Understandably, the first two preseason games have given the New England defense a raised level of confidence.
In the games against the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers, the Patriots have allowed just 257 total net yards, a miniscule average of 128.5 yards per game. That average per game is down 123 yards from the first two games of last preseason. The solid play has come against both the ground (73.5 yards per game) and air attacks (55 yards per game) of the opponents.
"Anytime you go out and perform well in game conditions, that raises the confidence level a little bit," Head Coach Bill Belichick said. "It has got to be moderated though so we understand what the conditions are. It hasn't been perfect on defense. We've had a few problems."
Sure, this is not a miraculous overhaul of a defense that struggled last season, but the first two performances were pretty impressive in all areas. All last season, third-down defense was a problem for the Patriots. Those problems were apparent even after just two preseason games against San Francisco and Detroit a year ago. In those games the Patriots allowed the 49ers and Lions to convert a combined 11-of-31 third downs (35.5 percent), and it got worse from there (103-of-237, 43.5 percent for the season).
Granted, neither the Giants nor Panthers is known for high-powered offense. However, New England's defense has been very stingy on third down thus far, allowing conversions on just 6-of-24 attempts (25 percent).
The pass defense has been particularly good. Belichick has said in the past that he feels sacks are an overrated statistic. His team has four in two games this preseason, as opposed to the 11 posted against San Francisco and Detroit last year. However, New England held the Giants and Panthers to a combined 19-of-51 (37.3 percent) for 140 yards, no touchdowns and four interceptions. The numbers after two games last year were 37-of-70 (52.9 percent) for 373 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.
The defense is a unit that seems to be coming along very well. New arrivals like linebackers Bryan Cox, Roman Phifer and Mike Vrabel have blended in quickly. Cox has one of the team's four interceptions, and Phifer and Vrabel have helped turn the linebacking corps into what looks like a strength for the team.
Belichick feels there are plenty of positives for his team to build on. Yet, he's not ready to give a total stamp of approval. He knows this is still the preseason, and there are plenty of tests that need to be passed. He didn't disclose what holes there are in his defense, but Belichick admits there are some that need fixing.
"It's kind of like the guy who doesn't file his tax returns," Belichick said. "Until they audit you, everything is great. As soon as they audit you, then you have a problem.
"If the team will continue to work hard and approach the job and this team the way that they have, I think we will be all right. If they don't, then we will probably have our share of problems."
Katzenmoyer, Edwards running out of time
Belichick was peppered with questions about the status of linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer, but the coach could offer little in terms of a definitive answer.
"There is going to be a point in time where something is going to have to happen, and that point isn't far away," Belichick said on a decision about the player's future. "But it's not right now either."
Even though the team had just a helmet-and-shorts workout planned to help the team conserve energy, neither Katzenmoyer nor running back Robert Edwards was expected to practice with the team today, according to Belichick. Whether either sees practice time this week is uncertain.
"In both cases, the sand in the hour glass is dropping out, and you can't put it back in," Belichick said. "They are running out of time."