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Ask PFW: Pressure's on for a pressure-less D

Even a bounce-back Bay Area win did little to ease Patriots fans' concerns about their team's defense. Plenty of questions about the pass rush and overall defense fill out this edition of Ask PFW!


So that was a solid win against a very good team. Now we have to prepare for the Jets. The Raiders and Ravens were both successful at rattling Sanchez with pressure. Do you think that we will be able to apply some pressure and force some bad throws? I am a little cautious about this game since we strictly rely on our offense, and anyone can score on our defense. We might make Sanchez look good if we can't get some pressure on him. Put my mind at ease, and tell me we will see the Sanchise on his back! Love the work guys, and I love the balanced offensive attack we saw this week!
Chas Ackerson

At this point I have trouble putting any faith in the pass rush. I just haven't seen anything that makes me feel confident relying on it heading into a game. I think your analysis is accurate, though. The Jets haven't run the ball very well and the Patriots have been decent against the run. So New York will likely have to throw to win. If Sanchez has time, he'll find opening in the back end just like each of the other four opposing quarterbacks have against New England this season. Sunday's victory was indeed a good win on the road. I'm not sure if the Raiders are a "very good team," though. And I don't feel too much better about the defense today than I did a week ago. I still think this is the worst defense I've seen here in the Belichick era. That could all change if the pressure improves. Andre Carter says that group is "close." Too bad this isn't horse shoes or hand grenades.
Andy Hart

Well, after the first 4 games of the season I think we can all agree that the secondary has been a letdown. In the Raiders game, Sergio Brown has some big missed plays (literally missing one guy on an easy hit), and our safeties haven't been great in coverage. You know it's bad when Vince Wilfork has more picks than any of our safeties, ha ha! Anyways, any chance we could have a FS come in and help out, someone like Darren Sharper? Just not sure Sergio Brown or Josh Barrett are NFL starters....Thanks!
David Hessel

I don't get the impression that Sharper is an option at this point. Either he's not healthy yet, or they simply don't think he's got what's needed left in his aging tank. Remember, despite his early season Twitter lament that it was frustrating watching what he perceives as less talented safeties play across the league, no other team has decided to sign Sharper either. I wouldn't eliminate the chance that the team might look to add a body, but there isn't much talent out there. I thought Brown had a terrible game on Sunday, and agree that he doesn't look like a competitive, viable option on defense. I still hold out hope that Barrett can contribute and am giving him more time to develop. That said, I'm not sure he's a starting caliber player on a good defense. So that means the Patriots in the post Sanders/Meriweather era are stuck with one capable starting player (Patrick Chung) for two spots. It makes the decision to cut both former starters all that much more quizzical at this point.
Andy Hart

I have a new way for this team to play defense. Just flip a coin, heads is a touchdown tails is a field goal. That will eliminate the need for us to even watch this collection of misfits. They stink... Matt Patricia couldn't call bingo, let alone defensive plays. On top of that he's in charge of the secondary? Give us a break, he should leave with Tito, and don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.
Roger D.

I understand your frustration and cynical albeit humorous suggestions. But I need to defend Patricia a bit. First, he's not in charge of the secondary. Officially he coaches the safety position. Josh Boyer coaches the cornerbacks. And the team has no defensive coordinator. Patricia calls the plays, but I think the major game planner remains Bill Belichick. Until Patricia gets the title and paycheck that go with title as defensive coordinator, I have trouble putting too much blame on him. And given the lack of experienced talent he has to work with at safety, I have trouble criticizing his job as a position coach. I still think he's in line to take over as defensive coordinator in the near future. I still think he's a talented young coach. If I am to criticize the defense, I'd focus on Belichick as both the weekly game planner and the guy who acquired this group of talent.
Andy Hart

Hey guys, I live in the Pittsburgh area and look forward to Ask PFW each week. Watching the game [against Oakland], it seemed like several times Spikes was not aggressive in attacking the ball carrier. As an ILB he should be flying at the ball carrier. Do you see it the same way or am I being too critical? This defense needs to get fixed.
Charlie Vogus

I agree with the final sentence 1,000 percent. As for Spikes, I'm a little less critical of him on specific issues. On a larger scale I think it is time for him to simply "get it" in general. He has shown the ability to lay the lumber. Sunday some of those hits came on his own teammates, including Shaun Ellis. He also tends to celebrate a bit much for my liking, especially on plays made downfield. He's supposed to be a thumper who controls the middle. He does that at times, but not consistently enough. With Mayo out of action for a while, the time for Spikes to step up, take charge and play at his best is right now.
Andy Hart

Watching the PATS, Raiders game and I'm getting frustrated watching Jason Campbell have all day to pass. Do you think there's any chance we can get Umenyiora for a third and a fourth and maybe sign Darren Sharper to bring much needed leadership to this secondary?
Sergio Mendoza

