Patriots Mailbag: Defense Must Take More Risks in Order to Make Any Improvement

Patriots Mailbag: Defense Must Take More Risks in Order to Make Any ImprovementThere's been a lot of chatter surrounding the Patriots this week in light of their loss to the Steelers, and the mailbag was loaded with questions.

Let's get right to them. Thanks to everyone who participated.

Do you think Bill Belichick and the Patriots would benefit from an official defensive coordinator? If so, do they have any options?
–@turtledip, via Twitter

It's a fair question, and I'm not sure if there's a correct answer either way. Bill Belichick was in charge of the defense last season, and they certainly improved over the course of the year and even showed a lot of promise heading into this season. Obviously, that hasn't panned out. While the defensive line has shown some tremendous improvement, there's been very little pass defense in the second and third levels.

Personally, I think Belichick can handle the role just fine as the defensive coordinator (I'll get into some defensive adjustments later), but I think it would be beneficial to get a stronger voice in the personnel department. I'm not saying Nick Caserio doesn't do a good job, but I feel like he might not have the same voice that Scott Pioli had when it comes to personnel decisions. That's purely speculation on my part, at least based off the knowledge I have of Belichick's relationship with Pioli.

To answer your second question, the belief is Belichick has been grooming Matt Patricia for the defensive coordinator job. Patricia coached the linebackers from 2006-10, and he's in charge of the safeties now. Patricia is well-respected by the players, and he's been said to have a good football mind. Once he's got a little more experience, it might be his job.

Even though I don't think this is very realistic, here's another option: Rob Ryan. Of course, Ryan is the defensive coordinator in Dallas, and he's probably banking on his next job being of the head coaching variety. And if that's the case, it would seem unlikely that he took a lateral move with the Patriots, especially if he's worried about getting stuck in Belichick's shadow. But Ryan coached the Patriots' linebackers from 2000-03, knows the system and has a proven track record as a coordinator.

I don't know if the two sides would be right for each other at this time, but I think it would be an outstanding hire if they could make it work.

Jeff, Howe can this defense get better? See what I did there?
–@PatriotsHaven, via Twitter

Hey, the puns are my department. Don't step on my turf.

I think Belichick should take some more risks with the defense, to be honest. They've been conservative against the pass, and it hasn't worked very often. Give the cornerbacks more opportunities to play physical — Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington are built to play that way in certain situations — and give the linebackers and safeties chances to blitz. Obviously, the linebackers tried to blitz a couple of times early in Pittsburgh, and the safeties couldn't back them up in coverage. But hey, keep working on it and see if the aggressiveness can pay off at some point.

What is the effectiveness of the Pats' secondary in zone versus press coverage thus far?
–@RumfordJohnny, via Twitter

I can't give you an exact breakdown, but they've struggled equally in both schemes. At the beginning of the season, they left McCourty alone in man coverage, and he wasn't ready to take that step forward just yet. And when the cornerbacks backed off against Dallas and Pittsburgh, wide receivers had success finding space with underneath routes, such as slants and hitches.

As I've been writing all week, the biggest problem Sunday was with the inside linebackers and safeties. The linebackers, particularly Gary Guyton and Brandon Spikes, looked lost in zone coverage. At times, they looked more concerned with finding their spot in the zone than the receiver in the dead spot just a short distance away. I wonder if they could fix some of those issues by forcing the inside linebackers to play more aggressively at the line and letting them take their assignment one on one.

Does Chung prefer Pat or Patrick?
–@Doctor_Field, via Twitter

He's fine with being called Pat in conversation, but he prefers that we write Patrick because it was his given name.

Why are you so bad at fantasy football?
–@RandyScottNESN, via Twitter

Says the guy who has fewer points than me this season.

As the team looks now, where do you see the team going in the draft? Defensive end, cornerback, linebacker or something else?
–@hasko, via Twitter

First, I'll cop out by saying it's tough to know until I can get a firm grasp on the draft board, which is going to take a few more months.

But I think they can certainly look at a few positions, including safety, wide receiver, cornerback and linebacker, either inside or outside.

When Dane Fletcher gets healthy, do you see his role expanding at all this season at inside linebacker?
–@Russ_Goldman, via Twitter

It's tough to say. When Jerod Mayo went down in Oakland, I really thought Dane Fletcher was going to get an opportunity to play a good amount of snaps, but it never really panned out that way. Obviously, the thumb injury has kept him sidelined for the last few weeks, and from Belichick's comments Friday, it's going to take a little while longer before he returns to the field.

Like I said, a few weeks ago I believed Fletcher would get his chance to rotate with Guyton, but Guyton kept that starting spot intact. It's going to be difficult for Fletcher to get many more reps once Mayo gets back to his full-time role, too.

Why hasn't Taylor Price had his chance yet? I've been asking this long before this week, and no one has a legit answer.
–@KingMorrissey, via Twitter

He started well in the preseason but couldn't stay in the lineup due to a hamstring that derailed the rest of his summer. After that, the Patriots tried to give Chad Ochocinco a chance to immerse himself into the offense, and well, you know how that has gone.

I think Price was having similar issues with learning the offense, which is typical for most young receivers, both in New England and beyond. That combination of things hurt his chance to really make an impact on the field. Lastly, it's tough to get a ton of reps with Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez all playing well.

It sounds like this could be the week when Price gets a chance to get involved. He's a very athletic guy who could make an impact if he can develop some chemistry with Tom Brady. This could turn out to be a make-or-break stretch for Price.

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