FOXBORO - What can you take away from a first preseason game? It's basically an in-stadium practice with fans, live coverage and teams finding out exactly what they need to work harder on.
It's just a checkpoint.
But in the six plays the Patriots defense faced the Saints first offense, it was somewhat apparent that they were playing faster. More aggressively. Hard from the start.
The last three seasons, the Patriots defense has been a reactionary one. There are signs that this year they are trying to take the fight to offenses.
"We're just trying to be physical and be aggressive out there, just fly around," said cornerback Kyle Arrington. "One thing we've definitely harped on early this year is playing for each other. Just trying to be a physical defense. (Continuity) definitely helps. We're communicating better and that's always a big advantage. The more comfortable and confident you are with the calls, the faster you can play. We're working on it."
Of particular note Thursday night was the work of right defensive end Chandler Jones. The rookie first-rounder was a pain in the posterior for the Saints, coming off the edge against Pro Bowler Jermane Bushrod to draw two holds and bring a pressure that caused an incompletion.
Hes a specimen," said Bushrod. "I dont have too much else to say. He was excited, just like any other rookie.
But also worth mentioning was a third-down play by linebacker Jerod Mayo who tracked down Saints' running back Darren Sproles after a catch and brought him down short of the sticks.
Running the 4-3 defense, the Patriots can afford to be more aggressive. And players like Mayo can flow more readily to the ball than they would in the two-gapping 3-4 defense the Patriots have so often employed in the past.
The pressure up front also helped set up the Patriots' two interceptions, one by safety Steve Gregory, the other by safety Patrick Chung.
The speed of the defense is a point of emphasis, said Chung. It's being preached to younger players like Jones and linebacker Dont'a Hightower.
"Thats more practice, more things that we execute during practice and tell them, Hey, get to the ball, get to the ball, get to the ball, " Chung explained. "Its more of a consistent thing so during the games its kind of like second nature. Its older guys, younger guys it really doesnt matter. You have to be relentless and get to the ball and thats what weve been practicing.
"Having a bunch of young, athletic guys out there is definitely good; guys that want to learn and theyre learning fast," Chung also said. "First game, first preseason game, just have to build on it, get better and see how the season goes. But its good to have guys like that. Theyre working hard out there so its good to see them having some success."
The Patriots don't figure to scrap their ability to use multiple fronts and looks. It's what makes them so hard to prepare for, said Drew Brees.
"They have the ability to flip from a three-four scheme to a four-three scheme," said Brees. "We only practiced against them two days and then played against them in the first preseason game, so everything is still going to be pretty simple. ...But I remember when we played them in 09, wed watch a game one week and it was all three-four and then youd turn on the film the next week and its all four-three. And so, youre just sitting there going, How do they determine how they are going to play, when theyre going to play it? And then, How are they going to play us? So then youre forced during the week to prepare for both, because youre not quite sure what youre going to see."
The Patriots could have three or four new starters a month from now when they take on the Titans in a real game. Jones, Hightower, Gregory and, possibly, defensive tackle Jonathan Fanene (idle Thursday night).
They definitely sought to change their defense some at each level.
And they got good returns on their first time out.
"I felt like we played good," said Chung. "We played good. We have to watch some film obviously. I cant really give you a full explanation on that but for the most part we played good. We held them to six points so thats always good. ... Its just the first game. You have to do that multiple times. You have to do that consistently throughout the whole season. Its a very good start. Well take that but we have to keep doing it. It cant just be one game. You have to keep doing it for 16, 20 games, however many games we end up playing, we have to do it every game.
"You cant get a chip off (your shoulder in) one preseason game," Chung warned. "We have to build and get better, make the communication better, make the play better, make some plays on the ball; fumbles. Everything is a factor. Just having one game doesnt really tell you anything. You have to get through preseason, get a couple games under the belt and then see if we get that little chip.