Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Lot on the Line as Patriots Face the Jets

Countless pages have been written and numerous discussions have been had about how bad the Patriots defense is and there is no denying that their biggest weakness is stopping their opponents from moving the ball almost at will.

A weak defense has been the Patriots problem for several years.  They never really replaced the likes of Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour, Willie McGinest, Ty Law, Rodney Harrison, and Mike Vrabel and the results have shown that the talent drain has been a real issue.  Once the backbone of the Super Bowl years in Foxboro, even Judge Smails is waiting for Bill Belichick - one of the greatest defensive minds in football history - to produce an elite defense.

The Patriots have to start making improvements or they run the risk of being on the outside looking in when the playoffs start in January.  They cannot turn into an elite defense over night but they can make changes that will give them a better chance at slowing down the opposition which will take the pressure of Tom Brady and the offense to score every time they touch the ball.

One change that can be made is to use more blitzes.  Opposing quarterbacks have had way too much time to sit in the pocket and pick apart the weak Patriots secondary.  By pressuring the quarterback, the secondary will be able to cover for less time and hopefully be opportunistic enough to jump some routes and intercept some passes.  This plan does increase the chance of giving up big plays but that is already happening in their current defense.

Players like Gary Guyton, Rob Ninkovich, and Mark Anderson are limited in what they can contribute to the Patriots base defenses but they can be used as blitzers to pressure the opposing quarterback.  That pressure will slow down the other team's passing attack and theoretically create more turnovers.  I'm not football genius but I think that it is a good idea to limit the opponents possessions and put the ball in Brady's hands more often.

Another solution to the Patriots problems on defense is to rotate their defensive linemen in an effort to keep them fresh and increase their production.  The group of Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love, Andre Carter, Shaun Ellis, Gerard Warren, Brandon Deaderick, and Ron Brace is talented enough to cause havoc versus any offensive line but they need to be shuffled in and out more to allow their time on the field to be as productive as possible.  This is a tactic utilized by the Oregon Ducks, they keep their big boys in the trenches as fresh as possible and it usually leads to four quarters of solid play up front.  The trickle-down effect on the linebackers and secondary would improve the defense as a whole.

Today is a big test for the Patriots defense.  The Jets are their biggest divisional rival and this game will go a long way towards determining who wins the AFC East and (possibly) who is playing in January and who is watching from home.  This is not an explosive offense but Mark Sanchez has Santonio Holmes, Dustin Keller, and Plaxico Burress to target in the passing game and the Jets can pound the ball with Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson.

If the Patriots are going to return to the status of Super Bowl contender than they need to beat the Jets on the road today.  To do so, the defense is going to have to play 60 minutes of good football.

We're waiting.

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