Patriots look to improve pass defense

Patriots look to improve pass defense
November 3, 2011, 8:55 pm
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FOXBORO It's one thing for an opponent to recognize the New England Patriots' pass defense as a weakness and try to exploit.

It's a totally different matter when they see that the Pats' defense against the pass is so bad that they don't even need their best players in order to find success through the air.

Pittsburgh wide receiver Hines Ward, who did not play in the Steelers' 25-17 win over the Patriots due to a toe injury, said he "probably could have forced it and played" against the Pats.

But why bother?

"I wasn't really concerned," Ward told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "And against the Patriots, we felt we could exploit their secondary."

Those were Hines' words, but they could have easily have been said for just about every team, minus the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys who inexplicably tried to run more than pass against the Pats.

New England cornerback and defensive co-captain Devin McCourty said he had not heard of Ward's comments until told by the media.

"All of our focus right now is on the Giants," McCourty said. "We watched that (Pittsburgh) game so we can learn from that going forward. That's the focus right now -- is on the Giants."

If there's a lesson to take away from the Steelers loss, it's clear.

Find a way to better defend the pass.

"In this game, you have to find a weakness. Right now, our weakness is our pass defense," said New England defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. "That's not to say they're (Giants) not going to run the ball. We understand that."

He's right.

New York may look to run the ball some, but don't expect them to keep it on the ground.

For starters, New York's rushing attack is among the NFL's worst this season.

Only Tennessee (68.9 yards per game) and Seattle (77.7) have less success on the ground than New York, which averages just 85.6 yards rushing per game.

Take into account New York's lack of a ground attack and the fact that New England has struggled so mightily against the pass all season, and it's hard to imagine that the Patriots secondary should be a busy unit on Sunday.

It certainly has to bother the Patriots secondary that opponents are speaking so boldly about the secondary being such a weak part of the Patriots team.

"Of course it bothers me, but I don't really think it's important," McCourty said of the talk. "You can't control how somebody feels, and what we put out on tape is us. So if somebody looks at it and that's how they feel . . . it is what it is. That's not going to change our attitude. We're still going to watch the film and we're going to come out to play and come out to try to stop people. No matter what they say, if they're nice to us in the media and say all good things, we're still going to come out and try to shut them down. That's still our focus."

New England's secondary has taken much of the heat for the team's struggles against the passing game.

However, one of their more outspoken supporters has been Wilfork, who ranks among the team leaders in interceptions (2) this season.

"Trust me, I don't want none of our DBs to think it's their fault that we're not off the field on third-down, or they caught an in-cut 20-yards downfield," Wilfork said. "Twenty-yards down the field? That gives us a lot of time to work upfront, get to the quarterback. So, we have to take some of the blame, too. And we are."

Even if teams do look to focus more on throwing against the Pats, Wilfork believes they'll have to do more than that to win.

"One-dimensional teams shouldn't be able to beat us," Wilfork said. "We have to do a better job, all the way around. If a team wants to attack us that way, we make the adjustments and try to stop them and move forward. That's where we at."