By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran
TAMPA BAY - Bill Belichick has long since become exasperated with questions about 3-4 vs. 4-3 and whether his defense will attack more often. He doesn't get into it and his players have clearly been coached to not talk about it either. But the game don't lie. And Thursday night in Tampa Bay, the Patriots went after Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman like he'd been dipped in BBQ sauce and they hadn't eaten in weeks. The two-gapping, read-and-react defensive style was on ice. Pressure was the name of the game. Tampa tackle James Lee was on the other side of the mayhem. "Its a little different with those bigger guys pushing upfield shooting those gaps," he explained. "They require at least a double-team. Youre talking about 350-pound guys. Its hard for one guy to get up under and move that. It causes a lot of double teams and opens holes for linebackers to flow through. And thats what was happening out there tonight.With Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love, Gerard Warren and Myron Pryor crushing the interior of the Bucs offensive line, Andre Carter, Eric Moore and Mark Anderson were coming off the edge hard. With no chance to stepup in a passing pocket that had been pushed into his face, Freeman was under siege. Jerod Mayo had two sacks and several more pressures. Carter was nipping at Freeman's back on at least five different plays. It was a sight rarely seen from the Patriots defense."Well take a look at it on the film," Belichick said when asked what he thought of the pressure his defense brought."Looked like we made a few plays."Mayo was at the top of that list.A tackling machine in his first three seasons in the league, he was unleashed Thursday to get upfield instead of waiting for the action to come to him. "Coach wanted to be aggressive," said Mayo, who also had two passes defensed and three quarterback hits along with the sacks. "It felt pretty good, but whatever Coach Belichick wants to do. I just like winning games and I love playing football."On the first snap of the game, Mayo lined up off the right shoulder of Carter on the blind side of Freeman. Carter attracted the attention of left tackle Donald Penn and Mayo swooped in to bring Freeman down as he released.
Later, Mayo had a sack of Freeman with a well-timed blitzup the middle."I feel comfortable," said Mayo. "Im going into my fourth year, Coach Belichick is doing different things with me."Carter - who was told by Belichick that his job would be to put his hand in thedirt and get upfield - was an eye-openerThursday night. Even if he played down his performance. "Ill leave that up to the coaches," he said when asked how he did. "Im my own worst critic. But theres definitely room for improvement. Im getting a feel for the guys next to me. I did my best to try to play fast. But Im still remaining humble and still remaining hungry."As the pass rush becomes more orchestrated, it should continue to improve. Pass rushers need to work together to set up blockers and flush quarterbacks to areas that are locked down by other defenders.
"Thats just through practice and through the games," Carter said when asked about working in concert with the rest of the line. "Any defense is always talking about fits. Where you belong and where the guy next to you belongs. Once you have that concept and understanding the skys the limit as far as making big plays, tackles for loss or sack."
It's been a while since big plays were the norm for this defense. And to think that neither Shaun Ellis nor Albert Haynesworth have been dusted off yet. It could be scary.