Will defense betray Patriots in the end?

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Will defense betray Patriots in the end?

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com

The Patriots' defense allows an average of 374.6 yards per game. They are on pace to alow 5,994 yards. A big play or two in the final two games against the Dolphins and Bills and they'll give up more than 6,000. How do teams that allow 6,000 total yards in a season normally do? Not awesome. Here's the results since 2001. 2009: Chiefs (4-12), Browns (5-11), Lions (2-14)2008: Seahawks (4-12), Chiefs (2-14), Lions (0-16)2007: Lions (7-9)2006: Nobody2005: 49ers (4-12)2004: Chiefs (7-9), Saints (8-8)2003: Texans (5-11), Falcons (5-11)2002: Cardinals (5-11), Chargers (8-8), Lions (3-13), Chiefs (8-8)2001: NobodyThat's a combined record of 80-179. Nary a team among that group with a winning record. And believe me, I get it. It's "points, not yards" and "bend, don't break," and a lot of the numbers have beenrolled up in blowouts. The point of this exercise, the reason for pointing out that the Patriots are 12-2 despite having been moved upon with startling ease, is to illustrate what an anomaly their defense is. Because the New England defense is not bad and it is not good. It is timely. But after watching the Packers roll up 369 yards behind just-out-of-the-womb Matt Flynn, it is worth wondering if the time may run out on them. So let's call this"Alarmist Tuesday" and look atfour major concerns with the Patriots defense. 1. Defensive Line DepthThe Packers ran 84 offensive plays Sunday night. Vince Wilfork played 75 of them, as tabulated by the estimable Mike Reiss at ESPNBoston.com. Gerard Warren, meanwhile, played 59 and Eric Moore played 53. New England is short on the defensive line and having to use their two wide-body veterans for so many plays is not conducive to their long-term viability. The Patriots really could use injured guys like Mike Wright (concussion), Myron Pryor (back), Ron Brace (concussion) and Brandon Deaderick (shoulder injury vs. the Packers) to take the heat off the older guys. Sunday night was an aberration - the Patriots aren't going to often get doubled up in time of possession - but Wilfork is the key to their front-seven and he is a vital playoff cog. 2. Secondary DisciplineI'm in the minority, but I think Brandon Meriweather's been pretty good this season. He's a much better hitter than in 2009, when he seemed to pass on contact against bigger players. Unfortunately, his hitting on Sunday extended to teammate Devin McCourty, who Meriweather wiped out on a 66-yard touchdown pass to James Jones. Not only was Meriweather taking too shallow an angle, it appeared he needed to be further back in support on the play. Same thing in the second half when he nearly collided with Kyle Arrington at the goal line on a pass that Arrington should have picked. Patrick Chung, outstanding at the start of the season, has not been as solid in coverage as he was earlier in the year. Aside from a timely late-game tackle on Sunday, he's been pretty quiet since the early part of the year. The back part of the Patriots' defense is - depending on the playoff opponent - going to be key. If the Patriots match up with the Colts or San Diego (as opposed to Kansas City of the Jets, for instance, the play of the safeties will be a key factor. 3. Stopping the Run In Sub DefenseThe Patriots were horrendous at stopping backs when they had their nickel-and-dime defenses on the field earlier this season. They fixed it for a long stretch, but Sunday night it re-emerged.Discipline and being able toread and communicateare thekeys to success in those situations.4. Linebacker TacklingThe Patriots missed Brandon Spikes on Sunday night. Gary Guyton - despite all his athleticism - does not arrive at the ball under control very frequently. That's on checkdowns and regular handoffs. Rob Ninkovich, who's usually pretty reliable at wrappingup, slipped Sunday and allowed a simple checkdown pass to turn into a touchdown. And Tully Banta-Cain has had issues all season wrapping people up on initial contact. The poor tackling was the first thing linebacker Jerod Mayo lamented after Sunday's game. With what happened Sunday night, there may be talk of the Patriots defense being "exposed." The truth is, when you're on pace to allow 6,000 yards, the mediocrity of the defense has been hanging out there for everyone to see. But just as the convincing blowouts of the Jets and Bears served to make the Patriots defense seem more daunting than it is, the same holds true for the Packers game and the perception they're vulnerable. They are what they are. If they don't get flagged and do get turnovers, they will - despite their statistical atrociousness - be able to take a bow when it's all said andor done.

Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Patriots-Rams inactives: Slater, Coleman, Richards out

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Patriots-Rams inactives: Slater, Coleman, Richards out

FOXBORO -- The inactive lists for today's Patriots-Rams game:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
S Jordan Richards
WR Matthew Slater
DL Woodrow Hamilton
RB D.J. Foster
T LaAdrian Waddle
DL Darius Kilgo
CB Justin Coleman

PATRIOTS-RAMS PREGAME

LOS ANGELES RAMS
WR Tavon Austin
DE Robert Quinn
QB Sean Mannion
TE Temarrick Hemingway
OL Rodger Saffold
DB Steve Williams
OL Pace Murphy

Belichick: You give up individuality when you play football

Belichick: You give up individuality when you play football

FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick’s Friday press conference began with him swatting back inevitable questions about Rob Gronkowski. It’s the dance and Belichick doesn’t love it but on this day he at least went through the steps.

PATRIOTS-RAMS PREGAME

By the end, though, Belichick warmed to the conversation with the media in general and was letting some Friday perspective loose.

The portion I found most interesting came at the very end when Belichick was discussing Logan Ryan’s adjustment to a different role in the secondary and reduced playing time.

Did Belichick talk to Ryan? Often, the coach will say that his conversations are private. Not this time. And the reply gave insight into the message the Patriots impart over and over and over to their players. The same one the coach has given since 2000. The boat won’t move unless everyone grabs an oar and rows in unison with the rest.

“Yeah, sure,” Belichick began. “We always talk about that. It’s not an easy conversation because everybody wants to play more but at the same time everybody wants to have a good team and everybody wants to win. Everybody wants to do their role. We all want it to be bigger but sometimes we have to understand the bigger team picture, which I think our players do. Again, that’s not always. But you give that up when you play football. You give up some of your individuality. You give up some of your individual preferences or individual control you have to play the great team sport of football.

“If you want to go out there and run track, or swim, or throw the shotput, or play tennis or whatever it is; great,” Belichick added. “There’s nothing wrong with that and you control everything. You control how you practice. You control when you practice. You control how hard you hit the ball or how soft you hit it or whatever. Play golf. Then you’re your own team but when you buy into a team sport, not just defensively but offensively and in the kicking game, practice for the show-team, practice for the other side of the ball, so forth and so on, then you make a commitment to the team. And that’s different than playing individual sports.”

Unanimous buy-in is very hard to attain. Players’ livelihoods depend on how they show out on Sundays. For every Elandon Roberts -- a rookie who’s pinching himself at the opportunity to be a starting linebacker on the Patriots after being lightly-regarded out of Houston -- there’s a Jamie Collins who was on the cusp of a payday bonanza but was playing under a modest contract and in a system that wasn’t allowing him to just run around and make sensational plays.

“All players, that’s something that all players have to deal with but that’s part of playing football,” said Belichick. “But to your point of Logan [Ryan], he does a great job of that. But yeah, do all players want to play more? Do all players want more opportunities? Of course they do. But we have to try to set up a system and a structure that we feel like gives our team the best chance to win and I think everybody respects that.”