Look At Improving In Week 8
By Site Staff
Perhaps no other unit in the NFL has more to make up for over the final 10 weeks of the regular season than the Patriots' defense.
Yes, there have been devastating personnel losses. Inside linebacker Tedy Bruschi is only now attempting a comeback from his off-season stroke. Fellow inside linebacker Ted Johnson retired on the eve of training camp. Cornerback Ty Law left as a free agent. Strong safety Rodney Harrison suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 3. And other defensive stalwarts - cornerback Tyrone Poole (five games), cornerback Randall Gay (three) and defensive end Richard Seymour (two) - all have missed time.
Given those setbacks it was predictable that the Patriots' defense would take a step back. Yet there's no excuse for their penchant for allowing big chunks of yardage, including five pass plays of 50-plus yards. Or for their inability to stop anyone in the red zone (a league-worst ranking there). Or for their stunning lack of takeaways - only three.
Three high-profile newcomers on defense - cornerback Duane Starks and inside linebackers Chad Brown and Monty Beisel - have not lived up to expectations. Since Harrison went down, there has been a revolving door at strong safety, and free safety Eugene Wilson, who appeared poised for stardom, has been unable to pick up the slack. The much-hyped defensive line has been underwhelming without Seymour.
The list goes on and on.
Having had a chance to regroup over their bye week, the Patriots (3-3) return to action on Sunday when they host the Buffalo Bills (3-4) in a "showdown" for the top spot in the sputtering AFC East.
New England's first order of business over the final 10 games of the season will be to fix its leaky defense. Bruschi's return - all signs point to him suiting up Sunday night against the Bills - will help in numerous areas, but it won't be a cure-all. After all, Bruschi didn't have the benefit of training camp, and it might be unrealistic to expect him to be his old self right away.
"I'm a realist," Bruschi, 32, said. "I've missed minicamps, I've missed training camps. There are a lot of linebackers on this team who are ahead of my development in terms of getting down new adjustments."
"I don't think we should bank the whole season on one guy," outside linebacker Rosevelt Colvin agreed. "He is a great player, but that is a lot of pressure to put on someone. I think as a defensive unit we need to perform better ... I have to get better doing my job. I can't worry about what Tedy is doing because if I sit there and see what Tedy is doing and they run right past me then it doesn't make any difference at all."
However, getting Bruschi and perhaps Seymour back in the lineup for the stretch run would bring some much-needed stability to the defense, which has featured 17 different starters this season. In past years the Patriots have been able to thrive despite lineup changes dictated by injury. This year the transition hasn't been nearly as seamless.
"If you're saying that we'd like to have the same 11 guys out there for 10 straight weeks in the season, obviously," linebacker Mike Vrabel said. "But you know that's not going to happen. That's not going to be possible.
"You've got to jell pretty quick (when new players keep subbing in). The new guys have got come in and the guys that have been in there have to pick their play up. There are going to be changes in the NFL. We talked about it at training camp, that there were going to be changes. And then there are even more changes (than the Patriots expected). You just try to adapt to it as best as you can."
So far, the Patriots haven't adapted very well. Starting with Sunday's game against the Bills, they can try to make amends for their spotty performance so far.
SERIES HISTORY: 91st meeting. Patriots lead the series, 49-40-1 and have won eight of the last nine since the teams' second meeting in 2000. The 49 wins are the most for the Patriots against any opponent, six more than they own over the Colts. In a five-game span from 1999-2001, four of the games in this series went to overtime. This will be the Patriots' first divisional game this season.
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