Reserves step up again for Patriots' 'D'

Posted Nov. 28, 2011 @ 6:18 p.m.
Posted By Kevin Fishbain

Sometimes with the Patriots, it's the same story, just with a different group of players.

This team has been no stranger to the injury bug the past two seasons, having finished 14-2 last year with multiple starters on injured reserve.

A Week Five win over the Jets this season without the likes of Jerod Mayo and Josh Barrett showed Bill Belichick's ability to plug in reserves and still get positive results.

Only five Patriots defensive starters in their 38-20 Week 12 win over the Eagles were in the starting lineup in Week One: Vince Wilfork, Andre Carter, Jerod Mayo, Gary Guyton and Rob Ninkovich. Not a single defensive back who started opening day was active on Sunday.

Thanks to improved play at cornerback and the use of LB Tracy White and WR Julian Edelman in the middle of the defense, the Pats again found a way to win with a patched-up defensive unit.

The PFW Spin

White is a special-teams ace. There's a reason he played in two snaps on defense all of the 2010 season (all snap counts via ESPN Boston), as illustrated late in Week 10 when he was victimized by TE Jake Ballard.

On Sunday, with the Patriots' linebacking corps hampered by injuries, White played in 64 snaps. White remained in his role on special teams and finished the game with four tackles.

Edelman is proving to be more than just a quirk. He was in on 16 snaps and recorded three tackles. He also crushed Vince Young on a blitz, helping force an incompletion. As PFW colleague Eric Edholm pointed out in "Shorts and Shells," Edelman kept DeSean Jackson from getting open near the goal line. Edelman and White, with their speed, helped keep an Eagles offense that likes to use the middle of the field with a scrambling quarterback and RB LeSean McCoy, in check.

CBs Antwaun Molden and Kyle Arrington lived up to the challenge of the Eagles' receivers, with Molden picking off a pass and Arrington leading the team with 10 tackles and two passes defensed.

The makeshift defense obviously got a huge boost when its offense put up 38 unanswered points. PFW's Christian West was at the game and pointed out how dynamic the offense looked, with Tom Brady connecting with his wide receivers often for big plays when he had been relying on TE Rob Gronkowski in the past few games. When the Patriots decided to ground and pound earlier in the game, they did so successfully to set up running the no-huddle, spread attack to start the second half.

What this stretch is doing for the defense is improving the unit's depth by allowing reserves to get significant playing time. When Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Brandon Spikes return, the unit will be even better.

Like they did in 2010, the Patriots are looking at another eight-game win streak to end the season, as long as they take care of business. They should be at full strength on defense come playoff time, which should strike fear into the rest of the AFC considering how the backups have been performing during the current three-game winning streak.

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