Defense Still a Problem in New England

The Patriots may be 10-3, but there are serious concerns about their defense.

   Over the last two weeks, the Patriots have played two teams with a combined four wins. But New England needed last-ditch efforts to beat both the 0-13 Colts and the 4-9 Redskins as the team's 32nd-ranked defense continues to render its postseason future dubious despite its 10-3 record that remains tied for the best in the AFC.

   Heading down the stretch of the final three games, including Sunday's trip to Denver to take on Tim Tebow and the Broncos, Bill Belichick's team is far more than just a work in progress on defense. When your secondary allows Dan Orlovsky to drive for three fourth-quarter touchdowns a week prior to seeing Rex Grossman have a game-tying touchdown called back with just more than a minute to play due to offensive pass interference, clearly there is major work to be done.

   Sure it's great news that the Patriots have won five straight games, scoring 30-plus points each week along the way.

   But it's also pretty bad news that New England very much needed to score 30-plus points over the last two weeks against two theoretically overmatched non-playoff teams in order to walk away victorious.
   "We're happy to be 10-3," Belichick said just after beating Washington on the road. "But we have a lot of work to do."

   That may be the understatement of the year.

   New England allowed the Redskins to put up 463 yards of total offense and 27 points as Grossman converted half of his 14 third-down chances. Rookie runner Roy Helu rushed for 126 yards as a usually stout Patriots rush defense got into the mix of allowing big plays. And Washington had three receivers with at least 81 yards receiving on the day as the Patriots allowed six pass plays greater than 20 yards, including 49 and 51 yarders.

R. Helu K. Arrington J.Edelman
Washington Redskins running back Roy Helu (29) is tackled by New England Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington (24) and defensive back Julian Edelman (11) during the first half at FedEX Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE

   The Patriots have now allowed more than 400 yards of offense in eight of 13 games this season, more than 20 points in nine of 13 games.

   However you measure it, heading into a road matchup with the limited, Tebow-led option attack of the Broncos, the Patriots defense is as bad as any that Belichick has coached in his decade plus in New England. Given the circumstances they may not allow as many points and yards this week, but that doesn't mean the unit is any closer to being nearly competitive or complementary enough with its offense to win come January.

LINEUP WATCH: The Patriots continue to be a work in progress in the secondary, where there has been a turnstile of personnel in recent weeks as Belichick continues to tinker with the struggling unit. Belichick has gotten so creative that Patriots special teams captain and wide receiver Matthew Slater has started two straight games at wide receiver, while wide receiver Julian Edelman has been playing as a slot corner for parts of the past month.

BY THE NUMBERS: There have been 28 different players start on their defense this season. Though some of the lineup manipulation has been necessitated by injuries, more often it's been in search of a solution to the team's struggles stopping opponents on a weekly basis. In 13 games this season, New England has used the same defensive lineup just three times, a three-week stretch from Oct. 9 to Oct. 30.

   --S Patrick Chung missed his fifth straight game with a foot injury, being downgraded to out prior to New England's trip to Washington.
   --LB Brandon Spikes also missed his fifth straight game, thanks to a knee injury. Spikes returned to the practice field on a limited basis last week.
   --C Dan Connolly (groin) was inactive for the third straight week against the Redskins.
   --RT Sebastian Vollmer (back/foot) was downgraded to out prior to the Patriots flying to Washington, missing his second straight game to injury and his seventh overall on the season.
   --LB Dane Fletcher returned to make the start against the Redskins after missing six games in a row with a thumb injury that required surgery.

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