guys have that attitude that no matter what happens, usually we're on the end where our offense is putting up a lot of points," cornerback Devin McCourty said after the game. "If things go wrong, somebody returns a kick of anything like that, we just want to hold guys out of the end zone. We want to make plays down there and just try to play great defense. We know if we can hold teams to three points our offense will do the job and put seven on the board."
McCourty was referencing the opening kickoff.
Texans safety Danieal Manning was back to receive. After the catch, Manning took off and ran 94 yards before being brought down by a sprinting McCourty. It was a nightmare open to the game.
But Houston couldn't capitalize. Running back Arian Foster got the only gain on the drive -- a 3-yard run -- before Schaub burned the final downs on incomplete passes. The ensuing field goal provided Houston's only points for nearly two full quarters.
And there -- a positive for the Patriots defense: The Texans punted on four straight drives in the first half.
Another positive: Houston converted just four of 15 third down attempts.
"It just comes down to team defense good pass rush, good coverage and keeping the yardage longer by playing better on first and second down," said defensive captain Vince Wilfork. "I thought we did a good job in the running game until we got to the last drive in the second quarter and running back Arian Foster hit a couple long runs to the weak side on us. They scored right before the half. Because we were able to hold off a few of those runs, that put them in some third-and-long situations."
"It was good team defense; I dont think its any one guy. Third down obviously is critical for us and our red area stop was big too."
The third down numbers, the red zone stop, those are the things that surface in the wake of a win. All those yards surrendered -- 90 rushing and 63 receiving to Foster; 95 on nine catches for receiver Andre Johnson -- will come out later in the film's dissection.
Before facing Baltimore in next weekend's AFC Championship, those things will be addressed. The Patriots will look at why Houston went three-for-four on fourth (two of which conversions eventually led to touchdowns) and try to fix what went wrong.
It's not like the defense thinks it's perfect. It is grossly opportunistic.
The Patriots entered Sunday's game at a plus-25 turnover differential. They forced 41 turnovers (21 fumbles, 20 interceptions) in the regular season's 16 games.
Defensive end Rob Ninkovich added another big play to the pile with a third quarter interception. It was on one of those third-down plays that Houston left on the field.
New England made the most of the pick, as it tends to do. Just like McCourty said, once the ball was back in Tom Brady's hands the offense put up seven more points, and the Texans looked a little less threatening on their next drive.
Bend, Don't Break isn't a perfect plan. It does work for New England most of the time, however.
Vince Wilfork was asked if he thinks the defense, as it stands, is good enough for what's ahead.
"No," the nose tackle answered. "We can get a little better. We can get a lot better.
"But overall, this defense is taking the right steps. That's the only thing you can ask for is taking the right steps, especially in this point in time. The goal, right now, is to win. No matter how you win, that's the goal. You lose, you go home."
That is exactly what it is.

Haggerty: It's time for Pastrnak to take a step forward

Haggerty: It's time for Pastrnak to take a step forward

BRIGHTON -- The third season is usually a pivotal one when it comes to an NHL player's development and trying to forecast exactly how high their ceiling will be.

So it is for David Pastrnak, who is expected to take a major leap forward in his third year after showing flashes of great promise in each of his first two seasons.

“The [World Cup] is done, so now all of my focus is on being as ready as I can for this upcoming season,” said Pastrnak, 20, who threw probably the biggest hit of his career on unsuspecting teammate Patrice Bergeron when the Czechs played Team Canada in the preliminary rounds. “I feel way bigger, very comfortable on the ice, and I obviously feel really good right now.”

Pastrnak has had moments of dazzling brilliance in Boston so far while riding the usual learning curve that every young player travels in Claude Julien’s system. In addition, injuries last season sidetracked his development process.

Pastrnak put up 21 goals and 55 points between Boston and Providence as the youngest player in either league as an 18-year-old rookie two years ago. Last season he had 15 goals and 26 points in 51 games for the Bruins while also missing significant time because of a fractured foot. The injury not only sidelined him for a few months but also made it difficult for him to jump onto the moving train of the NHL regular season once he was ready to return.

Just as the former first-round pick was really catching fire at the end of the year, time ran out on a Bruins team that had a few too many older veterans with empty gas tanks after being ridden hard throughout the season. Pastrnak scored goals in each of the final couple of games, and showed off the game-breaking ability that should be on full display if he's healthy and placed in a position to succeed.

His World Cup stint ended on a high note, as he played his best game of the tourney against Team USA, though he didn’t make a major impact in the elite international competition. He put on five pounds of muscle during the offseason and clearly looking bigger and stronger at 189 pounds after ending last season closer to 180.

Part of that is the natural physical maturation process for somebody Pastrnak’s age as he gain’s “man strength”, and some of it was a dedicated effort. He worked out in Boston with the B’s training staff for much of the summer for the first time in his career.

The expectation is that Pastrnak is going to be running on the right wing with David Krejci on Boston’s second line, and the search in training camp is for a left wing who can bring added playmaking ability and maybe a little size and strength to the mix. In a perfect world Krejci and Pastrnak will develop into the same dynamic, two-way combination of Bergeron and Brad Marchand.

Pastrnak and Krejci could be a lethal offensive duo to be sure, but they’ll also have to pay attention to the little details if they want to stay together playing for Julien. Perhaps with that in mind, Julien was looking to temper expectations for Pastrnak

“I don't know if [the World Cup experience] accelerates expectations. But it's certainly encouraging to see that a guy that's got that experience to go and play at that level, and made himself better,” said Julien. “We know he's skilled and we know he's fast, and he's also gotten stronger. He's taking steps in the right direction here. We can look at those guys that are first overall picks and say, wow, some guys are exceptional.

“Some of the guys, you've got to give them time to grow and develop. That's what we need to do with David Pastrnak. I think we've got to stop putting expectations too high for him, and allow him to grow properly. He's going to have some growing pains and there are still some things he's going to want to get better at. There are still some things that he's going to want to learn that we're going to want to teach him. Let's give him that opportunity to grow properly without the extra pressure and extra expectations that maybe are not realistic.”

One would argue Pastrnak put those expectations on himself when he posted the 21 goals and 55 points as an 18-year-old, but that’s neither here nor there. Instead, the Pastrnak development project can, and should, be one of the things considered when we evaluate Julien’s current ability to get the most out of his young prospect-type players.

The bottom line with Pastrnak and the Bruins is this: It’s his contract year and motivation should be sky high. The Czech youngster is one of the few people who can step up and help fill the offensive void left by the free-agent departure of Loui Eriksson. Expectations are much higher for an experienced, talented 20-year-old than they are for a wide-eyed 18-year-old, and Pastrnak needs to make a big stride forward. Now is the time for Pastrnak to show all he’s learned, and completely unleash the array of offensive skills that caught everybody’s eye in the first place.

The Bruins need Pastrnak, and young players, to step up and start taking ownership of the hockey team.