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Ask PFW: On the defensive

Lots of questions on defense after two wins to open the season. That and more in this week's "Ask PFW." Due to issues with our email server this week's mailbag is much shorter than normal. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Due to issues with our email server, this week's mailbag is much shorter than normal. If you sent in a question and we didn't post it, we apologize for the inconvenience.

OK, so answer me this question? Did anyone ask Devin McCourty after the game what on earth he was thinking when he basically tackled Tolbert from behind as the big man (Vince Wilfork) rumbled down the sideline? It is bad enough he is giving up a ton of yards but Bill Belichick always talks about situational football, that situation was plain stupid. Course when the Chargers let us throw two straight passes to the outside, gain about 20 yards then kick the field goal I thought they helped us to forget such a bonehead play.
Tom Raymond

It was a bad play by McCourty to be sure. He was directly behind the Chargers player when he pushed hit in the back, costing the team some valuable field position. That could have cost the Patriots a shot at three point, and as you pointed out only San Diego's lack of awareness allowed the offense to get the field goal anyway. But I have a hard time killing McCourty on the play. He was hustling to make a play and trying to get Wilfork into the end zone. He may well have been thinking it was touchdown or nothing at that stage of the half with time winding down and was doing anything he could to pave the way. McCourty's play at cornerback hasn't been especially impressive thus far but this mistake I can live with.
Paul Perillo

Does anyone else think that the NFL needs to look into that low hit on Tom Brady by Travis LaBoy? I didn't see him blocked into Brady, and it certainly looked like a dive at his knee. It almost seemed like an obvious intent to injure. Regardless of no flag (I think the refs were from SD), that hit looked dangerous, illegal and intentional.
Nathan F.

While I disagree with characterization of the play as being any sort of obvious intent to injure or intentional, under the structure of today's rules I don't understand why it wasn't a penalty. The NFL has forbidden hits below the waist to quarterbacks in the pocket. Brady was certainly in the pocket and LaBoy went low without being blocked into him. That should have been a penalty in my mind. Unfortunately we did not get an explanation of the play from the officials because there was no pool reporter sent to ask about it. I do not like this rule at all and I don't believe LaBoy's hit was dirty in any way, but the league mandated this as a penalty so it should have drawn a flag. Brady had the ball when LaBoy hit him and he was trying to tackle him. It could have been a dangerous play if Brady weren't wearing his knee brace, but football is a dangerous game. It was illegal but not dirty in my mind.
Paul Perillo

It seems like there has been a lot of talk about the Pat's D not looking very good. I realize they haven't been perfect, but am I the only not overly worried about it? From the games I've watched so far, many team's defenses have looked like they are a few steps behind where they would normally be. Maybe I am just overly optimistic, but I think that they've played exceptional in the red zone, and with Belichick coaching this defense is only getting better each week.
Taylor Cook

I agree with you to a point. The biggest reason for optimism in my mind is all the new players working together for the first time. Given that it's understandable that it would take some time for things to come together. I think it's realistic to expect these guys to improve as they grow more comfortable with one another. However, the efforts in the first two games weren't promising. As was the case last year, if the offense wasn't so spectacular we'd all be singing a different tune after two weeks. The defense made big plays when it had to against Miami and San Diego and for that it should be commended. But relying on goal-line stands every week is a dangerous way to play. Also, relying on the offense to then go 99 yards, as happened in each game, is also dangerous. The defense didn't improve much as the season went on last year under Belichick, but with all the new faces perhaps there's more room to grow this time around. I guess I could be considered cautiously optimistic.
Paul Perillo

After the San Diego game I hear a lot of people looking at the stats and slating our defense once again. To me, it was clear that the D went out to take Antonio Gates out of the game and they did that. They didn't blitz a lot and, although not consistent and overpowering, they did get some pressure. They played good situational football (critical INT, goal line stop) and it was clear to me this was a game plan performance. They were playing against one of the top offenses in the NFL and I don't think it's realistic to expect that we stop them on every drive. Don't get me wrong, there were still plenty of plays that I think they would like to have back like the first TD run they allowed. However, I really don't think things are as bad as people making out.
Craig Robertson

