|11.04.11 at 12:34 pm ET|
Patriots defensive back Patrick Chung checked in with the Mut & Merloni show Friday for his weekly appearance. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.
Chung wasn’t interested in spending too much time rehashing the defensive struggles in Sunday’s loss to the Steelers, and he remained positive about the team’s effort.
“We played good defense,” he said. “The game comes down to five big plays. They executed more of those plays. We played good. But that game’s over. We’re over that game.”
Looking at specific aspects the Patriots can improve, Chung focused on communication.
“Everybody has to be on the same page in order to be in the right defense,” he said. “Little communication things, that’s very important but it can be easily fixed. Easily fixed by guys being in the meeting room, knowing what they’re doing. That’s not a problem. Every once in a while the defense has a couple of problems. It’s just how you react to it and how you get better from it.”
Asked why it’s taking the team so long to get past these issues, Chung replied: “Nothing’s holding us back. That’s how the game goes sometimes. That’s how the game goes. It’s all about limiting those errors. Everyone has communication problems. It’s about limiting them and keeping them to a halt. Keeping them very limited, having maybe one or two instead of three or four. That can make a huge difference. Everybody has their problems. It’s just about how you react from it. Just play ball after that.”
Asked why the Patriots don’t play a more aggressive style, Chung took exception to the question.
“I think we’re aggressive,” he said. “We fly to the ball. ‘¦ I would never say that. We’re an aggressive team. We’re coming to get the ball and we’re coming to play football.”
“That’s how he felt. Everybody has their own opinion,” Chung said. “We’re not worried about that stuff. We have a game to get ready for. ‘¦ He can say whatever he wants to say. We’re not worried about small talk. We’re not worried about any of that stuff. We’re here to play football.”
|11.04.11 at 11:57 am ET|
Working his way back from a knee injury, Mayo was on the field for less than half of the defensive plays in Sunday’s loss to the Steelers.
“It’s coming along,” Mayo said of his knee. “Just working every day, trying to get it better each and every day. Hopefully, it continues to improve.”
Former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison was critical of the defense and the strategy after Sunday’s loss to the Steelers. Mayo brushed off the comments.
“Rodney’s going to say what he wants to say,” Mayo said. “He’s not in this locker room. I’m loyal to these guys in this locker room. Rodney’s a great player. He’s entitled to his opinion. I think we have the guys on this team and on this defense to be successful and to be a good defense.”
“It’s tough to hear things like that, but at the same time, hindsight is 20-20. He didn’t say it before the game or anything like that,” Mayo said. “It is tough to hear that. Like you said, I’m prideful, especially when it comes to defense. We’ve just got to continue to get better and start figuring out people, and that’s what we’re working toward.”
Talking about the defense’s communication issues, Mayo said: “Different things happen on football teams. Injuries are a huge part of communication. Any time you have different guys back there you have to talk to them differently, you have to make adjustments differently. That’s up to us up front, the linebackers, making sure everyone’s on the same page. We take that burden. Hopefully, it improves this week.”
|11.04.11 at 10:41 am ET|
The Patriots host the Giants Sunday, looking to rebound from their loss to the Steelers in which the defense struggled mightily, forcing only one punt all day.
“It’s a work in progress,” McCourty said. “And I think it’s definitely fixable. But it’s not something where you can just sit back and wait. And I think we all have a sense of urgency right now to just go out there and focus on getting better and believing that if we just keep chipping away at it that things will change.”
McCourty remains friends with Leigh Bodden, who was cut by the Patriots last week, but McCourty said he doesn’t talk about team issues with his fellow cornerback.
“We just talk as two friends,” McCourty said. “We’ll talk about football as far as just playing. ‘¦ We don’t really talk about anything that has to do with his term here, as far as how he feels toward the organization or anything like that.”
Eli Manning said before the season that he feels he deserves to included among the list of elite quarterbacks in the NFL, alongside Tom Brady. This week, as his Giants prepare to invade Foxboro, he refused to back down from his comments. Based on Manning’s 2011 stats, McCourty said he’s proven to be right.