See above for why I don't see Sharper joining the dysfunctional mix in the back end of the defense right now. I also don't see Umenyiora as an option. I don't see New York trading him for a couple mid-round picks. I don't see the Patriots giving him the money he wants. Add those together and I don't see it happening. And with the trade deadline quickly approaching – the Tuesday after Week 6 – that won't be an option in a couple weeks. What you see, and are unhappy with, is what you get.
Andy Hart

When I watch this team play I can't help but think of the Colts, in which one guy {Manning} makes or breaks the team. We've always prided ourselves with the fact that if Brady or a key guy was out for a prolonged period of time we could still function and win, but at this rate, with the defense's issues and the apparent ineptness of 85, if Brady was to be injured (knock on wood) we would be just like the Colts this year at 0-4. Are we really turning into THAT team?
Matt S.

Not turning into, right now the Patriots are that team. Given the ineptitude on defense this team would be a whole heap of trouble without No. 12 to rely on. The days of a balanced team are long gone. This defense can't win a game right now when Brady has an off day – see Buffalo – never mind with Brian Hoyer under center. The Patriots would still have plenty of talented guys if Brady went down, just like the Colts still have a list of some pretty impressive talent at a few spots, but in the end without the QBs the teams are not winning material. Patriots Nation as a collective group should all knock on wood right now, and cross their fingers, while also throwing salt over their shoulder and avoiding any cracks in the sidewalk. Just to be safe!
Andy Hart

I have put a lot of thought into why we rarely see the defense get after the quarterback, and here is what I have come up with: Bill has decided not to get after the quarterback because whenever a Patriot rusher hits the QB, it is almost always roughing the passer. An 8-yard sack is not as likely as a 15-yard penalty, so BB has just said screw it.
Kyle Volo

That's the best sarcastic rationalization I've heard yet! This was a sarcastic rationalization, right?
Andy Hart

I am getting real tired of hearing every year that we get no pressure on the quarterback and then every draft we either don't address it or get a guy who can't get a rush. Then, we get a bunch of seasoned veterans who are way past their prime who can't get a rush either. Will the Pats ever really address this issue? I wouldn't be too upset if the answer came via a trade (even though I've always supported the way Belichick has always built his team from the draft up).
Derek Dueker

All the talk about the cornerback play but unless I missed it what is going on for the last 4-5 years that the Pats cannot get a pass rush and it never seems to be addressed? This makes the average corners look even worse.
Tony Thayer

There is no question that the troubles against the pass are in large part due to a lack of pass rush. Just as it was last year. The only difference is that Devin McCourty isn't playing as well as he did last year, coming up with the big play at a key time. Overall the pass rush hasn't been addressed high in the draft – unless you had high hopes for Jermaine Cunningham. You are preaching to the choir with this question. Remember, I was the guy who promoted Robert Quinn more than his own agent/mother. Belichick just doesn't have much faith in drafting early pass rushers. Some of the numbers of the collective group of names that have entered the league in the first or second round in recent years back up his fears. But some of the production of guys like Brian Orakpo, Clay Matthews, Ryan Kerrigan and others show that impact players can indeed be found. It just takes the determination and willingness to go get them. Like with most positions, if you pick the right guy in the first round you are happy. If you don't, you aren't. I would hope that Belichick would trust himself to pick the right guy. Based on how poorly things have gone on defense over the last year-plus, and the way he's targeted glaring needs like this in the past, I expect Belichick will look to do something about it next offseason. Too bad that won't help things out this season.
Andy Hart


What does the three initials on Patriots jerseys stand for?
Bill Cassidy

The black patch with MHK on it is in memory of Myra Hiatt Kraft, the late wife of Patriots owner Robert Kraft. After Myra Kraft passed away this summer the team has dedicated the 2011 season to her memory, as well as her passion for community work and volunteerism.
Andy Hart

Pats fan stuck in Jersey! Love your work, thanks for keeping me connected to my team while I'm behind enemy lines. My question is simple...where has Shaun Ellis been!? I expected more disruption out of him so far.
Wes Caron

Ellis has been among the group of offseason defensive additions who has been a disappointment through the first four games. In my opinion he's looked slow and missed too many tackles. Living in New Jersey, you may have heard some Jets fans say that Ellis hadn't played all that well for New York over the last couple years. As Patriots fans who saw him dominate Dan Connolly and New England last January in the playoffs that may seem hard to believe. But as a 34-year-old defensive lineman Ellis may not have the speed and ability he did in the past and may not be the impact player that his $4 million compensation might indicate. He's still learning the lay of the land on the New England defense, so maybe that will change in the coming weeks. Let's hope so.
Andy Hart

