FOXBOROUGH – (Wire Service Report) – Despite the fact that New England (8-2) has the NFL’s No. 3 defense in terms of points allowed, the criticisms continue to grow around the unit.
In recent weeks, that’s been fueled by the trade of Pro Bowl linebacker Jamie Collins to the Browns and the fact that Jabaal Sheard was a healthy scratch who did not travel with the team to San Francisco last week, a stone-like drop down the depth chart for a guy who started the first eight games.
The reasons for the growing concerns are obvious. New England hasn’t notched a takeaway in the last three games and has only nine for the season with seven of those coming against the Dolphins and Texans back in Weeks 2-3.
Even with a season-high five sacks on Sunday in San Francisco, the Patriots are 20th in sacks per pass play. New England is 21st in third down defense.
Opponents have found growing success running the ball on New England and continue to throw it far too efficiently.
The poor play and seeing some of the unit’s perceived best players has caused some to question coordinator Matt Patricia and wonder why the coach might be failing to maximize the talent New England has on the defensive side of the ball.
“That’s a pretty negative question there,” Patricia said when asked if he was disappointed in himself. “I’m going to try to put the positive spin on that. I mean, you know that’s what coaches do. We try to look at the good side of it. We really try to coach everything that comes our way.”
Despite the recent criticism, Patricia prefers to focus on the task at hand and the reality that his team is in line for a first-round playoff bye having positioned itself once again as a Super Bowl contender.
“We’re going to go out and compete and do the best we can and try to improve week in (and) week out with whoever is out there, and that’s what we try to do,” Patricia said. “I think the part of the season in the NFL that is great is (that) it’s a long season. It’s a season that is continuously evolving.
“If you look at the teams through the course of the different seasons that have played that have wound up in the end where you want to be, I’m sure those teams have gone through a lot of different things throughout the season. We’re just kind of in that mix. It’s getting toward Thanksgiving. We’re going to try to play our best football here moving forward with whoever is out there and try to get better no matter what.”
What was once thought of as a potentially dominant Patriots defense, a would-be equal shareholder in the team’s success in 2016 is failing to live up to that billing.
Now, it’s another season where the common question is whether Tom Brady and the offense are good enough to carry New England to a title.
However, Patricia isn’t looking to ride those highs and lows that come from the fans and media on the outside. Rather, the young defensive coach will stay balanced in his approach.
“What we’re trying to do is get better and that’s what we’re focused on,” Patricia says in the face of increased scrutiny. “When you get into the season we know things change — personnel, scheme, whatever the case may be.
“That’s where we go in and just try to adjust. For us, trying to keep it at that even keel mentality is what works best, honestly. You don’t get too high, you don’t get too low and you try to stay consistent. That has probably been the most productive way to handle things.”
SERIES HISTORY: 112th regular-season meeting. The Patriots lead the all-time series, 57-53-1. New England and New York have a storied rivalry that dates to the first season of the AFL in 1960 and has been heated on and of the field. From players like Curtis Martin and Darrelle Revis bouncing between the teams to Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick’s jumping between sidelines, the soap opera has often surpassed the on-field drama. New England had the upper hand in recent years, having won eight of the last 10. The most notable Jets upset was Rex Ryan’s squad earning a 28-21 victory in Foxborough following the 2010 season, little more than a month after a blowout regular season loss at Gillette Stadium. The games in the series have been crazy close in recent years, with each of the last six decided by a single score and two going to overtime, both Jets wins. The most recent battle was New York’s overtime win last December, 26-20, a game in which Belichick decided to kick off to open the extra period and watch the Jets win without his offense ever getting a chance to possess the ball.
–QB Tom Brady earned his record-tying 27th AFC Offensive Player of the Week honor for his four-touchdown performance last Sunday in San Francisco. His second POW award of the season — he also was honored in his Week 5 return to action in Cleveland, ties Peyton Manning for the most in NFL history.
Brady completed 24 of 40 passes for 280 yards and his 26th career four-touchdown game to lead New England to the road win in his first-ever start in San Francisco, having grown up in the Bay Area. New England has earned seven AFC Player of the Week/Month awards with Brady, RB LeGarrette Blount, K Stephen Gostkowski, P Ryan Allen and LB Dont’a Hightower taking home the honors.
–DT Alan Branch reportedly is appealing his four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s drug policy, apparently for failing a test for marijuana.
With the Patriots probably having to play a month without the veteran who has been its best run-stuffing lineman this fall, it puts the spotlight on rookie third-round, DT Vincent Valentine. The Nebraska product has seen reserve action in seven of 10 games this season, recording 14 tackles and a sack.
Like so many rookies, Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia says Valentine has had his ups and downs in his rotational action, and he’ll need to build on that if his role increases in the coming weeks.
“We’ve got a young guy who is working hard to get better,” Patricia said. “He’s shown some improvement. He has good length and good size, so when goes out there and plays with good technique and is able to get that extension and get the blockers off of him, he does a good job of finding the ball, being able to shed and make some plays in there.
“Consistency is what we’re trying to find, just pushing him to be a more consistent player down in and down out. He does a good job in the transition to the passing game when it does go on early down situations into that scenario and trying to work offensive linemen and get pressure in the pocket.
(He is a) good, young player trying to get better, trying to improve, really trying to understand the game at this level from a knowledge standpoint – understanding what we’re doing, how that affects what the offenses do, how that relates to what we do, understanding the individual matchups with the offensive line, he can be in a couple different positions for us and play against some different opponents. Just that week in, week out trying to understand what we’re trying to do as a defense, what the offense does and how they attack us and just kind of that whole knowledge along with improving fundamentals and techniques is where we’re at. He’s a good young player who’s trying to do everything the right way.”
NOTES: TE Rob Gronkowski (chest) is questionable for Sunday in New York potentially missing his second straight game according to a report by ESPN. The All-Pro is reportedly dealing with a punctured lung, although he did practice on a limited basis on Wednesday. … QB Tom Brady (knee) did not practice on Wednesday, apparently because of an injury sustained last Sunday in San Francisco. He is expected to play on Sunday in New York against the Jets. … WR Matthew Slater (foot) did not practice on Wednesday after failing to finish Sunday’s game in San Francisco. … TE Martellus Bennett (ankle) continues to be limited in practice. … WR Julian Edelman (foot) continues to be limited in practice though he’s played full reps each week. … WR Chris Hogan (back) was limited in practice on Wednesday after sitting out last Sunday’s game against the 49ers, not even traveling to San Francisco.