Patriots secondary finally shows signs of improvement


Patriots secondary finally shows signs of improvement

LONDON For the first time in a while, a postgame locker room wasnt filled with whispered promises from defensive backs about trying to get better or working to get better.

We didnt hear those because, on Sunday against the Rams, they actually did . . . get better.

Oh, it didnt start too better. Six plays into the game, the Rams were dancing in the end zone after a 50-yard Sam Bradford to Chris Givens bomb. But that was not a harbinger of what was to come.

The trickle didnt turn into a deluge this time. This time, the Patriots defense plugged it up.

Some of it had to do with scheme. Somebody called for more blitzes safety blitzes, linebacker blitzes, twists and stunts along the defensive line although Bill Belichick said after the game he wasnt sure there really were more dialed up than normal.

Whatever the case, the secondary benefited from pressure up front and the Rams refusal or inability to challenge downfield.

For the embattled secondary it was, to quote Jerod Mayo, Huge.

Guys are weathering the storm, said Mayo after the Patriots limited the Rams to 209 passing yards, picked Sam Bradford off twice and rendered Steven Jackson a non-factor. We always talk about ignoring the noise, but sometimes you can't help but hear it. I think this game was a steppingstone for people to grow. People can continue to get better. We feel if we can put a couple of things together, we can be a pretty dangerous team.

Vince Wilfork said the change began against the Jets, even though the Patriots made Mark Sanchez look almost serviceable.

We gave up 300-some yards passing, whatever it may be. But I saw guys in that game being physical, using their hands, and sometimes being called for pass interference. But it didn't discourage them from doing what we wanted to do, Wilfork explained. Those guys being able to get the ball for our offense - those are huge plays. We always talk about when the ball is in air, think of it as ours.

Everything is not going to be perfect, reminded Wilfork. It's football, nothing is perfect. We are definitely learning. We are still learning. But we are going to continue to play better. We try to get better each weekend, and hopefully this team will be a special team.

The Rams were a little confounded about how things got so ridiculous so quickly.

You look at their defense and I think they were 30th defending the pass, said Bradford. We came into this game really expecting to move the ball.

They did. In fits and starts. But never with any sense of impending here it comes".

Considering the Patriots secondary was again without its starting safeties and lost starting corner Kyle Arrington after the first drive, its worth looking harder at why they played better. And the presence of Devin McCourty at safety continues to be a common denominator in better play back there.

I felt today I did a better job communicating, getting all those guys on the right track, McCourty explained. Actually once you have some moving parts back there, guys go down, it's important everybody lines up and plays the same defense. They put me back there, put me in charge of making sure everyone knows what they're doing. I felt I did a better job this week than last week. Things started to slow down for me back there.

Well see if McCourty sticks back there. You know the saying, If it aint broke, dont fix it.

After one competent game, its too soon to conclude the Patriots secondary is no longer broken. But the fix may be closer to being in.

Haggerty: Subban looking more like a 1st-round bust than NHL goalie

Haggerty: Subban looking more like a 1st-round bust than NHL goalie

BOSTON -- Malcolm Subban still believes he can be a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL.

While that sort of sheer, brazen self-confidence is admirable -- especially after getting yanked from a 5-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild at TD Garden Tuesday -- pretty much all the evidence points to the contrary. Given a shot because of injuries to Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin, nearly two years after getting pulled from his only other NHL appearance when he gave up three goals on six shots in St. Louis, Subban was taken out Tuesday night after allowing three goals on eight second-period shots.

He maintained a defiantly confident tone afterwards, a testament to his maturity and mental toughness.

“It sucks," said Subban, who has now allowed six goals on 22 career shots faced in two starts. “Obviously, I’m just trying to finish the game, let alone win one . . . but what can you do now, right?

"Obviously I want to be a No. 1 goaltender in the league. I was a [first-round draft choice] for a reason. I have the potential, and I just have to show it. Obviously I haven’t done that so far yet, but I think I’m getting closer to it. Honestly, I think I can do it right now. I just got to show it . . . I didn’t [do it] today, but tomorrow’s a new day.”

Given the stunningly bad quality of his two NHL starts, combined with a thoroughly pedestrian body of work at the AHL level over the last three years, there is literally zero evidence Subban is tracking to be a franchise goaltender. Meanwhile, a sizeable selection of goaltenders taken after him in the 2012 NHL Draft have proven their worth and advanced to the elite level: Matt Murray. Frederik Anderson. Connor Hellebuyck. Joonas Korpisalo.

Subban was hoping all along to break through this season in Boston, but things went south on him quickly Tuesday in his first chance to do so.

Hampered by a Bruins team not playing well in front of him, the first goal he allowed was a fluttering Charlie Coyle shot that trickled between his glove hand and the top of his leg pad. The third was a softie low and to the glove side, a power-play strike authored by Ryan Suter. Instead of hanging in and giving his team a chance to win, Subban helped put the Bruins in a hole they couldn't escape.

While Claude Julien felt the poor performance "could be a combination" of goaltending and overall defensive lapses, he didn't let Subban off the hook.

“There are some goals -- I’m not going to lie -- there are some goals that we thought our goaltenders should have had," said the coach.

But he also wasn't going to place the blame solely at Subban's feet.

"[I’m] not here to talk about a goaltender -- who’s in one of his first few games -- because he let in a couple of bad goals,” said Julien. “We were terrible in front of him . . .  and that’s the big picture. That’s more important.

“I don’t care who’s in net. I think when you have some injuries you need to be better in those situations and we weren’t good enough tonight. It doesn’t matter if Tuukka is in net and we had injuries up front, or we’re lacking players here or there. You’ve got to let the system take care of the game. If you play it the right way, you have a chance to win. When you don’t, you don’t. That’s what happened [against Minnesota].”

There’s no question the defense in front of Subban wasn’t nearly good enough. Adam McQuaid and Torey Krug in particular struggled to lock things down in the defensive zone. The wide-open shots from the slot -- like the Chris Stewart score in the second period 12 seconds after Minnesota’s opening goal -- are indicative of a hockey club that’s not sticking to the game plan once things start to get a little wonky.

But this is about a player (Subban) who should be entering the NHL stage of his career after being a first-round pick in 2012. Anybody would be hard-pressed to see him as an NHL goalie after his two Bruins appearances. Combine that with the lack of dominance at the AHL level over the last three years, and there’s a better chance that Subban will be a major first-round bust rather than a late-blooming No. 1 goaltender.

The scary part is that Subban and fellow young netminder Zane McIntyre are all the Bruins have for Wednesday night’s game against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, and perhaps longer if Rask can’t make a rapid recovery from his lower body injury.

Maybe Subban can be a bit better than he’s shown thus far, and, to be fair, the three goals allowed to Minnesota weren't all his fault. The bottom line, however, is that he should be up for doing this job right now. Tuesday was a big chance for the young goalie to make a statement that he was ready for it.

Instead he looked like the same goalie who'd been pulled from two of his first four AHL starts this season, one who's never going to truly be ready for the call in Boston.