Hello from Colorado! I'm flying in to see the Pats/Jets game and hoping for this defense to show me they can improve. I know you've fielded many questions about this group, though here is another one. With the secondary playing so much man coverage, why do we not see more jams at the line? It could arguably give the linemen and linebackers more time to get to the QB because the jam would disrupt the timing of the routes. Once the timing is disrupted, there might be better coverage and perhaps some turnovers from rushed releases from the QB if there's pressure. Does BB/Boyer feel that they don't match up enough physically to be able to execute the jams on the larger, physical receivers they've faced thus far? Thanks as always for the great work! We all appreciate it.
Ryder Cauley

The Patriots have indeed played a lot of man coverage this year. They've also tried to get jams on receivers at the line. The problem is they have struggled at the line with their jams, especially Devin McCourty. Leigh Bodden also struggled at times, including a couple penalties. Either coincidentally or because of that, the team played more zone looks in Oakland. I still don't blame it all on the corners. It shouldn't always be their job to help the rush, sometimes it needs to be the other way around. Neither has been good enough. Both need to be better. Better rush when playing man or zone. Better coverage playing both man and zone.
Andy Hart

Hi Guys. I don't want to panic just yet, but do you see a disturbing trend with Patriots defenses since the Super Bowl years? They seem to get worse. It seems like the Pats were a more well balanced team when they were winning Super Bowls. Now they have developed into an offensive powerhouse, but suffer more every year on defense. I know the league as a whole is more focused on offense, but it would be nice to see New England make a return to the old days of Bruschi, Harrison, Law, etc. What do you think?
Kyle Griffin

I totally agree. When the Patriots won three Super Bowls in four seasons, it was because they had a balance, to varying degrees in each win, between offense and defense. Since then the defense got old and a lot of the players brought in to restock the roster haven't gotten the job done. That includes big money free agents, trades, draft picks and other acquisitions. Offense is indeed the flavor of the month in the NFL, but you still need to play some defense. You don't necessarily need to be dominant or stout, but you have to make plays. Until the Patriots get to that point on defense, either through simple player development or talent additions, I don't see them returning to Super Bowl glory – regardless of how good Brady and the passing attack may be.
Andy Hart

My apologies if this has been asked a billion times before (this being my first question to PFW), but hasn't 2010 and this season thus far proven that BB needs to hire a defensive coordinator? This defense hasn't gotten better, it's actually gotten worse. Does BB need to admit that he needs help?
Bill Edmunds

I'm not sure about the coordinator issue, because regardless of whether someone has that title or not the team is going to do what Belichick wants on defense. Right now I'm not sure the issue has anything to do with scheme, game plans or play calling. I think it's more about talent. Maybe that suggests that Belichick needs more help in the talent acquisition process. Or maybe he needs to lean more on the help he has with Floyd Reese, Nick Caserio and the rest of his scouting department. As it stands today, nearly every major move the team made this offseason other than drafting Nate Solder looks like a bad move. All the guys up front on defense look suspect. Some of the cuts look suspect. As a result, the defense looks worse than suspect.
Andy Hart

I'm wondering if age on defense is once becoming an issue. This time though, more because of injuries than lack of ability. Do you think that, with all the additions and the extra time BB had, the D was over-hyped or is it just falling short of expectations? Admittedly, I expected the D-Line to wreak havoc on opposing O Lines and QBs....but clearly that hasn't happened. Long term, do you see BB improving the Defense through trades/FA or the draft?
Nolan Michalski

The defense has looked bad, and big part of that is the inability of the veteran guys up front to contribute. Albert Haynesworth hasn't gotten on the field. Ellis hasn't played up to his contract/resume. Andre Carter hasn't flashed at all. All those guys are on the backside of their careers. It's a combination of health and maybe just looking old. I know after the Tampa Bay preseason game I was very much guilty of overhyping the defense. I thought Carter would be a huge impact player. I had high hopes in general for Haynesworth. None of it has played out. Regardless, I thought all along that most of the additions of veteran talent up front were short-term answers, likely only for this season. The real overhaul on defense will require the trade for/signing of younger talents and more hits than misses early in the draft. Until that happens the talent level on defense will continue to be fighting an uphill battle. Cross your fingers for a big defensive draft next April.
Andy Hart

Hi guys. With the amount of passing yards given up by the Pats and the abundance of D Lineman, do you think Coach Belichick will move Wilfork into the secondary? The big man is second on the team in INTs and had some pretty impressive returns. Thanks.
Halifax, Canada

Figured we might as well close out a pretty negative, hostile mailbag with a smile. If you can't laugh while picturing a Wilfork backpedal, you are taking things a little too seriously at this point.
Andy Hart

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