Patriots' defense porous for a reason

| Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011

Tom Brady has made opposing defenses look bad for years. Apparently, the New England quarterback is doing the same to his own this season.

Numbers don't paint a pretty picture for the Patriots' defense, which is yielding more than 300 passing yards per game.

But Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said such statistics are skewed since opposing teams frequently play from behind -- and throw the ball a lot -- because of Brady's brilliance.

"If you come in and think they're the 32nd-best defense in football, you're kidding yourself," Tomlin said of the Patriots, who visit Heinz Field on Sunday for an AFC showdown. "That's a function of them just whacking people and being way out in front."

The Patriots (5-1) have scored at least 30 points in all but one of their games. They are coming off a bye, and they are returning to the stadium where they have beaten the Steelers three consecutive times, including in 2010.

And now, the defense
New England has been known more for its offense since Tom Brady has been playing quarterback for the Patriots. Here is how New England has fared in four major defensive categories for its first six games:
Yards per game NFL rank
Rushing 101.5 8
Passing 322.2 32
Total 423.7 32
Points per game NFL rank
Scoring 22.5 10 (tie)

Brady torched the Steelers last season in improving to 6-1 against them, including playoffs. He threw for 350 yards and three touchdowns in a 39-26 win, completing passes to eight receivers.

One of those receivers, Wes Welker, leads the NFL in receptions (51) and receiving yards per game (130.8). The 5-foot-9, 185-pounder is one of several Patriots receivers who present a matchup problem because of how New England uses him.

"He is extremely quick and elusive and very adept at getting away from jams along the line of scrimmage," Tomlin said of Welker. "They move him around quite a bit through a variety of formations and motions."

Ike Taylor is the Steelers' best player in pass coverage. But Tomlin said it anything but a foregone conclusion that Taylor will shadow Welker all game because the latter frequently lines up as a slot receiver.

"That might be a little bit out of Ike's comfort zone," Tomlin said. "Ike is an outside corner."

What might get Tomlin out of his comfort zone is envisioning a game in which the Steelers simply have to outscore the Patriots to beat them.

He sidestepped a question about it Tuesday. Tomlin later was asked if his background as a defensive coach precludes him from thinking that the Steelers have to score a certain number of points Sunday -- and game-plan accordingly.

"I would hope I wouldn't let ego, pride or anything of that nature, comfort zone, prohibit our teams from doing what's required for us to win," Tomlin said. "I fashion myself to be more intelligent than that."

The Steelers' offense accounted for 30 points last Sunday in Arizona. What pleased Tomlin most about the win was the offense marching 80 yards for a touchdown after the Cardinals had pulled to within three points of the lead.

The one area, Tomlin said, where the unit needs to improve: cutting down on mental mistakes that lead to penalties.

"We cannot have pre-snap and post-play penalties if we want to be the kind of offense that we desire to be," Tomlin said.

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