FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Deficiencies on the defensive side of the football were a recurring theme for the Patriots during the 2017 season.
An inconsistent pass rush and inability to get offenses off the field on third down were two areas New England sought to improve in the offseason.
Following a 31-20 loss to Jacksonville in which both issues were again prevalent, there’s still some work for the Patriots to do.
In last season’s AFC championship loss to New England, the Jaguars’ offense got conservative late and it contributed to Jacksonville surrendering a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead. The Jaguars stayed aggressive throughout the game in Sunday’s rematch, going right at the secondary. Oft-criticized Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles turned in one of the best performances of his career, completing 29 of 45 passes for 377 yards and four touchdowns with only one interception.
Jacksonville’s offense did a lot of its damage on third down, going 10 for 14 (71 percent). Seven of those conversions came on third downs of 6 or more yards.
“We need to play better on third down on both sides of the ball,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Monday. “There were times where everything was a problem. Sometimes we had rush and not enough coverage. Sometimes we had good coverage and not enough rush.”
The Patriots’ defense hit Bortles four times but didn’t get a sack.
New England also may be without two starters next week when it visits Detroit. Defensive end Trey Flowers and safety Patrick Chung both left Sunday’s game with concussions and began the week in the NFL’s concussion protocol.
Aside from their issues up front, the Patriots were also guilty of giving up lots of yards after catches to the Jaguars. Jacksonville’s biggest play came in the fourth quarter, when Dede Westbrook caught a short pass over the middle from Bortles, picked his way through New England’s secondary and rumbled for a 61-yard touchdown .
Belichick said issues with tackling and positioning were contributing factors on that play and on others.
“A couple times they had the ball, they got the ball to guys that are really good with it, but sometimes we lost leverage. A couple times we had contact and didn’t finish the tackle,” he said. “Just overall we have to do a better job of playing with leverage and tackling and using our help and getting the runner on the ground.”
Despite the issues against the Jaguars, safety Devin McCourty said nothing happened from a schematic standpoint that can’t be corrected in time for the matchup with the Lions.
“It wasn’t like guys weren’t playing hard. We just didn’t play well enough,” he said. “When we watch the film, we will see that guys just didn’t play well enough. That’s how I felt. We got to get better. We talk about it all the time in the early part of the season in September and October. We just got to get better and stick together.”
Duron Harmon, who would likely move into Chung’s starting role if he’s unavailable against Detroit, said the defense’s focus this week in practice will be clear.
“We just have to do a better job on third down and getting the offense off the field and everything will take care of itself,” he said.
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