By Tom E. Curran
Think it's maddening watching the Patriots secondary play defense.
Try pinning down the architect of that defense - or at least its overseer, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia - on why the Patriots are so relentlessly bad at stopping receivers from catching footballs all over the place.
When a question was posed to Patricia on Monday about the number of passes completed for more than 20 yards on his defense (five on Sunday, reportedly 39 in seven games), Patricia went into his verbal four corners offense.
"Were just trying to improve on everything each week and obviously trying to eliminate those to the best of our abilities ... we spend time on it like we do on every aspect of offenses that we tend to see each week. We understand it is a little bit of a copycat league, so we are prepared for those things to try to repeat from week to week and were trying to do a good job here of getting everything handled to the best of our ability."
Upshot? They're trying to get better. When it was pointed out that it is a given that every team, every coach and every player is trying to get better and Patricia was asked to explain what in particular they are trying to improve, Patricia said, "Were trying to get the guys that we have out there defensively working together and improving and trying to, like I said, get better.
"Thats really our plan," he confided. "When we take a look at it and whatever the particular play is or the particular play were seeing and those individual specifics, were just trying to manage those on each individual situation."
Patricia went to Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute. It's a hard school. He's smart. He's also 38. He became a positional coach with the Patriots in 2006 when he took over the linebackers. Last year, he was in charge of the safeties. This year, he was made the coordinator.
It may be Bill Belichick's defense, but Patricia is Belichick's hand-picked lieutenant in charge of making sure things run as they're supposed to.
Yet the inevitability of defense collapse is ever-present. Especially in the secondary. And Patricia can't or most likely won't even attempt to articulate what the barrier to competent performances is.
"Were going out there just trying to improve it every week and we take a look at it, evaluate it and try to make sure that there is some improvement in what were doing try to make sure that we understand whats happening in the back end and as a defense as a whole," offered Patricia. "So thats just what were trying to do right now."
Before Patricia got on the call, Belichick was asked about the secondary yielding big plays and the alleged improvement over the previous week in Seattle.
Now, the notion of a vast improvement against the Jets week eluded me because there were plenty of explosive plays from an offense that's deadly as a pop gun most weeks.
But Belichick was encouraged.
"Theres no defense thats designed to give up 50-yard pass completions or anything like that," Belichick explained. "Thats really the worst thing that can happen defensively, is for the offense to get all their yardage or score on one play and not make them drive the ball and execute a number of plays and third down and red area and goal line and all those situations.
"If they just get it all in one play, then thats it," Belichick added. "Its always a point of emphasis. Its never anything that we want to have happen. We emphasized it last week; weve emphasized it every week. When we had as many big plays as we did in the Seattle game, it became more of a battle cry and I want to say one of the results yesterday of that was that we had more opportunities in the red area and we made a couple defensive stops in the red area and thats good. Thats a good way to hold the points down rather than seeing it all go in one play and be a 50-yard touchdown. They have to drive it and it gives you a chance to stop them and we did that a couple times and came close to blocking one of the field goals. You make your opponent work to get their points and work to get their yardage. Thats much better than just handing it to them all in one play or one pass interference call or one play that gains a lot of yards. Its a big point of emphasis, but it always is. Last week, we probably spent even more time addressing it."
So after seven games, the Patriots' defense - which just allowed Mark Sanchez to complete 68 percent of his passes for 328 yards and put up 26 offensive points - is moving in the right direction because it allowed no 50-yard completions, just a bunch of 20-something throws.