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It’s going to take some time

Patriots’ young defense picked apart by Giants

By Albert R. Breer
Globe Staff / September 3, 2010

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The game against the Rams ended at 10:45 p.m. on Aug. 28.

It picked right back up, for all intents and purposes, last night around 7 at the Meadowlands.

And that’s not all bad.

The Patriots’ offense, as it has been since 2007, is just fine. The defense, though, is not.

It’s dangerous to take too much from the preseason, but it seems that we can, at least, take that much from this year’s four-game slate of exhibition contests.

The good part is that the defensive failings this year might come for the right reason — because the personnel is tremendously young in key spots. The bad part is that it looks an awful lot like the team in general is going to have to take its lumps for that infusion of youth.

The best part is that the offense figures to be, if not more prolific, more balanced and efficient than it was a year ago. And judging by what we’re seeing from the defense, Tom Brady & Co. will need to be.

On last night’s first possession, Giants quarterback Eli Manning did a pretty passable impression of his older brother as his offense chewed up 86 yards in just nine plays, needing to convert just one third down to hit paydirt.

Tailback Ahmad Bradshaw ripped off 11- and 7-yard runs through the Patriots’ defensive front, proving that the problems aren’t limited to the pass rush and a secondary hit with the loss of veteran cornerback Leigh Bodden.

From there, Manning found tight end Kevin Boss down the seam for 22 yards, Hakeem Nicks hard by the sideline for 12 yards, Bradshaw on a check-down for 17 yards, and Boss in the flat for a 13-yard catch-and-run touchdown.

Pretty simple: The Giants hit the Patriots’ defense everywhere, and the Patriots’ defense didn’t hit back.

New York’s next two offensive plays were a 15-yard end-around to Nicks, and a 19-yard burst by Nicks after another catch. A botched flea-flicker short-circuited that drive, but it was pretty clear, by the time the defense left the field, that there will be plenty of film from this one for the coaches to hold over their young defenders’ heads going into Week 1.

That’s not to say the Patriots won’t be capable of putting together good defensive efforts. It’s just hard to see those coming against the NFL’s better offenses.

Last year, the Patriots held the struggling offenses of Tennessee, Tampa Bay, and Jacksonville to 7 points or fewer. They also yielded 35 points or more against Indianapolis and New Orleans, and did little in the playoffs to slow a Baltimore offense rendered one-dimensional by quarterback Joe Flacco’s injuries.

So it again falls on Brady and Randy Moss and Wes Welker, and a few other new (or relatively new) and exciting weapons to complement them. And that’ll make for some shootouts.

Brady was magnificent after a rough start against the Rams, and workmanlike early against the Giants before underthrowing Moss and getting picked off by Antrel Rolle.

The Patriots finish the preseason looking better offensively in the red zone, and more diverse at the skill positions, and carrying a different look from the spread-em-out days of 2007-09. Excluding a 10-play, hurry-up drive against St. Louis, Brady was under center for 54 of his 77 preseason snaps, and the change in approach manifested itself in a first offense that was more effective in short yardage and more balanced overall.

The bottom line for any offense, as Bill Belichick is fond of saying, is scoring points, and this group will be capable of doing that. To make it even simpler, having a quarterback of Brady’s ilk gives you a chance every time out.

But the defense is sure to make it a challenge for No. 12, as was the case in 2008 and ’09.

Even in its better preseason performances, against New Orleans and Atlanta, the first defense had the ball moved against it. The points started raining down the last couple weeks with the Rams and Giants.

The upshot is that, come season’s end, you might see a defense that improves markedly over the year through the hard lessons of pro football, and will be ready to return a lot of rising talent in 2011.

But it sure looks a price will be paid for that process this fall. And that means Brady & Co. will have to come up money to give this team a chance.

Albert R. Breer can be reached at abreer@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @albertbreer.

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