PHOTO: New England Patriots defense Rodney Harrison (37) and Eugene Wilson (26) break up a pass intended for Oakland Raiders Randy Moss (18) in the end zone during the fourth quarter in Foxborough, Mass. Thursday, Sept. 8, 2005. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Changes A Good Thing
The Patriots are a multiple front team, capable of switching between a 4-3, 3-4 and any other look Bill Belichick can devise. But early in the season opener against the Raiders, their staple 3-4 defense was struggling. Raiders running back LaMont Jordan was hitting creases and quarterback Kerry Collins found a nice passing rhythm.
A mid-first quarter switch to a 4-3, precipitated by an injury to inside linebacker Chad Brown, who returned to the game, changed the course of the game. Jarvis Green came on for Brown and the Patriots defense immediately stepped up its pass rush and improved its run fits.
"I think it threw them off," said defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, whose interception created by fellow lineman Jarvis Green's blind side hit on Collins, proved to be the game's turning point. "That was an adjustment on the sideline. We thought we could be effective with it."
"We had to be active up front," Green said. "We made that an emphasis. Whoever got the one-on-one battled had to get some rush. The switch to the 4-3 meant less double teams for us when rushing."
It also resulted in better execution of the game plan against the Raiders passing game, which involved moving Collins off his spot in the pocket. The Raiders quarterback completed his first four and last four passes of the night with both possessions ending in touchdowns. Between he was just 10-for-32, including a 73-yard touchdown pass to Randy Moss, who beat Tyrone Poole in single coverage.
"We have the talent with Ty Warren, Jarvis Green, Big Wilfork and it's just a matter of going out and doing the job every day," defensive leader Richard Seymour said. "It puts more beef on the field and we can move in and out with our versatility. We all feel like we're every down players and want to be on the field, but we don't care if its 3-4 or 4-3 as long as we're winning football games."
"I think we just played great team defense," Wilfork said. "We had errors where they gained yards. We knew we had to play tough physical football against one of the best fronts in the game. When we did get No. 5 off his spot, we were successful. He will hurt you from the pocket and you saw it on the long pass to Moss. When we didn't move him, he hurt us."
But they moved him enough to keep him off balance and force some errant throws that helped get them off the field on third down.
It will be interesting, moving forward, to see if the Patriots stay with the 4-3 that was effective against Oakland or revert back to the 3-4 that has been their staple through the last two championship seasons. Carolina will certainly have to prepare for both, but perhaps the losses of Ted Johnson and Tedy Bruschi will be too much to overcome with a thin group of inside linebackers trying to hold down opposing running games.
-- The Patriots allowed a touchdown on the Raiders' opening offensive possession, which broke a string of 37 straight games in which New England had not allowed a touchdown on the opponent's opening series.
-- Troy Brown spent most of his time playing defense last season and returned to the other side of the ball and provided some punch to the Patriots offense. Brown caught six passes for 51 yards against the Raiders. "It just felt good, especially when you win, it feels even better," he said of his return to offense.
-- Corey Dillon had a tremendous preseason and looked to be in mid-season form following the Pats' third exhibition game, a win at Green Bay, but he was bottled up against the Raiders, who held the Pats to 73 yards on 31 carries. Dillon finished with 23 carries for 63 yards but had just six runs for 3 yards at halftime. "Did you see how big those guys are?" Dillon asked rhetorically when asked if he was surprised that Oakland, which ranked 22nd against the run last season, kept the clamps on him. "They have DEs playing linebacker. They play some ball."
-- LB Chad Brown limped off the field at the end of the first quarter of the Patriots' season opener with the Raiders, but returned halfway through the second quarter. The Patriots switched to a 4-3 defensive in his absence with Jarvis Green replacing him.
-- LB Mike Vrabel returned to action after missing the final three preseason games with a left leg injury. Vrabel, who played mostly inside linebacker during training camp, started at outside linebacker against the Raiders.
-- NT Vince Wilfork intercepted his first career pass when Jarvis Green hit Kerry Collins, forcing the ball to pop upward as his arm cocked to throw and may have been coming forward. Wilfork caught the ball in the air as he also pressured Collins and by doing so avoided any tuck rule type of controversy. The play is being reviewed, though, and could be changed to a Green sack and Wilfork fumble recovery.
-- CB Tyrone Poole suffered what was reported as a leg injury against the Raiders. His return was announced as probable, although Poole, predictably, did not return. Instead he sat on the bench with his right shoe off.
-- CB Chad Scott suffered an injury with 9:07 left in the fourth quarter of the season opener. His injury was reported as an arm and he did not return.
-- WR Tim Dwight made an immediate impact, returning his first punt
as a Patriot for 27 yards while also adding a 5-yard touchdown pass. He averaged
11 yards per return on four punt returns.
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