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
--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.
- Patriots Game Thread
Defense? Blame Belichick
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