"We've played well at times. We've played poor at times. We just have to learn to be more consistent. Whether it be pass rush, whether it be tackling, whether it is playing deep balls, third down, all those things we've been good at times (and) we've been not so good at times."
Patriots defensive coordinator Dean Pees uttered those words just before the team left for its two-week West Coast work trip in San Francisco and San Diego, now more than two weeks ago. Unfortunately for Pees and his players, words ring just as true today as the day he ushered them.
Since that time, there's been some good for the New England defense, though probably not enough. And there's been some bad, probably a bit too much of it in fact. Consistency has been elusive and overall production has been limited.
As Pees alluded, the Patriots defense has done pretty much everything well at times and pretty much struggled with everything during other stretches. The up-and-down story for a defense through nearly two months of schedule has resulted in a surprisingly middle of the pack defense in New England.
The first couple weeks, third down was an issue as the group allowed 50 percent conversions to the Chiefs and Jets. That improved coming out of the bye, holding the 49ers to just one conversion and an 11 percent rate in the victory in San Francisco.
At times, opponents have rushed to success, including Miami's Wildcat attack averaging 6.0 yards a carry a week after the Jets picked up 5.0 yards per attempt. On the other end of that spectrum, Larry Johnson's Chiefs picked up just 3.8 yards per rush in the opener and New England kept LaDainian Tomlinson to just 3.5 a carry.
The stats continue in a similarly inconsistent manner throughout. Seeking reason and answers isn't enough at this point, the players know they have to take responsibility for the struggles and simply man up.
"Everybody (has to) be their own leader. Everybody step it up in their own individual way whether it's in their practice habits, their film habits or basically just in the game when it comes down to it. Relying on your techniques and just playing ball," cornerback Ellis Hobbs said. "You can go out there and have the greatest game ever, but if you give up two plays out there that costs the game, you are considered a loser."
Depending on your perspective, the good news is that the defense has had success in pretty much every area at some point this season. The bad news is it's struggled in pretty much every area at some point this season. For now, the players are taking the more glass-half-full approach.
"It's not as bad as it seems. A couple plays you are close but again, we'll address it and move on like we do every week and just try to get better," said linebacker Adalius Thomas, part of a pass rush that's been nonexistent for stretches. "I'm not here to single out anything. I think everything can be better from coverage to pass rush to ... everything can be better. So you just have to do your job and do it well. I'll critique myself and whatever it may be from pass rush to pass coverage to just try to get better."
The ever-confident Hobbs says hope is not lost.
"We are a unit that's continually trying to get better. Obviously we have some things we need to work on. It's nothing that can't be fixed. We just have to keep moving forward."
So when it comes right down to it, the players inside the Patriots locker room have some of the same questions being asked by the media and fans that are on the outside looking in.
"I know there are questions out there as far as, 'Can we do it? What's going on?'" Hobbs said. "It's human nature in here, guys are looking for some type of stability and trying to come together. It's been kind of like a roller coaster, so you don't know what to expect. We just have to find some consistency."
Added Pees: "We just have to learn to be more consistent, which is what we have been in the past. We have to get back to that."
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