Wilfork in the middle of Patriots' improving defense

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Wilfork in the middle of Patriots' improving defense

FOXBORO -- They certainly aren't the 1985 Bears. And they have a long way to go to compare to the Patriots of the early aughts. But things are starting to turn for New England's defense.

In the last two weeks, in wins over the Jets and Colts, the Patriots have forced nine turnovers. Three have gone for touchdowns, including Steve Gregory's scoop-and-score from 32 yards out on Thanksgiving.

It may not be a shut-down unit, but the Patriots have won in recent weeks thanks in part to its defense, not despite it. Count Vince Wilfork among those encouraged by his team's improvement on that side of the ball.

"That's our goal," Wilfork said. "Each week we say we wanna get better as a unit. Over the past couple weeks you've seen a lot of guys make plays for this football team. Right now it's a one-game season. You really have to buckle down, start playing our best football. We've seen that we can play very well when we execute well. I think everybody individually is stepping their game up to help this ball club."

As it's been for the better part of the last decade, Wilfork has led the way when it comes to players elevating their games. His numbers don't do his dominance justice (6 tackles in the last two games combined), but his presence in the middle of the Patriots defensive line has been immense.

In the second quarter, he twice handled double teams to help the Patriots stop the Jets on third- and fourth-and-short plays, the latter resulting in a fumble. On Gregory's touchdown scamper, Wilfork was the one who shoved Jets guard Brandon Moore into quarterback Mark Sanchez to knock the ball loose. In New England's third-quarter goal-line stand against the Jets on Thanksgiving, he blew up the hole and allowed Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo to make the stop on Shonn Greene.

Wilfork also played well against Indianapolis, helping pressure Andrew Luck into throwing an interception to new cornerback Aqib Talib, which was returned for a touchdown.

Raising his level of play late in the season is something Wilfork has always taken pride in.

"My whole career -- high school, college -- it seems like the longer the season goes, the better I play," Wilfork said. "Nine years now with the Patriots, same thing. I just prepare well. Sometimes I make some adjustments in games in weeks, sometimes I don't make plays, sometimes I make a lot of plays. But my thing is to be the best I can be for my team. Whether that's making one tackle or that's making 10 tackles. I really don't care about that. My goal is always do what I do best and do what I can to help this ball club.

"Sometimes on the stat sheet it doesn't show, but as long as my teammates are making plays, and some things we put in as a defense, sometimes it's not meant for me to make plays. But as long as we winning and I'm playing well, I'm satisfied with that."

If the rest of the Patriots defense can keep pace with its big man in the middle, they should be in good shape for the last quarter of the season. The quest for continued progress resumes on Sunday against the Dolphins, with a shot at a division title on the line.

"Our goal is to get better, be better, especially now," Wilfork said. "Play our best football. We haven't played our best yet. We still waiting for our best. Right now it's gonna be like a one game season from here on out. We gonna need everybody to be at their best."

If history's any indication, Wilfork will be.

McAdam: For Dombrowski and Red Sox, the future is now

McAdam: For Dombrowski and Red Sox, the future is now

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Dave Dombrowski has jumped in. All in. With both feet.

MORE ON THE TRADE

For an executive with a reputation for making bold moves, Dombrowski may have made his boldest one yet Tueday by shipping arguably the organization's best position player prospect (Yoan Moncada) and its best pitching prospect (Michael Kopech), along with two others, to the Chicago White Sox for lefty ace Chris Sale.

Adding Sale to a rotation that already includes reigning Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello and David Price gives the Red Sox the American League's best rotation and makes the Sox the team to beat in the A.L.

Hired 17 months ago with a mandate to make the Red Sox winners again after three last-place finishes in the span of four seasons, Dombrowski has acted aggressively and decisively.

Since then, he's obtained Price, Craig Kimbrel, Carson Smith, Drew Pomeranz, Tyler Thornburg and Sale. That translates into three lefty starters and three back-end power arms in the bullpen.

Of course, all those moves have come at a significant cost. Dombrowski has gone through the Red Sox' minor-league system and shredded it, sacrificing Anderson Espinoza, Manuel Margot, Javier Guerra, and now, Moncada and Kopech.

