Major Problems On Defense

Sanders vs Spikes (Getty)

The score may have been close, but the game never was. Despite being held to a season low 17 points, the Patriots' biggest problems weren't on offense. It's the worst defense in the league that has New England searching for answers.

Woeful defense shows no signs of improvement

   While one bad game certainly doesn't wipe out all the strides the New England Patriots made defensively before their bye week, Sunday's performance against Pittsburgh was a reminder that there's still a lot of work to do.

   Given the state of the roster, repairing all that ails the team will be no easy task.

   The Patriots' defense looked inept Sunday. Pittsburgh moved the ball at will, dominating the time of possession and chewing up enough clock to keep the Patriots' offense off the field.

   The good news? It's still early, and the Patriots tend to play their best in November and December. The bad news? There are no reinforcements on the way. No key injured players are working their way back into the lineup.

   As coach Bill Belichick would say, "It is what it is." Other than the loss of Ras-I Dowling, a nickel back at best, and Leigh Bodden, who was cut prior to the game, the Patriots aren't missing any noteworthy players.

   The bottom line is they need the players they have to play better, or else it's going to be another empty regular season followed by a quick playoff exit. The secondary still looks weak, and the pass rush, while much better than it was in September, isn't consistent enough to mask the other flaws in the defense.

   The Patriots are last in the league in total defense, allowing 424.1 yards per game. They are also last in pass defense by a wide margin, yielding 323 passing yards per game.

   Will it get better? It could, but the fix will have to come from within, because the Patriots are stuck with the roster they have unless they can pluck someone from the scrap heap to add a much-needed spark. Things looked good two weeks ago following New England's come-from-behind win over Dallas, but Sunday's loss is another reminder that the Patriots still don't stack up against the league's elite teams, and that won't change unless the defense improves.

Woodhead returns to kick-return duty

   --Running back Danny Woodhead returned a second-quarter kickoff 20 yards Sunday. It was his second NFL kickoff return and first since a 16-yard return in December 2009 against Atlanta. He finished the game with four returns for 74 yards.

   --Linebacker Gary Guyton had with a key interception that set up New England's first scoring drive.
   The pick, which occurred in the second quarter, resulted in a 17-yard return to the Pittsburgh 8-yard line, leading to Tom Brady's 2-yard touchdown pass to Deion Branch.
   Guyton now has three career interceptions; Sunday's was his first of the season.

   --LB Jerod Mayo returned to the lineup Sunday after missing time due to a knee injury. Mayo did not have a huge impact considering Pittsburgh's success rushing the ball up the middle, but his return eventually will help New England's depth at linebacker.
   --OT Sebastian Vollmer, who had been battling a back injury, returned to the lineup Sunday. Rookie T Nate Solder slid back into his spot as a reserve.
   --RB Kevin Faulk, who spent the first six weeks of the season on the physically unable to perform list, returned Sunday and finished with 32 rushing yards on six carries and 20 receiving yards on five catches.
   --DL Brandon Deaderick returned Sunday and finished with one solo tackle in a backup role. He had opened the season on the physically unable to perform list with an undisclosed injury.
   --WR Wes Welker had six receptions for 39 yards and now has 57 receptions for 824 yards through seven games this season. The 57 receptions are tied with Rod Smith (57 in 2001) for the second most in NFL history through the first seven games of a season.

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