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Pats want to take the big play out of Big D

10.14.11 at 10:24 am ET

FOXBORO — The Achilles heel for the Patriots’ defense in the first three weeks of the season was the big play.

In NFL language, that’s any play of over 20 yards.

In wins over the Dolphins and Chargers and the self-destructive loss to the Bills in Orchard Park, the Patriots were burned numerous times by the big play.

As a matter of fact, they allowed 17 plays of more than 20 yards in the first three weeks, en route to allowing more yards than any defense in the league.

But a funny thing happened on the way to 4-1, the Patriots learned to adjust. In wins over the Raiders and Jets, the Patriots allowed just five plays of more than 20 yards. Still, by coaches’ standards not great and certainly not perfect but it’s definitely the right direction.

“I think we’re doing our best to improve every week and make the corrections we need to make week to week,” said Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich. “That’s coming in and watching tape and trying to correct all those mistakes, get better through the week of practice and be prepared for the games come Sunday.

There are several theories behind the improvement. More zone coverage in the secondary to make better use of safeties Patrick Chung, Josh Barrett, Sergio Brown and James Ihedigbo, who were getting burned deep in pass coverage. Another factor was the fact that the Raiders and Jets had quarterbacks in Jason Campbell and Mark Sanchez who were not as intent on getting the ball vertical.

“We’re still winning these games, which is a good thing,” Ninkovich said. “As long as we get the offense the ball, and let them do what they do best, we’re going to be OK.”

The Patriots will have to be on the Ps and Qs this weekend, as well as their Xs and Os. They go up against a quarterback who loves to make the big play in Tony Romo, who happens have to have big playmakers in Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Miles Austin.

Whereas the Patriots were hardly tested last week by Mark Sanchez and his group of dysfunctional, bickering receivers, that is likely not to be the case this weekend. This is the second week without Jerod Mayo and this figures to be a much bigger test, as Michael Lombardi pointed out on Dennis & Callahan on Friday.

“Not having a guy like Mayo on the field is obviously going to hurt your defense but I think that we did a good job of everyone stepping up, and knowing that without him out there, everybody has to step up. I think we did well as a defense.”

Read More: Dallas Cowboys, Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots, nfl



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