Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe

Defense's play has been consistently substandard

One of the most interesting comments to come out of the Patriots' locker room after the defending Super Bowl champions had endured a 28-20 spanking from the Denver Broncos came courtesy of cornerback Duane Starks.

Echoing the edict found in Chapter 1, Page 1 of the National Football League coachspeak manual, Starks said the Patriots needed to be play more consistent defense.

But one wonders how much more consistent they can be.

They consistently allow receivers to run free in the secondary and they regularly let teams control the ball on the ground.

After managing to force one turnover in each of the first three games, the Patriots have cut that down to zero the last three.

And if consistency is indeed the goal, look at how much more undependable the Patriots have become in the red zone.

Early in the season, New England was among the worst in the league at giving up touchdowns in the red zone; after Sunday's performance against the Broncos, they took over the bottom slot.

The problem with this kind of consistency is that it's a formula for defeat. One reason the Patriots are near the bottom of the NFL in points allowed (28th in the league at 27.3 points per game) is that they are dead last in red zone defense (15 touchdowns and four field goals in 19 opportunities).

Denver had scored only seven touchdowns in 16 red zone opportunities in its first four games before going 4 for 4 against the Patriots.

''We certainly like to see it better," coach Bill Belichick said yesterday. ''We didn't stop them one time.

''[There was] a combination of problems. They threw it and they ran it. Threw it in twice and ran it in twice. A lot of times, those problems lead to other problems. If it was just one thing, you might be able to say, 'This is what it is,' put all our eggs in one basket and address it.

''But if they hurt you with one thing and they hurt you with something else, you're depending on a wide front, you get spread kind of thin."

Thinly spread would be an accurate description of the Patriots' roster, as nearly a third of the starters in Sunday's game were not in the starting lineup on opening night against the Raiders. And each of the new faces was in because of an injury.

The injury situation should improve over the next two weeks as the Patriots get a much-needed bye week to heal.

The Patriots should have defensive end Richard Seymour (knee) and cornerback Tyrone Poole (ankle) back by the time they face Buffalo Oct. 30, and the return of linebacker Tedy Bruschi should mean an instant improvement in the intensity of the defense, though even Bruschi doesn't know when he'll be ready to play.

Belichick said the team is always looking for ways to improve the roster; the trading deadline is this afternoon, but midseason trades in the NFL are a rarity. There were a total of three pre-deadline trades in the past two seasons.

''I'm not saying it can't happen," Belichick said. ''Historically -- and I don't think it will be a whole lot different this year -- my guess is it won't. It's hard to make those trades now. It's one thing to do it in training camp. It's another to do it now.

Belichick indicated the bye week would be about getting better.

''I think what we have to do at this point is really take advantage of the extra time that we have this week and do a good time trying to solidify everything in all three phases of the game, as much as we possibly can," he said. ''Some of the things that came up in the past may not come up again. Other things are going to come up in the future that we probably haven't even seen yet."

What they continue to see is the defense giving up big plays.

New England (3-3) surrendered pass plays of 85, 73, 53, 49, and 28 yards in its three wins. In the losses, defensive backs have been seen chasing receivers on plays of 72, 55, 41, and 38 yards. The Patriots are 30th in the league in yards allowed per pass play (not including last night's Indianapolis-St. Louis game).

''Anytime that things don't go right, it's a certain degree of disappointment," Belichick said. ''In my case, not necessarily with any one individual, just collectively and with myself and the coaching staff and the team, that collectively we weren't able to do it better than what we did. The expectation is that it will be better and it should be better, but it wasn't, so that brings with it disappointment."

The good news is that despite the defense's play, the Patriots are tied with Buffalo for first place in the AFC East. All Belichick and defensive coordinator Eric Mangini have to do is figure out a way to turn the unit's consistently bad play into consistently good play.

''If I could tell you what the switch was on that, I would go over, flip it and take care of it," Belichick said. ''That's certainly not the way we want to play."

Jerome Solomon can be reached at

Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives