Patriots secondary finally shows signs of improvement

926833.jpg

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.

With Thomas drawing attention, Stevens turns to Rozier in big moment

With Thomas drawing attention, Stevens turns to Rozier in big moment

BOSTON – Prior to Saturday’s game, Terry Rozier talked to CSNNE.com about the importance of staying ready always, because “you never know when your name or number is going to be called.”

Like when trailing by three points in the fourth quarter with less than 10 seconds to play?

Yes, Rozier was on the floor in that scenario and the second-year guard delivered when his team needed it.

MORE:

But Rozier’s fourth quarter heroics which forced overtime against Portland, did not provide that much-needed jolt that Boston needed as the Blazers managed to fend off the Celtics in overtime, 127-123.

For Rozier’s part, he had 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting.

The 15 points scored for Rozier was the most for him since he tallied 16 in a 30-point Celtics win at Orlando on Dec. 7.

But more than the points, the decision by head coach Brad Stevens to draw up a play for him in that moment, a time when most of what Boston does revolves around the shooting of Isaiah Thomas who has been among the top-3 scorers in the fourth quarter most of this season, was surprising to many.

And at that point in the game, Thomas already had 13 fourth-quarter points.

Stevens confirmed after the game that the last shot in the fourth was indeed for Rozier, but Thomas’ presence on the floor was important to its execution.

“He (Thomas) also draws a lot of attention,” Stevens said. “So I think you just weigh kind of … what kind of shot you’re going to get, depending on who it is.”

Rozier had initially screened for Thomas, and Thomas came back and screened for him.

“I was open as soon as I caught … and I let it fly,” Rozier said. “Coach drew up a play for me and it felt good to see the ball go in.”

Being on the floor at that time, win or lose, was a victory of sorts for Rozier.

He has seen first-hand how quickly the tide can change in the NBA for a young player.

After a strong summer league showing and a solid training camp, Rozier had earned himself a firm spot in the team’s regular rotation.

But a series of not-so-great games coupled with Gerald Green’s breakout night on Christmas Day, led to his playing time since then becoming more sporadic.

Rozier, in an interview with CSNNE.com, acknowledged it hasn’t been easy going from playing regular minutes to not being sure how much court time, if any, he would receive.

But he says the veterans on the team have been good about keeping his spirits up, and one in particular – Avery Bradley – has been especially helpful.

Like Rozier, Bradley’s first couple of years saw his playing time go from non-existent to inconsistent. But Bradley stayed the course and listened to the team’s veterans who continued to tell him that his hard work would pay off sooner or later.

Those same words of wisdom Bradley received in his early days, he passes on to Rozier.

“It’s big,” Rozier told CSNNE.com. “He (Bradley) tells me things like that. I felt I was ready for this (inconsistent minutes) after all that he told me. It’s big to have a guy like him that has been through it all with a championship team, been around this organization for a while; have him talk to you is big. It’s always good. That’s why I stay positive, and be ready.”

Which is part of the reason why Stevens didn’t hesitate to call up a play for the second-year guard despite him being a 33.3 percent shooter from 3-point range this season – that ranks eighth on this team, mind you.

“He’s a really good shooter,” Stevens said of Rozier. “I think with more opportunity that will show itself true, but he made some big ones in the fourth quarter. We went to him a few different times out of time-outs, and felt good about him making that one.”

And to know that Stevens will turn to him not just to spell Thomas or one of the team’s other guards, but to actually make a game-altering play in the final seconds … that’s major.

“It helps tremendously,” said Rozier who added that his confidence is through “the roof. It makes me want to do everything. You know defense, all of that. It’s great, especially to have a guy like Brad trust you."