New England's defense has been giving up an upsetting number of plays of 20 yards or more just three weeks into the new season.
The players themselves admit that more needs to be done to correct these egregious errors. That starts by identifying some, if any, common denominators in what's going awry.
"Just have to make plays on the ball. You always have to make plays on the ball," linebacker and co-captain Jerod Mayo said Thursday. "Like you said, big plays have really been killing us. That's one of the main priorities in practice this week – stopping the big play and getting off the field."
"We've watched them [on film] and you pick up on what happened, store it in the memory banks, and go out in practice to try to improve, do different things," offered cornerback and co-captain Devin McCourty.
"I don't know if there's a common factor."
Part of the problem, certainly, is the lack of pressure the front seven is putting on opposing quarterbacks, giving them time to find open receivers downfield.
"From a technical standpoint, we're almost there," observed defensive lineman Andre Carter. "We just have to get there quicker. Depending on who we play, we try to make those adjustments. It's as close as it can be, but it can always be closer. It's not an effort thing because, as far as just getting off the ball and being effective when it comes to power rushes or bull rushes, speed rushes ... we watch film and we're like, 'Aw, we're almost there.'
"So, there's not necessarily a level of frustration, but to a certain extent, we have to figure out what to do to get a step closer."
While Buffalo's Fred Jackson knifed through the Patriots defense frequently last Sunday, this week's ball carrying threat poses an even greater challenge. Darren McFadden is having the best start to a season in his NFL career, and based on how the Patriots described him, it's no surprise why.
The tandem of McFadden and Michael Bush gives the Raiders a potent rushing attack.
"He's good, man," safety Patrick Chung said of McFadden, shaking his head with obvious respect. "He's fast, he has a good stiff-arm, he's strong, he breaks tackles … he's a good running back. They have a couple back there."
"McFadden is a great guy with the ball in hands," added Mayo, who faced McFadden twice during their college careers in the Southeast Conference. "Tackling him will be an issue. We've been practicing that as well. Hopefully we can do good this week."
"He's a big guy and he's fast. [He] has a great stiff arm and he can catch the ball out of the backfield – very explosive player. I have a little bit of a history with him. Good player and it will be a challenge for us."
"Everybody knows he's fast, he's elusive, and he's a playmaker," Carter continued. "He'd definitely one of those offensive weapons you have to be alert for. You have to be aware of his position, like any opponent you play, you have to gang tackle him and be consistent. Because if not, from previous games we've watched, he can make plays and be effective."
The Raiders used McFadden to attack the edges of the defenses of their first three opponents this year, two of whom were AFC East rivals of the Patriots (New York and Buffalo). The Patriots are well aware of this and say they have to be ready for that approach when they visit O.co (formerly Oakland-Alameida) Coliseum Sunday.
"He's a tough back. He's a guy that can kind of go anywhere on the field and he has the speed to always take it to the house. You see that on film. We've seen him break long runs, we've seen him make runs inside and get first downs. It'll be a challenge for the defense just to come prepared and, most important, tackle," added McCourty.
"That's something we have to keep in mind," concluded Carter, "as well as Jason Campbell. He's been playing pretty consistent and moving the ball pretty well, using their tight ends."
Chung preparing for Sunday
He returned to the practice field last Friday, but Chung was inactive for the Bills game after reportedly requiring surgery on his right thumb. He was limited in practice the past two days as well, but tried to sound an optimistic tone about his chances for playing this Sunday in Oakland.
"I feel good … feel good. Great day," he told reporters before practice.
What about Sunday?
"It's not my decision. I'm just working hard trying to get out there, man, just help the team.
"I don't make those decisions," he continued when pressed. "I'm just going make sure I'm ready to go. Yeah, definitely … always. Anytime – hurt, injured – you always have to prepare mentally, physically, whatever you have to do to make sure you know what you're doing so if Coach needs you to go in there, you're ready."
Chung said he's never played with a cast before, but wouldn't indicate how the unwanted accessory is affecting his performance.
"I'm not going to answer those questions," he responded with a laughs. "Those are for coach, those are for the trainers.
"I'm just working. It doesn't bother me. I mean, I'm running, so, everything's good."
For details on today's Patriots practice, please visit the PFW blog.