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Patriots defense catches Ryan’s eye

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / December 3, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH — On the days when Jets coach Rex Ryan is looking for a little extra homework, he studies the Patriots defense.

Ryan, a former defensive coordinator for the Ravens, acknowledges that he looks to the unit coached by Bill Belichick to identify trends. If Ryan sees something he likes, he takes it.

“There are very few coaches that I steal from; Bill Belichick is one of them,’’ said Ryan from the Jets’ practice facility in Florham Park, N.J. “So creative, what he does coverage-wise, how he looks at things, puts traps out there. Guy’s an amazing coach. The best coach in football; it’s not even close.

“That’s the guy that I will study. Each week, I’ll just pop their tape on to see what he’s doing because he is creative, he’s smart. The two that I would look at would [be] . . . obviously Belichick’s No. 1, and then Pittsburgh, I would look at some of their things. Those are the two guys, [Steelers defensive coordinator] Dick LeBeau and Belichick, but more so Belichick than anybody.’’

Creativity has helped Belichick bring along a defense that began the season with several players with virtually no NFL experience. The Patriots’ defense may rank near the bottom of the league statistically, but Ryan isn’t surprised that it has done enough to help the Patriots become one of the league’s top teams.

“Nine wins is nine wins,’’ Ryan said. “Statistically, it’s not very good, but I know they’re playing much better than that.

“They have a lot of talent there, it’s just young talent. And we’re similar. We have a guy with [cornerback] Kyle Wilson that’s going to be a great football player, but right now he can’t buy experience.

“You have some growing pains. But right now they’re probably playing as well defensively as they have all season.’’

The Patriots’ defense hasn’t changed much in terms of schemes since the second week of the season, when the Jets exposed its inexperience in a 28-14 victory. But when Ryan watched film later in the season, he noticed improvement in communication and saw players such as rookie cornerback Devin McCourty making big plays.

There isn’t much for the Patriots to rally behind in terms of statistics. Their 399.1 yards allowed per game rank 31st in the league, and their 288.5 passing yards a game are last. But the players maintain that statistics won’t determine the outcome Monday.

Patriots safety James Sanders said he and his teammates have moved on from the disappointment of Week 2 and are finding ways to make up for mistakes during games.

“We’ve got a lot better chemistry and a lot of guys making plays, as well,’’ Sanders said. “We’re communicating and we’re on the same page for the most part, so we’re going to go out there and communicate and hopefully come up with big plays.’’

There is enough of a challenge in facing receivers Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards, who have 10 of the Jets’ 17 touchdown catches, but the Patriots are looking to avoid getting burned again by tight end Dustin Keller. Keller caught seven passes for 115 yards and one touchdown in the first meeting, and is the Jets’ No. 2 receiver in yards, behind Edwards.

“They definitely move him around,’’ Belichick said of Keller. “They use a lot of different formations, even within the same personnel groups, and they use a lot of different personnel groups. They juggle [their skill players] around and try to give you a different look, try to give you different matchups, absolutely.

“Keller’s a good receiver. He’s quick. He’s got good speed down the field. He can definitely threaten the vertical element of the defense.’’

There isn’t going to be much sympathy from the Jets for the Patriots’ young defense. Edwards said that with any matchup, if he holds the edge in experience, he intends to play accordingly.

“If you play young guys, you have that edge,’’ he said. “No matter how talented they are, you have an edge. If you don’t use that edge, it’s a different story. If you get caught in a back-and-forth with a young guy, then you turn into a young guy and you can’t tell who has been playing longer.

“The key for us staying on top is to be veterans and go out there and show, every play, why I’ve been in the league six years and you’ve been in the league one, two, or three years. That’s the key for us. Realizing and acting as a veteran every play.’’

As the Patriots prepare for their 12th game of the season, Vince Wilfork said the defense has a better idea of what it can achieve. The statistics may not be in their favor, but he is only concerned about the results.

“However you can win, that’s what it’s all about,’’ Wilfork said. “People can say what they want to say about this team, about this defense and the people we have here. We just know the only thing we’re trying to do is win, point blank.’’

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