Well, so much for the debut of "Optimistic Paul" in this week's mailbag. While I believe there's room to grow and improve as the pieces continue to fit into place, I don't agree that the San Diego game was a strong performance – and even more importantly, game-plan related in any way. It's true the Patriots took Gates out of the game, but the Chargers were more than content to let that happen, throwing the ball to him twice all day (once resulting in an interception and the other a big pass interference penalty on Sergio Brown). Philip Rivers had all day to throw virtually on every snap despite the fact that he was playing from behind most of the day and had to throw. Vincent Jackson ran wide open across the middle more times than I can count and wound up having the biggest day of his career. As was the case last season, the defense made some big plays and forced turnovers. Everything is fine as long as that continues. But if it doesn't, like last year's playoffs, there could be trouble. And if the offense stops scoring 35 points every game, there also could be problems. I'm not panicking over two games but I'm also not calling the defense the Patriots played against San Diego acceptable in any way – and the players said as much after the game.
Paul Perillo

I am concerned about the Patriots defense again this year. They cannot seem to get off of the field on third down. It seems to me that the problem right now lies equally between the lack of pass rush and poor coverage from the secondary. Vincent Jackson was uncoverable for much of the Patriots recent game against the Chargers. What are your thoughts on this topic and how can it be remedied?
Rick Goodwin

Part III of the Patriots Defense Trilogy this week. Third downs were great in the opener when the defense held Miami to 2 of 14 but then abysmal against San Diego, which went 10 of 12. Which is closer to the truth? We'll find out but I tend to think it's the latter and I'm basing that on Miami's 4-for-5 performance on fourth down coupled with San Diego's strong effort. The pass rush simply needs to improve. Opposing quarterbacks have far too much time to survey the field and unless the Patriots blitz they don't seem to generate much heat. The secondary is a work in progress and working through various injuries right now. It may actually get worse before it gets better based on the health of various players. But in terms of overall improvement, I think guys like Andre Carter, Mark Anderson and even the big guys in the middle Vince Wilfork and Albert Haynesworth, need to do a better job of collapsing the pocket. If that happens it's amazing how much better the rest of the defense would look.
Paul Perillo

Watching the Pats offense operate so cutthroat like last Monday reminded me of the Oregon Ducks. Do you see a scenario where the Pats will try to mimic what Oregon did and just keep at it with this up tempo offense all the time regardless of the opposing team's strengths or weaknesses?
Shaquille O'Vareen

Sorry Shaq, I don't see that happening every week. Belichick is a game plan coach and he'll use things he feels are best suited against that particular opponent every week. Obviously there was something about Miami that he felt would make it beneficial to play up tempo for most of the night. Probably the fact that Miami relies heavily on its pass rush, coupled with the Patriots starting a rookie at right tackle, made Belichick try to wear the Dolphins out and keep them from substituting. It worked to perfection. Against San Diego we saw much less of the no huddle but it still was part of the game plan in certain times. I'd expect the Patriots to use it liberally throughout the season but how much in each game will depend on the opponent.
Paul Perillo

With the injury to Dan Koppen, do you think the Pats should try to sign Shaun O'Hara as a replacement for the year? He is a little old, but I think he still has something in the tank and could be very good for the Pats.
Rory Harwood

I feel as long as Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell are healthy there's no need to sign anyone at this point. Connolly has proven to be a more than capable fill in starter and Wendell is solid as a reserve at any of the three interior spots. I'd feel comfortable with either of those two having to play center. Of course, if anything were to happen to Logan Mankins and/or Brian Waters at guard there would be a need to add some pieces. But adding a veteran at this point would seem unnecessary, particularly a guy like O'Hara who underwent surgeries on his ankle and foot during the offseason at the age of 33.
Paul Perillo

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