With two preseason games in the books, Head Coach Bill Belichick has decided to take steps to give the third exhibition game against the Redskins more of a regular season feel.
Routinely, teams use the third preseason game as a dress rehearsal, with starters often playing into the second half so the team can make halftime adjustments.
During a conference call on Sunday, Belichick indicated he doesn't intend to diverge from this trend.
"This week heading into Washington, we'll try to make this, not exactly like, but somewhat like a regular Sunday routine to get ready for the Redskins, so the players can start to get a feel for what a week of preparation would be like," said Belichick, admitting, "[Saturday's game] was a pretty physical game. We had some bumps and bruises. We'll just take it day to day like we usually do and just see where we are when we start getting ready to practice for the Redskins."
With weekly improvement being a big goal for Belichick and the Pats, the coach voiced some praise for the front seven on the defense.
"Well there were some things that were better. I thought there were some positives in the Atlanta game as well, but I think maybe we were a little bit more consistent last night, although there were a couple of times last night that we didn't exactly play the plays the way we wanted to," Belichick said.
The Patriots run defense held the Cardinals to 55 yards on the ground, controlling the trenches and keeping holes from opening up.
The defense saw improved fundamentals, and Belichick seemed pleased with that as well, saying "A lot of it comes down to individual techniques, how we play the blocker and how we fit on them and the relationship that the guy who is getting blocked has to the guy that is trying to block him and how everybody fits on that accordingly. Being able to get off those blocks and wrap up and make the tackles and not let the runner get a lot of momentum into the line of scrimmage. All of those things are important. I think some of them we did a little better than we did last week at times. It's something that we need to keep working on."
The focus on fundamentals translated to a dominant defensive effort on Saturday. The Cardinals were only able to convert 27 percent of third downs, and the Patriots 486 total net yards dwarfed the Cardinals, who only managed 151 total net yards.
The secondary faced a test this week, facing wideouts Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. The defensive line didn't allow quarterback Kurt Warner much time to throw, but Belichick also praised the secondary's improved play – Boldin didn't catch a pass and Fitzgerald only caught one.
"I think that the players in the secondary have worked hard," said Belichick. "They've met a lot individually, in other words just their group. Part of that has been an effort to get everybody on the same page and really improve our communication back there. We have our moments. There are times when we make some tough adjustments and then there are other times we miss things that end up costing us some yardage. Overall, I think that we're trying. We're making progress. We're heading in the right direction. We still have a long way to go."
As usual Belichick didn't want to encourage any of the players to rest on laurels, which included the defensive backs. "There are signs that it's improving and it's becoming more consistent and we just have to work harder on it because then as the season comes along, teams will be challenging us with a degree of difficulty with formations and adjustments that we'll have to really be sharp on. That's a big part of playing in the secondary, is the communication and the ability to make adjustments to formations or personnel alignments that puts stress on the coverage."
With the preseason rapidly coming to a close, time is running out on the injured players and their potential availability for the regular season. Belichick wouldn't speak about individuals who have been sitting out, but responded when asked if the group as a whole, which includes Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison and Richard Seymour, was improving.
"Yes, they are. Most of our guys are in a day-to-day type of category and hopefully they will be back out there soon."
Training camp has come to a close and the team is pushing through the second half of the preseason toward the opener. With any luck, some of the players who haven't been around will be ready to play Buffalo.
The defense has shown improvement in the first two exhibitions, but Belichick won't be happy if they start to drop off. Preparation will be key.