New England's pass defense has been much maligned this season, and the criticism is merited.
After seven games, the Patriots are surrendering an average of 323 passing yards per contest, and nearly eight per play. That puts them right at the bottom of the league in both categories (32nd and 31st, respectively).
Naturally, the easiest culprits to implicate would be the members of the secondary, New England's corners and safeties, who were particularly exposed in the loss to Pittsburgh last weekend.
Not so fast, says Vince Wilfork.
"We all take part in that. We're not going to say, '[Opponents] are catching the ball because [our secondary] isn't covering.' It's part of us up front, too, not being able to get to the quarterback quick enough. It works hand in hand," the defensive lineman and co-captain asserted.
"It's not track, where you can go out and throw a shot-put or run a 100-yard dash and win a medal by yourself. You win together. I think we understand that. I don't want our DBs to think it's their fault that we're not getting off the field on third down or they caught an in-cut 20 yards down the field. You know, 20 yards downfield gives us up front a lot of time to work to get to a quarterback. We have to take some of the blame, too, and we are."
That sort of "we're-in-this-together" attitude is welcomed, as you might imagine, by those feeling the most heat of late.
"That's what it takes: trusting that everybody's going to do their job on field," cornerback Kyle Arrington responded when told of Wilfork's declaration. "We trust they're going to do their job just like they trust we'll do ours. It's definitely a complementary game out there. It means a lot."
Despite the gaudy – some would say embarrassing – numbers that opposing offenses have been able to post against this year's Patriots defense, the players in the back end have remained a confident bunch. That, says Arrington, is because of what they're accomplishing each week in practice.
"Yeah, we do a great job throughout the week of practice, as far as our focus and commitment goes, so, yeah, we just have to bring it with us on Sundays."
And how can they do that?
"Execution. Execute better on Sundays. It's not a lack of focus or anything throughout the week," Arrington stressed. "I think we practice pretty hard and have a competitive group of guys. It was a bad game, and that's what it was – one game. It doesn't reflect the entire season. We still have a lot of football ahead of us, so, we're working to get better every day."
"We're just trying to get better and we're trying to do it as soon as possible," added corner/co-captain Devin McCourty. "When we go out there today we're going to have that urgency at practice to get better. [We're] trying to make sure it keeps coming over on Sundays, not just for a week, not for two weeks but that we can be consistent stringing each game together."
"It's getting there," an encouraged Wilfork continued. "Hasn't been perfect. Guys are starting to understand each other, what we're trying to do, how we rush. When you have seven, eight guys in a rotation, sometimes you get to play with them a lot, sometimes you don't. That's the main issue: knowing how we want to attack and when we need to attack a certain way. We're looking for improvement.
"In this game, you have to find a weakness, and right now, our weakness is our pass coverage. But one-dimensional teams shouldn't be able to beat us. We have to do a better job, all the way around."
"You just have to work. I wish there was a way we could just press a button or something," McCourty concluded, "but it's just hard work and I think time, putting the extra effort into it, watching film together – doing all that stuff I think will pay off for us."
On a Tuesday conference call with reporters, offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien had this to say about second-year receiver Taylor Price:
"He's practiced well. We need to get him in there more ... He's a guy that, we have to give him some more reps in the games."
Price's reaction in the locker room today?
"Obviously, I'm excited to get on the field more," said Price. At Pittsburgh, he was targeted once by Tom Brady on a deep pass that the quarterback under-threw. It fell incomplete.
This, after Price was inactive for all but one game in his rookie campaign a year ago.
"It's never a good situation to stand on the sideline and watch your team play," he continued. "You always want to be in the game and go into battle with your teammates. Nothing's changed for me. I'm going to keep going to practice every day, keep preparing, keep working hard, and see where it takes me.
"I've always had a confidence in myself and my game. It's just a matter of getting comfortable in the offensive system and with the quarterback and getting on the same page. Just being there, being reliable for the quarterbacks to go to."
Another major plus for Price right now: he's healthy. A hamstring injury that limited him earlier in the year is now fully healed.
"My leg's feeling good. That's the big part of it. I can be out there more consistently, putting practices back to back. If you see someone out there every day and they're improving every day, that's a good sign."
For details on today's Patriots practice, please visit the PFW blog.