Curran: Patriots defense takes baby steps

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Curran: Patriots defense takes baby steps

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com Patriots InsiderFollow @tomecurran
OAKLAND - Better. Still not good. But better. The New England Patriots are a quarter of the way through the 2011 regular season. Defensively, the numbers are ugly. A total of 1,910 yards allowed (478 per game), allowing conversions on third down 48 percent of the time, six sacks (four in the first game of the year) . . . you've seen it, I've seen it. They are not that good on defense. But they were better on Sunday against the Oakland Raiders and - at this point of the season - getting better is what teams hope for. The loss of Jerod Mayo is going to hurt. He and Vince Wilfork are the two best front-seven players the Patriots have. And with the secondary struggling and banged up, his absence as the leader of the back part of the defense is a blow to their trying to make improvements. But the Patriots' early season problems have been as much about scheme as they've been about personnel. And on Sunday, the Patriots got back to playing a style that best fits their guys. For three weeks, the Patriots asked theircorners to play a ton of man-to-man. They asked them to get up on receivers, jam them and allow the pass rush to force the ball out quickly. Trouble was, too often the corners weren't rerouting receivers and the pass rush never got there. And the results were staggering. On Sunday, New England played a little softer. And while Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell still rolled up some yards, the avalanche of deep passes to outside receivers who'd beaten either Leigh Bodden or Devin McCourty ended. And the Patriots tackled on Sunday. There were still some misses - Shaun Ellis' Dawn of the Dead lumber after Jacoby Ford applies here - but ususally the grabbing and calf-roping we'd seen in the first three weeks was replaced by wrap-em-up, bring-em-down sticks. "We got better this week," said McCourty. "The goal is to win and we did that but throughout the week in practice we got better."The Raiders brought a very clear-cut challenge to this game. The NFL's leading rusher coming in was Darren McFadden. Throughout his coaching career, Bill Belichick has been someone that stresses taking away the one thing an opposing offense really, really likes to do. On Sunday, the Patriots held McFadden to 75 yards on 14 carries. And 41 of them came on one play. The Patriots otherwise held McFadden to fewer than 3 yards per carry. Sure tackling was a big part of that. "We took that as a challenge to come out here and help those guys up front," said McCourty who, along with Kyle Arrington (starting in place of Bodden) led the Patriots with eight tackles. "Our front seven does a great job against the run but if a guy comes outside or gets in the open field we got to do a good job coming up and making tackles."The Patriots were disgraceful in that department the past few weeks, especially in the linebacker and secondary group. There are still some alarming trends - how did Gary Guyton get so slow so fast? - but at least their seems to be a settling in process underway. And while Belichick mayregard points allowed as the end-all, be-all, yardsallowed is an indicator of something.If you're 32nd in the league in yards allowed, it's impossible to hide from the fact you can't stop a nosebleed (to borrow a phrase). Thefact Oakland gained 504 net yards is still alarming. And the fact that one of their drives ended in anunforced end-zone interception thrown by Jason Campbell from the Patriots' 6 isn't evidence that the Patriots bent but didn't break. It's just evidence that Campbell is a mid to low-tier NFL quarterback. But after allowing 268 first-half yards, the Patriots allowed just 133 total yards in the second half before the Raiders had a 99-yard jaunt in garbage time. Again, improvement. "As a player you want to get that down," said McCourty. "We come out and work hard every day to come out and play well and that's one way of seeing how well we play. We always want to get the yards down."McCourty's been under siege a bit. I asked him if it was getting tiresome answering questions about what went wrong every week. "I've explained and talked about it," he said. "When we watch those plays, we want to correct them. We want to get those yards down, we want to get those numbers down. We feel like we're a good defense and when we come out there and let things happen, like Mayo said, 'That's what we are,' that's what the stats shows. We want to get that down and keep playing well."The Patriots have personnel issues stacking up silently against them. They've lost two of their best young interior pass rushers, Myron Pryor (IR) and Mike Wright (concussion). Albert Haynesworth has missed two games with back problems. Now Mayo is hurt and the secondary still has two starting safeties - Josh Barrett and Patrick Chung - running around with casts on their hands. They face the Jets and Cowboys over the next two weeks and both of them have better offensive personnel than Oakland. The challenge is very clear. Whether they're going to be able to meet it is up in the air. But the indications are better on this Monday than they were last Monday. Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Patriots WR Malcolm Mitchell gets a new deal . . . with Scholastic Books

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Patriots WR Malcolm Mitchell gets a new deal . . . with Scholastic Books

Second-year Patriots receiver Malcolm Mitchell already had a children's book published before he was drafted last year. Now he has a three-book deal with children's book publisher Scholastic. 

The three books will include a newly-illustrated edition of his self-published first crack at the children's book genre, "The Magician Hat," according to the Associated Press. That will come out in May of next year and be followed up by two more original works. 

Mitchell has been a children's literacy advocate since before joining the Patriots. That he joined a reading club -- made up mostly of women twice his age or more -- was quickly seized upon by multiple media outlets in the build-up to last year's draft as one of the feel-good stories in that year's class of prospects. 

Mitchell has founded a youth literacy initiative called Read With Malcolm, and he's the Patriots "Summer Reading Ambassador," encouraging young students to read as much as possible during the summer months. He hosted reading rallies across New England that began in Roxbury, Mass. back in March and finished up last week at The Hall at Patriot Place.