Harrison disappointed in Patriots soft coverage

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Harrison disappointed in Patriots soft coverage

There was once a time when opposing wide receivers feared the Patriots defense.

Rodney Harrison. Ty Law. Lawyer Milloy. Tedy Bruschi. Mike Vrabel. The list goes on.

If Hines Ward was to skip a game against the Pats in those years, it wouldn't be because he wasn't needed by his team. It would be because the Steelers would be worried that Harrison could end his season.

You can understand then why it was so painful for Harrison to watch the Patriots secondary get run all over.

"Well, I think the biggest thing for me is when I look at that secondary and that defense, they blitzed Pittsburgh, yes they did, but I saw those corners and those linebackers playing so timid, playing soft coverage," Harrison told Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran on 'Quick Slants'. "You need to get up there. I know those guys are fast, Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace and those guys, they're very fast, but you have to get up there and challenge these guys. I just see just such soft coverage and I'm very disappointed in that."

So now the offense is a "finesse" style and the defense is "soft". Hey, when did the Patriots cheerleaders make the 53-man roster?

The secondary is a glaring weakness on the Patriots, one that opposing teams (at least the ones who did their homework) will surely take advantage of on a weekly basis. Curran points out that the Jets and Cowboys didn't do it, but why wouldn't anybody else?

Harrison is quick to note that the young and defenseless Pats are supposed to make up for inexperience with speed -- speed that they don't seem to have.

"Well, I mean, when coach Bill Belichick developed this defense and he brought younger guys in, the one thing I hear everyone say is, 'Well, he wants to get younger, he wants to get faster.' Well, where's the speed? I don't see a fast defense. I don't see an explosive defense out there.

"When I look at other defenses I see the speed. I see the speed on Green Bay's defense or even Pittsburgh's defense. But I don't see that fast speed with the New England Patriots. I'm just very disappointed because I look at that team and I say, you know, get up there and jam those guys, play some man-to-man coverage, blitz, and force the quarterback to make some mistakes."

At least the Patriots can fall back on their offense, right? It's bailed them out many times before, but when the playoffs roll around, it's got to be a team-wide effort, or again they'll be one and done.

"I think the thing is Belichick understands the strength of this team is in the offense," Harrison said. "They believe that they can go out and score 30 points a game even if they give up 23 points or 400, 500 yards on defense, it doesn't matter.

"But my problem with that is, when you start reaching in November and December in those critical months and the playoffs and stuff like that, you're going to have to be able to come up and play good defense and you can't rely on your offense because now you have to run the ball more and you have to have shorter passes."

Four-player draft class an indication of Patriots confidence in roster

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Four-player draft class an indication of Patriots confidence in roster

FOXBORO -- The Patriots had only 50 to 75 players on their draft board. From that group they took only four this weekend: Youngstown State edge defender Derek Rivers, Troy tackle Antonio Garcia, Arkansas defensive end Deatrich Wise and UCLA tackle Conor McDermott. 

What are we to gather from that? Does that miniscule class -- the smallest in team history -- mean this was a particularly shallow pool of talent?

Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio seemed to indicate otherwise about a week before the draft during a press conference.

"Look, there's good football players top to bottom, I would say, across positions," he said."Our job is to find the ones that fit for us. The reality is, look, there are some players that fit. There’s some players that don’t. In the end, we end up with 50 to 75 players that we would draft from top to bottom. That’s a small number, but that’s where we end up."

That explanation seemed to be a sign that maybe Caserio, Bill Belichick and their staff felt as though there weren't many players in this class who could compete for spots on what was was a talent-laden roster well ahead of draft weekend. There were good players scattered throughout the class, as Caserio said, but maybe only 50 to 75 were good enough to challenge for jobs in New England.  

Boston Sports Tonight's Michael Holley -- whose book War Room followed closely the draft strategies of the Patriots, Chiefs and Falcons in 2011 -- said something interesting on CSN two weeks ago once Caserio let it be known that the Patriots draft board was looking relatively small. Holley believed the number of names on the draft board was a sign that the Patriots felt very good about their team before they were even on the clock to make a pick.

Because the Patriots will put names of their own players on their draft board, comparing them to potential draftees who might compete with them at a certain position, pegging only a limited number of players as "draftable" may mean that many of the veteran names already on the roster were unlikely to be leapfrogged by rookies.

It was an interesting point. In retrospect, it highlights the fact that this draft probably wasn't devoid of talent. But it may have been short on talent that could "fit" in New England -- or realistically make the 2017 Patriots. 

One area in the draft where the Patriots seemed to believe in its depth? Perhaps the team's most obvious area of need: Edge defender. 

The Patriots had just three established defensive ends on the roster going into the draft in Rob Ninkovich, Trey Flowers and Kony Ealy. Ninkovich, 33, is going into a contract season. Ealy is in the final year of his rookie deal and has never played a snap in New England. 

The Patriots had several options on the edge with their first pick at No. 72 overall. Kansas State's Jordan Willis, Texas A&M's Daeshon Hall, Alabama's Tim Williams, Auburn's Carl Lawson and Ohio's Tarell Basham were all on the board . . . yet they traded back. 

As ESPN's Mike Reiss suggested Sunday, that deal could have been the result of a player the Patriots liked -- like defensive end Dawuane Smoot of Illinois -- coming come off the board just before No. 72. Maybe they wanted to regroup and trade back to buy themselves time to make a choice they felt confident in.

But it also could have been a case where they had a handful of edge players on their board graded similarly, and they wanted to pick up some draft capital by moving down the board without sacrificing much in the way of talent. 

They ended up with Rivers, who some believe has the ability to be a top-end pass-rusher and would have been taken much higher had he played for a program in a power-five conference. Then they hung tight at No. 131 in the fourth round and found another added layer of depth for the edge in Wise, who in some ways looks like Chandler Jones when Jones was a rookie in 2012.

Whether or not the they thought of this year's draft as "deep" throughout? That's debatable. That they liked the look of their roster going into the weekend before making a pick is not.

Unconventional NFL draft grades

Unconventional NFL draft grades

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