“He’s taken heat for it, and he’s backed it up,” McCourty said. “As a competitor, that’s what we look forward to. Whatever’s said about you or whatever you say, it all comes down to having that opportunity to back it up. When a guy says something and he comes backs it up, I don’t think there’s anything anyone can say about that. He’s proven whatever he said to be true.
“Our job now is to go out there and try to contain an elite quarterback. It seems like week in and week out we see one of this guys. We’ve just got to come ready to play.”
One of Manning’s favorite targets is second-year Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz, a UMass product.
“He brings big-play ability.,” McCourty said “You see him catch passes, he breaks a lot of tackles. ‘¦ His ability to make guys miss when they go up to get the ball is going to be tough. Eli knows that, so he gets a lot of the balls thrown his way. We’ve really got to compete and try to limit him as much as we can.”
|11.04.11 at 10:24 am ET|
Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz, a second-year player out of UMass, joined the Dennis & Callahan show Friday to talk about Sunday’s game between the Giants and Patriots. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
Cruz played in three games last season as an undrafted free agent before getting hurt. This season, he has become an important weapon for New York.
“Last year, I used that IR year to just learn the playbook, understand how the NFL works, really get acclimated to playing in the NFL mentally,” he said. “This year it’s just being confident, understanding what’s being asked of me, and understanding the playbook and learning the intricacies of the NFL. And I believe that hard work has been beneficial for me so far.”
Giants quarterback Eli Manning said before the season that he considers himself in a class with Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. This week, Manning refused to back off those comments, and Cruz supports him “most definitely.”
“I think a lot of people forget that he’s a Super Bowl MVP quarterback,” Cruz said. “He’s done some great things in some tough situations in the past. Playing in New York is tough. You don’t get a lot of the credit. A lot of people see a lot of the bad things and kind of harp on that. But he’s a great quarterback and I think should be up there with the Bradys and the Rodgers and guys like that. Because he’s doing those same things.”
The Steelers touched the Patriots with a passing attack Sunday, but Cruz said he expects his team’s strategy will feature more of a balanced attack this weekend.
“I feel like [the Steelers] were just stretching the defense,” he said. “They were keeping them on their toes. They didn’t know what was coming. They threw something like 50 passes that game. It was just a complete aerial attack and things like that. I think we’re going to try and follow that route. ‘¦ But I think in order for us to be successful, we’re going to have to run the football. Running the football’s going to be one of the things we focus on, because that will keep the defense honest and keeps them on their toes and they won’t know what’s coming.”
|11.03.11 at 9:26 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Vince Wilfork has been lots of things to the Patriots defense this season. He’s been their most dominant player on the defensive line. He’s been one of their best pass defenders, with two remarkable interceptions.
But on Thursday – as captain of the defense, and as a prideful man – Wilfork was something else: a true spokesman and leader. He stood by his locker and tried to tell it like it is.
But in admitting the Patriots defense has had trouble stopping the opposition in the first seven games of the 2011 season, he made a plea and a promise to fans – it will and is getting better.
“It hasn’t been perfect,” he said. “Nothing’s perfect. But it’s getting there. I think guys are starting to understand each other out there on the field. they’re starting to understand what we want to do, how we want to rush. When you have seven, eight guys in a rotation, sometimes you get to play with them a lot, sometimes you don’t. That’s the main issue, is basically getting out there, knowing what all of us are doing.”
Of course, the lightning rod of the porous D has been the secondary. Wilfork says that the defensive line has to shoulder some of the responsibility for not make life more difficult on opposing quarterbacks this season. In seven games this season, only Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez has failed to reach the 300-yard passing plateau.
“Absolutely, we all take part of that,” Wilfork said. “We’re not going to sit back and say, ‘They’re catching balls because they’re not covering.’ It’s part of us up front, too, not being able to get to the quarterback quick enough. It works hand-in-hand. It’s not track where you can go out and throw the shotput or run the 100-yard dash and win the medal by yourself. You win together. The quicker we understand that, the better we’ll be. And I think we understand that.
