Patriots defense does its homework, gets results

Patriots defense does its homework, gets results
September 22, 2013, 8:30 pm
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FOXBORO -- It's too early for a nickname.

After beating the Bucs 23-3 on Sunday, the Patriots defense has allowed just three touchdowns in three games, but it isn't yet the Monsters of the Midway, the Purple People Eaters or the Steel Curtain. They know it, too.

"Don't want to get ahead of yourself," defensive tackle Tommy Kelly said. "Just take the good with the bad. You didn't play as good as you thought you did, and you never play as bad as you thought you did. I think we just need to have level heads and we'll be fine."

Whereas those old, historically stalwart defenses thrived on reputations of physicality and intimidation, the 2013 Patriots would have you believe that their strengths lie elsewhere: They like to study film. (Which may set them up for the shutter-worthy nickname The A/V Club down the line.)

When Aqib Talib made his interception late in the first half to set up New England for a 53-yard field goal as time wound down in the second quarter, he said that was thanks to something found in video sessions.

Talib explained that the Patriots had an idea of what was coming "from the preseason and just tape. They played two games this year. They run basic concepts so we watched a lot of tape."

He credited defensive coordinator Matt Patricia for calling the correct defense as Tampa tried to run its two-minute offense. Hanging on Bucs receiver Vincent Jackson as the play developed, he under-cut Jackson's route and picked off Josh Freeman's late pass.

"We just come to work everyday, and study this tape, man," Talib explained.

In all three Patriots wins, their defensive ends have been fast, their defensive backs disruptive, and their linebackers hard-hitting. Knowing where to be and when has been just as crucial, though.

The time they've put in inside the film room, according to Devin McCourty, has had a lot to do with their early success in getting off the field in third and fourth-down situations.

"It all comes down to execution," said McCourty, who wouldn't say that the defense is feeding off of any kind of swagger it has built up through three weeks.

"It doesn't matter how confident you are. Guys are working hard as far as studying the tape, seeing what teams like to do on third down and that usually carries over to fourth down in a gotta-have-it situation. It's just working hard in those situations and coach [Bill] Belichick always preaches situational football so we're just trying to take advantage of it."

"Guys are taking pride in what they do," safety Steve Gregory said. "Going to work every day, every week, and I think guys are taking initiative to go out there and perform at a high level. I think we're seeing it right now."

For all Patriots big-hitters -- Brandon Spikes, Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower and Vince Wilfork among them -- it's that they're in-sync from play-to-play that has them stopping opposing offenses, not any advantage in brute strength.

"Everybody's on one page," Kelly said. "Ain't nobody out there trying to do their own thing. Everybody's playing together. Communication really is the key. Spitting it out when we need it. Making checks when we need to, making adjustments when we need to. We getting better, but we got a long way to go."

If they can keep this up, they won't care if they've earned a real honest-to-goodness nickname. It won't matter. They'll be holding teams to low scoring outputs and likely winning more games than they lose.

"This defense is as good as we allow it to be," Chandler Jones said. "If everyone does their job and everyone executes, we should be fine."