|Bridget McKennitt (bridgetmkennitt) wrote in sports_rpf,|
@ 2009-12-01 19:59:00
|Entry tags:||league: nfl, misc: articles, sport: american football|
Pats say defensive problems not caused by youth
December 1, 2009
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -One after another, five defensive starters retired or were traded by the New England Patriots before the season, taking away 52 years of NFL experience.
On Monday night, one after another, long gains by New Orleans Saints receivers turned what was expected to be a close game into a 38-17 rout.
A connection or just a coincidence?
"I don't think we're a young defense anymore,'' Patriots defensive coordinator Dean Pees said Tuesday. "I look at it like we've played 10 games going into that game last night, plus preseason games. We've been around the system long enough and we know it. It wasn't like we were trying to do a bunch of new things last night.
"I don't think that's the case at all.''
It was more a case of Drew Brees throwing perfect passes, sometimes against tight coverage, that helped keep New Orleans undefeated.
The Saints' first offensive play was a 33-yard completion to Devery Henderson only a stride beyond cornerback Leigh Bodden. Late in the second quarter, Brees dropped the ball just over Jonathan Wilhite and into the arms of Robert Meachem at the goal line for a 38-yard touchdown.
It also was a case of blown coverages, most obviously when Wilhite blitzed and no one covered for him, leaving Henderson wide open for a catch that turned into a 75-yard touchdown.
"Giving up big plays was a huge problem,'' coach Bill Belichick said, "and it's something that really hadn't occurred anywhere close to that level during the entire season as, for example, it did last year or the year before.''
Experience alone hardly guarantees a victory.
"I don't know if there's anybody that has much more experience than I do,'' Belichick said, "but that wasn't good enough on my part.''
Before the season, safety Rodney Harrison and linebacker Tedy Bruschi retired and defensive end Richard Seymour, linebacker Mike Vrabel and cornerback Ellis Hobbs were traded. They had combined for 551 games with the Patriots, 465 of them starts.
This year, New England (7-4) allowed four plays of more than 30 yards in its first 10 games. Then New Orleans (11-0) doubled that with four more, including the two longest plays against the Patriots this year, covering 75 and 68 yards.
New England's defense is clearly in transition, particularly in the secondary where only two players have been with the team more than two years. That group includes high draft picks and is more athletic than last year's. The defense has played well most of the season, ranking sixth in fewest yards allowed and second in fewest points given up before allowing the Saints five touchdown passes and 480 yards.
But the young defense hasn't proven itself in the playoffs.
"The question is, 'Can they play when they know there is no tomorrow?''' Harrison said, "How will those young guys respond in the fourth quarter, you're up by three points and Philip Rivers or Peyton Manning is on the 30-yard line (and) you've got to keep them out of the end zone with 58 seconds left?''
Harrison, now a television analyst for NBC, was a vocal, in-your-face leader. Bruschi was emotional.
"You have to have a mix of guys that can lead by example as well as lead by example and with their mouths,'' Harrison said. "They don't have a lot of outspoken guys.''
Still, Harrison thinks the Patriots have a good chance of winning their remaining five games and hosting a wild-card game.
"Everyone in the media's saying, 'Well, yeah, they're terrible now because they don't have that veteran leadership.' But they're going to be OK. New Orleans is just the best team in the National Football League,'' Harrison said.
Nose tackle Vince Wilfork and Belichick agreed that the Patriots had trouble leaving bad plays behind against New Orleans and that caused problems later in the game. But Pees wouldn't blame that on youth.
"We had more missed assignments than we've had in almost all the other previous games combined,'' Pees said. "To say that, 'Well, it's a young defense and maybe we (were) sitting back on our heels,' we can't accept that. Guys just need to pull together and we've got to do a better job all the way around.''