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Mike Lombardi on D&C: Patriots DBs ‘have to get better’

10.19.12 at 10:35 am ET
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NFL Network analyst Mike Lombardi joined Dennis & Callahan on Friday morning to review the Patriots’ loss to the Seahawks, preview Sunday’s Pats-Jets game, and discuss news from around the league. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

The finger has been pointed at the Patriots secondary as the key reason for the team’s struggles. Lombardi discussed how it can be improved.

‘€œIt’€™s certainly a concern and obviously it has to rely on some of the players. I think what you saw, let’€™s be real honest here, Patrick Chung‘€™s ball skills down the field have got to get better,’€ Lombardi said. ‘€œI don’€™t know how you make them better, how you make his instincts better on the ball down the field. I think not having Steve Gregory back there is certainly a concern. ‘€¦ They have to get better at making plays down the field. [Devin] McCourty, everyone. And I think ultimately its something that will be worked on. It’€™s a skill. ‘€¦ Instincts for DBs are something we don’€™t talk enough about, we always talk about size and speed. But I think instincts really play an important part, and ultimately, that’€™s a hard thing to coach.’€

Following the matchup with the Seahawks, Lombardi considered what teams should do against the Patriots in coming weeks.

‘€œYou should throw it up five times a quarter. Let’€™s be real honest, you’€™ve got to throw it up,’€ Lombardi said. ‘€œPeople are going to throw it to McCourty and see if he can make a play. He hasn’€™t been able to make a play with the ball in the air down the field all season. So I think that’€™s where teams see it on tape, and why not take a shot?’€

Lombardi identified a weak pass rush as a contributing factor to the struggles vs. Seattle.

‘€œMore importantly than the lack of play in the secondary, I thought their pass rush last week in terms of controlling [Russell] Wilson in the pocket and, typically, that’€™s what the Bill Belichick defense usually does, is control him in the pocket with their pass rush,’€ Lombardi said. ‘€œWhen you have Russell Wilson, you have to rush him like he’€™s actually attempting a field goal. You have to force him to stay in front of you. You got to force him to see over the big guys. You got to force him to have to stand behind the center and throw the ball. And then there’€™s no chance he’€™s going to beat you doing that.’€

Looking at the Patriots’ fourth-quarter struggles, Lombardi was asked whether the drive this team has showed in past years still exists.

‘€œNo, it doesn’€™t. There’€™s that fine line about where do we go, do we be aggressive offensively or do we play it and try to just let the clock run out,’€ Lombardi said. ‘€œI think they’€™ve lost a little bit of that edge, the confidence within the edge. They’€™ve got to find it and they’€™ve got to get that back. They have to make the throws they have to make. ‘€¦ Going 1-for-6 in the red zone is not going to win many games. ‘€¦ Mistakes that the Patriots typically don’€™t make and they’€™re making them and they’€™ve made them all season long and I think that’€™s where they have to eliminate that.’€

Lombardi said that despite the Patriots being heavy favorites, he does think that the Jets have a chance this week.

‘€œYeah, I do,’€ Lombardi said. ‘€œHere’€™s why: Because if the Patriots want to keep turning the ball over, like they did against Seattle, like they’€™ve done in the past. The Jets feast on turnovers. The Jets have to play a field position game. The Jets have to play on a short field. The Jets have won two games this year where they’€™ve gotten four turnovers in each of those games. ‘€¦ If you give them that kind of game and if you’€™re going to play that way ‘€¦ Now, if you make them play from behind, make Mark Sanchez have to throw the ball more than what he’€™s had to in the past, if you force these receivers to make some tough catches and you stop their running game, I think they’€™ll have a hard time keeping up for four quarters.’€

Lombardi pointed out what the Patriots need to do Sunday.

‘€œI think the Patriots will stop their running game. ‘€¦ I think it’€™s going to be, can they make some plays down the field?’€ Lombardi said. ‘€œThe receivers against the Jets even though they’€™re not great, I think they have to stop Stephen Hill, I think that’€™s going to be the key. Then they have to go after the Jets secondary, and can they handle that very well.’€

Asked whether the Patriots’ hurry-up offense might actually be wearing them out, Lombardi discussed how it could be problematic but also said that it’€™s beneficial the Patriots are encountering these problems now, rather than later in the season.

‘€œSometimes you have to take a moment’€™s breath. ‘€¦ It’€™s the give and take. I think that’€™s got to be the concerning factor. They’re running at breakneck speed, and yet in the fourth quarter when they should have all the advantage and they’€™re not gaining the advantage. I think they’€™ve got to continue to work through that. I think the great thing about the Patriots’ season is to overcome the obstacles, much like the Giants did last year. If things are going so smoothly early in the year, then you don’€™t recognize your problems. This is where you can become a Super Bowl team, you have the adversity, you fight through it, you develop the mental toughness and you find ways to fix the problems and I think that’€™s how you rise above.’€

Following are more highlights from the interview.

On the three best QBs in the NFL and Tom Brady‘€™s current status: ‘€œI think Aaron Rodgers clearly is still one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and I think Eli Manning is one of the best quarterbacks in the league, I think Tom [Brady] has shown moments of being the best quarterback in the league but I think Tom has to adjust himself as well, too, and you see what teams have started to do to him. You can no longer just throw the ball short and over the middle all the time. I think there’€™s areas of the field that have to get exploited by the Patriots offense and for Tom to be more effective. ‘€¦ I think there is certain areas he’€™s got to work on improving his game, and that’€™s what makes Tom Brady so good is I think you can have this conversation with him as a player and know he’€™s got to work on it and improve. I think it’€™s the best challenge to great players.’€

On if Bill Belichick has trouble drafting defensive backs: ‘€œPart of being a New England Patriot is toughness and tackling. And I think that’€™s something he clearly puts an emphasis on. I think this [Alfonzo] Dennard kid who they picked in the seventh round has shown more skill in terms of covering than a lot of players you’€™ve mentioned before. ‘€¦ You’€™ve got to work your way through it and you’€™ve got to try to get better.’€

On Sunday’s Texans-Ravens game: ‘€œHouston is a little overrated, they have no drop-back passing game whatsoever. Everything is built around their play-action pass. That’€™s a team that, in single elimination, will have a hard time if they go against the right team. I think Baltimore is a team just living on the edge. We talk about the Patriots’ problems, Baltimore is 5-1 and I think they have more problems than the Patriots do.’€

On whether the injury to Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis is offset by the return of Terrell Suggs: ‘€œI think what they did with Ray Lewis was they kept him on the eligible to come back because they need his leadership. Ray, on the field, I think they could find a way to replace him. The challenge is going to be to replace Lardarius Webb. People don’€™t realize that slot corners are more valuable than middle linebackers. Slot corners have as much value as a nickel pass rusher. ‘€¦ Webb was one of the best. ‘€¦ Suggs, let’€™s face it, never in the history has there been an Achilles injury that a guy has come back in the same season. I hope Suggs is the first guy that can do it, but his conditioning is not going to be there, and when you rush the passer, once you’€™re tired, it’€™s over with.’€

Read More: Bill Belichick, Mark Sanchez, Mike Lombardi, Patrick Chung
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