The No-Name Defense Stands Tall

Sergio Brown (US Presswire)

The New England Patriots are relying a bunch of players who are relatively unknown to the rest of the NFL. Castoffs from other teams, undrafted players, late round picks are all part of the unit dubbed one of the worst in the league. Yet that group is turning in some big plays. Those big plays have the Patriots on the winning track.

No-names, retreads stand tall for Patriots

   Just because the individual names on the makeshift defense of the Patriots are not household variety doesn't mean the defense as a whole cannot do its job.

   That's a lesson that Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez and the Jets learned in Sunday night's loss to their bitter division rivals at MetLife Stadium.

   The Patriots' defense ranked dead-last in the NFL in both total defense and pass defense had a different look. With starting inside linebacker Brandon Spikes (knee) and starting safety Patrick Chung (foot) out of action, Bill Belichick was forced to send undrafted rookies Jeff Tarpinian and Sterling Marlin to start in the primetime battle to fill those voids.

   They joined a defense that started five total former undrafted players, with the young duo joining the likes of defensive lineman Kyle Love, cornerback Kyle Arrington and safety James Ihedigbo.

   Things got worse later in the game when second-year Pro Bowl cornerback Devin McCourty went down with a shoulder injury. That forced Antwaun Molden, Philip Adams and even slot wide receiver-turned-part-time-corner Julian Edelman to see more action than would be ideal.

   Add in the fact that career special teamer Tracy White saw nearly full-time action in sub packages for the most important defensive action of his Patriots career, and New England was fielding a defense that looked more like a preseason unit than one ready for a big midseason road win against an archrival.

   As a unit the Patriots defense stepped up to the challenge in the 37-16 win. The Jets were just five of 13 (38 percent) on third down, were just two of four in the red zone and turned the ball over three times.

   Belichick admits that throwing guys like Tarpinian and Moore to the proverbial wolves comes with a realistic amount of uncertainty and trepidation as a gamble.

   "What happens when the lights go on, you never really know for sure. You have to wait and see that," Belichick said. "Those guys have practiced a lot and they've certainly gotten a lot of reps in practice, so you can start to evaluate how they perform in practice, but that's not the same as games. When you put a player in the game who hasn't played in a game before, you're a little bit looking to see how he's going to react in game conditions."

   They did the job under the bright lights against the Jets.

   "Guys that you probably have never even heard of," Ihedigbo said with a smile. "We communicated, played fast, and with a purpose. We knew it was the type of game where it didn't matter who was in the game on defense; we would step up and make plays. Ultimately we did that as a group."

   One of the stars on the New England defense, Pro Bowl nose tackle and captain Vince Wilfork was feeling pretty good about the performance his group put forth.

   "We had a lot of guys roll in," Wilfork said. "Whether from injury or playing guys in certain situations, Bill challenged us last week; he said there's going to be some moving parts, roles are going to be changing and you have to be ready to rock and roll. We all rallied around one another and we didn't back away from anything. We took his challenge and it showed."

   The players on the Patriots defense may not be well known. They may not have impressive resumes or elite talent. They'll never get the attention of Tom Brady and the more hype, more proven offense.

   But they're all that Belichick has right now and they're doing the best they can. Sunday night in a big game in New York, that was more than good enough.

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