Eric Mangini and Bill Belichick aren't on each other's Christmas card mailing lists, but the Patriots former defensive coordinator offered some comforting words to his old partner in crime about his dreadful defense.
Mangini, now an NFL analyst for ESPN, sat down with his colleague Darren Woodson to discuss the Patriots' defense, and whether it would prevent the Patriots from being a Super Bowl contender.
"They're always going to be a contender with what they can do offensively," said Mangini, "but I believe that the defense is going to get better. They're going to figure out how this works best. This is the first time in 11 years that they've run a 4-3 defense, so there's some problems that they're not used to working out. But Bill is going to find some answers, that staff is going to find some answers, and they're going to improve as the season goes on."
This is an interesting and valid point, as the Patriots only installed the 4-3 defense at the opening of training camp in late July. Without a full grasp of the scheme from both a personnel and coaching standpoint, the early troubles of the defense are a bit easier to understand.
As Belichick might say, the problem is what it is: the pass rush.
When Mangini was asked about the lack of pressure on quarterbacks over the past few years, he offered a little tip to his old buddy: Blitz more.
Mangini added, "That's one of the main reasons they moved to the 4-3, was to try to get pressure with four guys, but if that's not working, now you've got to generate pressure. Come with creative blitzes, mix different types of blitzes in, change when you're bringing them, and that to me is going to give you an edge if what you're doing right now isn't working."
His advice is in line with Fred Jackson's comments after Sunday's game. The Bills running back pointed out that the Patriots tend to blitz in the same situations on a consistent basis, which allowed them to exploit a weakness on the key play of the game.
The problems don't begin and end with blitzes and pressure, though. Coverage has also been a noticeable problem, specifically with Devin McCourty consistently being singled up on some of the AFC's best receivers.
"They've got to vary the coverages, they've got to work on disguising the coverages, not give so much pre-snap information. Vary up what you're doing, still mix in the man-to-man, and I think the results will come in doing that."
Differences and dissension aside, it is at least one person's opinion that the problems of the Patriots defense are correctable. It just so happens that person's opinion is one that Belichick used to hold in high regard.