Several weeks ago, Patriots defensive coordinator Pepper Johnson made reference to "teaching old dogs new tricks" when discussing the maturation process of New England's defense.
Suffice to say, these dogs have learned a thing or
two in recent weeks. The Patriots' performance against Dallas two weeks
ago is proof; New England held a high-powered offense in check, forced
turnovers, and came through with a key three-and-out at the game's most
critical point late in the fourth quarter.
"I think we've gotten better," nose tackle Vince Wilfork said. "That's what you want to do as a team; you want to be
able to each week move forward and be able to do keep doing the
positive stuff and (with) the negative stuff, if it's something you
like and you didn't get a good look at it, you try to build on that.
"I think everything is moving forward. We're in
the middle of the season and things we do well, we have to continue to
do well. Things we don't do so well but can help us, we need to find a
way to make those things happen for us. We're definitely at a situation
where we're still building. Everything's not perfect but it's moving
along pretty good."
Things figure to get better, too, with Brandon Deaderick and Ron Brace back practicing. The two have missed
significant time due to injuries, but their potential returns add
youth, speed and versatility to the defensive line, which should only
improve the pass rush.
"Only time will tell," Wilfork said. "I don't what
the plan is with them, but only time will tell. If their number is
called, they have to be ready to answer the bell. I just don't know
where we stand with that. That's probably a question better suited for
Bill (Belichick). Whoever Bill puts us out there with, we have
confidence in them. That's how it's going to be. We can't do anything
A lot of new faces have been added to this
defense, and the scheme has switched from 3-4 to 4-3 at various times,
but Wilfork noted that his role hasn't changed much, nor does he expect
too many changes moving forward -- unless that "change" is constant
"We're all coming in and learning new schemes with
the 4-3 and going from (3-4 to 4-3) to whatever we may be going," he
said. "It hasn't changed much. It's just all of us learning something
"These guys have been around for a long time, so
to be able to teach them a scheme that's kind of different, you have to
knock the rust off. I think it was a little different for all of us.
Now I think we're actually getting the hang of it. We're starting to
play better together with one another. We're starting to make the plays
that we need to make on defense. Everything is moving forward."
Bigger Rivalry Than New York
--Games against the Jets tend to get the most attention in
Foxboro, but this weekend's showdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers
could be even more important in the long run.
Forget for a second that the Patriots might need
this win for tiebreaker purposes in the AFC playoff picture. Facing
Pittsburgh has always been a measuring-stick game of sorts, and this
year is no exception.
Once again, the Steelers rank among the league
leaders in defense while the Patriots are one of the league's top
offenses. This will be another test for Tom Brady, who showed he can
still rise to the occasion when needed most following his
fourth-quarter comeback two weeks ago against Dallas.
The Patriots have dominated Pittsburgh when it
counts, winning three of four in the playoffs, and they've won seven of
the last nine overall, including last year's Sunday night victory.
"They've played us pretty good a few times, too,"
Brady said. "We've had our moments and they've had their moments. I
think we realize the kind of challenge that it is. We put a lot of time
into the preparation.
"We put a lot of effort into understanding what
we're trying to accomplish from a game plan standpoint. And we've
After facing Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis three
weeks ago, Brady must now deal with Patriots safety Troy Polamalu.
"They're very different players," Brady said.
"Troy is a phenomenal player. I watched a bunch of his highlights with
coach Belichick yesterday in our film study. He's as good as he's ever
been. He flies around the field. He's incredibly fast and instinctive.
"He covers a lot of ground out there. You have to
keep your eyes on him on every play. I'd say he's more comparable to Ed Reed than Revis. Revis, they put him on a receiver and he takes him out
of the game and he does a hell of job of doing that. ... (Troy) makes
plays that very few guys in the league can make."
The winner of Sunday's game will have the upper
hand in the playoff seeding, which could make a difference in deciding
who hosts a potential playoff showdown in January. The tasks never get
easier for New England; each week is a measuring-stick game.
SERIES HISTORY: 22nd regular-season meeting.
Steelers lead series, 13-8. The Steelers lead the all-time regular
season series, yet the Patriots hold a 3-1 edge in postseason matchups.
The Patriots have won seven of the last 10 games against Pittsburgh,
including a win last season.
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