The pitching, in particular, has been stripped bare, with Espinoza and Kopech representing the two best arms in the system. And in Moncada, the Sox gave up on arguably the single most talented propsect in the entire sport.

At a time when teams protect their best young players as though their existence depends on them, Dombrowski has demonstrated a willingess to move them for a chance to win now.

In exchange, the Sox have now built a super rotation, with three front-line starters, augmented by two other lefties (Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez) along with Steven Wright and Clay Buchholz.

It's a virtual certainty that the Sox will move one of those arms now, in a market where there's virtually no quality free-agent starters available.

Buchholz, who stands to earn $13.5 million in 2017, would give them payroll relief, while Rodriguez, because of his youth and upside, might give the team its biggest return.

Dombrowski's moves create a window for the Red Sox. Sale's deal runs through 2019, while Price has an opt-out in his deal after 2018.

That creates some urgency for the Red Sox to capitalize on the strength of their rotation and a nucleus of young position players -- Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Andrew Benintendi -- and win multiple titles in the next few seasons.

Anything less will be considered a failure.

It's championship-or-bust time at Fenway.

Belichick explains matching in the secondary

Belichick explains matching in the secondary

FOXBORO – Here’s a leftover from last week I’m dredging up because it’s really instructive in giving insight to something we all flap our arms about: how the Pats decide whether to play zone, man-to-man or match receivers with their secondary.

The jumping off-point was asking about Trumaine Johnson -- a long-tall corner for the Rams. As Belichick about Johnson and the difficulties he poses, at 6-foot-2, it brought to mind the team’s acquisition earlier this season of Eric Rowe. The 6-2 corner they got from the Eagles filled a need in that the Patriots other corners are not very tall, headlined by 5-9 Malcolm Butler.

So I asked Belichick if the team strives to have different sized players in the secondary.

“That’s if you move them around,” he explained, meaning size only matters if you intend to put size-on-size. “If you don’t move them around, if you play a guy at one positon and he plays on the right side or the left side, you cover the guy that’s over there, which I’d say is more the situation than not. There are some teams or some situations where you’ve got him, he’s got the next guy, you’ve got somebody else, but I’d say that’s by far the lower percentage of the plays, by far. Generally, you see a corner play – some games are different. We’ll match to this guy and somebody else matches to that guy. Teams will do that. There’s some of that, but by and large, most teams play at one position and whoever is in that spot, that’s who they cover.”

With matching receivers being the exception rather than the rule, the next logical question is why? Why would you let a little guy cover a big guy if you also have a big guy who could cover?

Because offenses make it complicated, Belichick answered.

“The easiest thing in the world is for one player to match another,” he explained. “‘OK, you go cover this guy.’ Alright, great. But what do the other 10 guys do? That’s the problem. It’s easy to matchup one guy. That’s simple. What do the other 10 guys do? What if he’s here? What if he’s there? What if he goes in motion? What if he’s in the backfield? What if it’s this personnel? What if it’s that personnel in the game? Then how does all the rest of it matchup? That’s where it gets tricky.  You can be spending all day, literally, on that. OK yeah, you take this guy but what are you going to do with the other 10?”

Belichick also delved into other options including a coverage concept the Pats used when Darrelle Revis was here. Giving Revis the opponent’s so-called No. 2 receiver and doubling the No. 1.

“You can matchup and put your best guy on their best guy, or you can matchup and put your best guy on let’s call it their second best guy and put your second best guy on their best guy and double him,” Belichick said. “If you’re going to put your best guy on their best guy and double him anyway then you kind of lessen the matchups down the line. It’s like setting a tennis ladder, or whatever. If you put your bad guy at one and you win two through seven, great. If you put your best guy at one and he gets beat by their one and then your two versus their two, you know. That’s what you’re doing. You have a three to four-man ladder there with the receivers and your DB’s [defensive backs], except we don’t have to match them that way. You can match them however you want.”

It’s a fascinating discussion and it comes into play the next two weeks as the Patriots will see a true test with receivers like the Ravens Steve Smith and Denver with Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas.

The Patriots will have decisions to make. Chances are they’ll use a little bit of everything. But these are some of the the things they weight when doing so.