“Trust me, I don’t want any of our DBs to think it’s their fault we’re not getting off the field on third down or they called an in-cut 20 yards down the field. Twenty yards down the field gives us up front a lot of time to get to the quarterback. We have to take some of the blame, too, and we are, we are. But one thing this team has been doing, and the defense, we just keep working. Bill [Bill Belichick] challenges us every week and we keep working. We work hard. We just have to work harder. But that’s what we’ll do.”
There is one concern, though, as it concerns Wilfork. As our own Chris Price pointed out, Wilfork’s workload is up – way up – this season. With Shaun Ellis banged up, Mike Wright out for the season with a concussion and Albert Haynesworth admitting Wednesday that he’s still “knocking off the rust” seven games into 2011, Wilfork is getting little time to rest on the sideline.
According to Pro Football Focus, Wilfork played 361 of a possible 413 defensive snaps through the first six games of the season, a rate of 87.4 percent and far and away the most of any defensive lineman on the New England roster. That represents a quantum leap from where he’s been the last few seasons. Through six games in 2010, he was at 65.9 percent (283 of 429 snaps). In the same stretch in 2009, he was at 61.2 percent (221 of 361) through the first six games. And in 2008, he played 72 percent (247 of 343) of the Patriots’ defensive snaps through the first six games.
Durability has never been an issue with the Miami product — at one of the most strenuous positions on the field, he’s played all 16 games in five of the previous seven seasons, and hasn’t missed a start since 2009. But the possibility of wear and tear exists, especially for a veteran big guy (6-foot-2, 325 pounds) like Wilfork.
|11.03.11 at 8:34 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Almost overnight, the 24-year-old Devin McCourty — with just 23 NFL starts under his belt — has become the senior cornerback in the Patriots’ system. No current member of the Patriots secondary has more starts under his belt in New England than the Rutgers product.
The Patriots have had several shifting parts at corner over the last year, with the departures of Leigh Bodden and Darius Butler and the additions of Antuwan Molden and Phillip Adams. And while Kyle Arrington and Pat Chung have played more games as a pro, it’s McCourty who has the most experience as a starter of any defensive back in the New England system.
But it’s not like McCourty sits around pining for the days when he was part of a group that included Bodden and Butler, as well as safeties Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders, both of whom were released before the start of the season.
“I mean, I still talk to those guys so I know where they are,” he said Thursday when asked about his former teammates. “I think our focus right now is just getting better and at times we’re making strides in that and at times we’re falling a little short. I think our goal is to keep getting better and be more consistent.”
After all the moves, McCourty said the defensive backs that remain have learned to manage all the change that’s taken place.
“You just keep playing,” he said. “You have to really value those reps when you’re out there on the practice field. When we’re in the meeting rooms, we’re communicating with guys and that’s where you build that trust and communication on the field — you build it in meeting rooms and walkthroughs. We really just emphasize communicating in the walkthroughs and meetings.”
The Patriots’ appeared to struggle in pass defense Sunday against the Steelers, yielding 365 yards to Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. New England is last in the league against the pass, allowing an average of 323.1 yards per game. But for his part, McCourty remains optimistic about the rest of the season.
“I think our outlook is really that we’re going to get better,” he said. “We really don’t worry about what everybody else says. We’re just trying to get better and we’re trying to do it as soon as possible. When we go out there today we’re going to have that urgency at practice to get better. [We’re] trying to make sure it keeps coming over on Sundays, not just for a week, not for two weeks but that we can be consistent stringing each game together.”
|11.03.11 at 4:47 pm ET|
The Patriots announced Thursday that the team has released safety Ross Ventrone — the ninth transaction involving the defensive back out of Villanova since the start of the regular season. Ventrone, 25, has spent time on both the practice squad and 53-man roster this season, playing in four games. Ventrone, 5-foot-8, 190 pounds, was originally signed by the Patriots as a rookie free agent out of Villanova on April 29, 2010. He spent the majority of his rookie season on 2010 on the New England practice squad.