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Pats' pass rush remains a problem

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Posted Sept. 26, 2011 @ 7:46 p.m. ET
By Kevin Fishbain

For two weeks, Tom Brady's stellar play masked the fact that the Patriots' defense didn't seem to be where it needed to be after an offseason spent revamping it, especially the pass rush.

In Week Three, it came back and bit them.

Yes, Brady's four interceptions and the lack of a consistent rushing attack didn't do the Patriots any favors, but the defense was unable to pick up the slack and slow down Ryan Fitzpatrick, Fred Jackson and the now 3-0 Bills.

It's important to note that the defense was missing three key players — DT Albert Haynesworth, CB Ras-I Dowling and SS Patrick Chung. But that shouldn't make a huge difference with the team's pass rush, which again proved to be nonexistent.

The PFW Spin

Thirty points should be enough to win football games. In fact, the Patriots entered Sunday having scored at least 30 points in 10 consecutive games. They continued the streak by putting up 31 on Buffalo but got their first loss when scoring 30-plus points since Week 10 in 2009, when they fell 35-34 to the Colts.

The secondary entered Sunday depleted and inexperienced. Starting safeties Sergio Brown and Josh Barrett entered Sunday having started three games combined for New England. The team likely doesn't miss Brandon Meriweather, as parting ways with him had been rumored since last season, but it makes you wonder if the team wished it had kept James Sanders, who is starting for Atlanta. Barrett took a bad angle on Fred Jackson on the game's defining play, which led to the winning field goal, and Sergio Brown had a pass interference that wiped away an interception.

With Dowling out, Kyle Arrington started and actually had a good game with two picks. But it was Leigh Bodden and Devin McCourty who got beat on a couple of big pass plays down the sideline.

With the thin secondary in mind, was there ever a game to ramp up the pass rush more than against Buffalo? Sure, the Bills entered Sunday having given up only two sacks, but I doubt anyone expected them to exit Sunday's game with that stat unchanged.

The Patriots rarely blitzed, but the D-line also couldn't win the one-on-one battles to get to Fitzpatrick, who gets rid of the ball quickly to begin with. On a third down in the fourth quarter from the Bills' own eight-yard line, Bill Belichick finally dialed up a blitz. Fitzpatrick threw it into no-man's land, forcing Buffalo to punt.

Why did it take so long to bring the pressure? And why not dial it up again? It's possible the Patriots didn't want to be burned on screen plays — of course, it was a screen to Jackson that set up the game-winner. Any quarterback can make plays if he has time in the pocket, especially a guy with a lot of confidence like Fitzpatrick in a spread attack.

Next week, the Patriots play the only other team in the league that has allowed only two sacks‚ the Raiders, another club that doesn't necessarily have a blue-chip offensive line. Oakland doesn't have the type of passing game the Bills do, but that doesn't mean Jason Campbell won't let rip to his speedy receivers.

DEs Shaun Ellis and Andre Carter are not doing what they were brought in to do, which is pressure the quarterback. Maybe the team needs to bring Rob Ninkovich off the edge more or give Mark Anderson more snaps. Ninkovich has the versatility to play with his hand on the ground or standing up and he can get to the QB, but he needs help. The Patriots decided to target 4-3 D-ends instead of 3-4 outside linebackers in the offseason to improve the front, and that strategy hasn't made a huge impact, yet.

The offense is going to keep scoring points, but the defense is dead last in total yards and against the pass through three games. Brady proved last year that he can only do so much, and there is no evidence yet this season to indicate he won't have to put the team on his back again to win crucial games this season.

 

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