THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Patriots defense sticks with its bid for complete game

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / September 28, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH — The film session for the Patriots defense could not have been pleasant yesterday.

A 38-30 victory over the Bills Sunday only generated more questions about a defense that allowed 381 yards of total offense. Buffalo felt so good about quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s performance (22 of 28, 247 yards, 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions) it released former starter Trent Edwards yesterday.

According to Patriots linebacker Tully Banta-Cain, the game tape showed everyone that the defense “could be a lot better.’’

“Obviously, no one’s happy about giving up 30 points,’’ Banta-Cain said. “But I still think there’s a lot of room for improvement. It is not anything where we’re going to panic.

“I just think we’re not playing complete team defense. You’ve got flashes of guys playing well in certain departments. The D-line sometimes plays well, the linebackers, the secondary, but we’re not consistently doing it at the same time. I think once we put together a complementary game in all those departments, you’ll see a good defense.’’

The Patriots face another stiff division test Monday night when they play at Miami. The Dolphins, who held their own in Sunday night’s loss to the Jets, have a wealth of offensive firepower and will test a New England team that has given up, in succession, 24, 28, and 30 points.

Miami’s top weapons on offense include receiver Brandon Marshall (10 catches, 166 yards vs. the Jets) and the formidable tailback duo of Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown, the latter of whom excels in the Wildcat.

But Patriots coach Bill Belichick didn’t single out his defense yesterday as needing the most work. When asked specifically about the unit’s production, he said everything could be better.

“That’s certainly one thing we saw watching the film,’’ Belichick said. “There is plenty of room for improvement. It was a good win, a division win, but I don’t think it was our best game. I don’t think it was a perfect game. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re doing a lot of good things. We’ve just got to try to work harder, be more consistent, and do more of them. And that’s in every phase of the game: run, pass, kick, return, you name it.’’

The Patriots have changed up the starting lineup recently, perhaps in search of a spark. Safety Brandon Meriweather didn’t start against the Jets or the Bills. Banta-Cain and cornerback Darius Butler watched the first series against Buffalo from the sideline. Belichick said there are various ways to make a point to a player, but ultimately the starting decisions come down to matchups.

“The players’ roles in the game change from game to game,’’ Belichick said. “We talk to them individually, collectively, however we do it, we talk to the player about their role in the game. Do I sit down and have a meeting with every single player on the team about his role in the game? No. Do I talk to players during the course of the week? Yes, but I don’t have 50 meetings every week. But each player has a role. Each player has certain specific jobs that we feel are real important for him this particular week and that is identified early in the week.

“It’s reinforced later in the week and heading into the game. Depending on how the game goes, that either becomes greater or sometimes lesser of a priority. Sometimes things are different in the game than what you planned for. Sometimes they’re not. There’re usually some elements that carry over, but each game has its own dynamics and you have to sometimes adjust to that.’’

Banta-Cain said he didn’t know why he didn’t start Sunday. Rookie Jermaine Cunningham and Rob Ninkovich got the start at outside linebacker, while Kyle Arrington started in place of Butler.

Banta-Cain may not have been expecting it, but how he responds is more important to him.

“I was surprised by it, but I knew I was still in the game plan,’’ he said. “I played a substantial amount of snaps. I just do my job. Whatever they ask me to do, I do it.’’

Albert R. Breer of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com.

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