Curran: Pats' D goes from awful to awesome

Curran: Pats' D goes from awful to awesome
December 19, 2011, 6:06 am
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DENVER - At 4:45 p.m. EST, it was looking like the Patriots locker room figured to be a pretty dour place. The Broncos were ripping off yards on New England like a 3-year-old tearing through Christmas wrapping. An incredible 167 yards on the ground on just 15 carries. By 7:45 p.m. EST, Jerod Mayo was walking into the locker room demanding his AFC East champion hat and t-shirt. The turnabout came thanks to a scheme tweaking by secondary coach and de-facto defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, who altered the game plan the team hatched to stop Tim Tebow and the Denver offense. The first incarnation didn't work so good. The second, much better. Denver still finished the day with 252 yards on the ground, but scored just 10 points after that first-quarter embarrassment, with the lone touchdown coming after the Patriots had expanded their lead to 34-16. Coming into Sunday's game, you figured New England would have something creative hatched to stop Tebow and the Broncos rushing attack. The week previous, the Patriots played a lot of 3-4 defense against the Redskins - a departure from what they'd done most of the year before. But New England came out with its 4-3 alignment again and got gashed. The change was subtle. In addition to going to a three-man line, the Patriots did a better job controlling the edge of the field and turning plays back in. Their tackling improved. They, quite simply, settled down. Bill Belichick wouldn't go into detail on all the changes made by Patricia but he said, "(the 3-4) changed our spacing. So whether its an odd spacing or an even spacing, theres some advantages to each. So we were in a little more odd spacing try to keep better leverage on the formation. They gave us a lot of shifting early in the game, a lot of shifting, motion change, formations, so we were able to settle down for a combination of reasons, but one of them was to try and balance out the defense and I think that helped us a little bit.Jerod Mayo went into some more detail. "In odd (three-man line), the linebackers have to play the 'bubbles' and in even (four-man line), the defensive linemen have to play the so-called 'bubbles'. The first quarter was tough but as soon as we went to the sideline, Matty P made all those adjustments and it was sort of good just to show the different looks and see how they would attack us.The reality of trying to tackle Tim Tebow was different from the film as linebacker Rob Ninkovich found out when hewas shucked aside by Tebow on the first Denver touchdown. "You can't get a look (in the classroom) as far as Tebow and the offensive line are concerned," Mayo explained. "It was pretty difficult but once we settled down, we were all right."Keeping composurein the face of getting embarassedcan't be easy. But Mayo said the sideline was tame. "It was very important (to keep their wits)," said Mayo. "It's easy for guys to just shut it down and say, 'Okay, well, we lost this game.' But everybody showed mental toughness including the coaches and we got through."That composure, said veteran defensive tackle Gerard Warren, was critical. "Don't panic. Be accountable so if you knew you messed up on the field, come onto the sideline and say so and we can fix it," explaned Warren. "It takes a real man to admit when he made a mistake. We can run around and not say anything and then we won't know what to address or what to fix." "Our coaching staff made great adjustments and we played assignment football," said safety James Ihedigbo. "We knew we had to settle down and play. There were things we practiced this week where we said, 'OK, these are going to help us win.' Sometimes you go into a game and it's a different story, and they start doing things differently and you have to adjust. It's a part of it. We had to get rid of some things and put some new things in."The things Patricia put in worked. To a T.