Teams have hit ground running
Patriots’ defense must put a stop to it
FOXBOROUGH - The Patriots just gave up 167 yards in a quarter to the Broncos a week after Redskins running back Roy Helu rang up 126 yards on the ground, and now they’re getting ready to face the Dolphins and Reggie Bush, who’s coming off three straight 100-yard games, including 203 last week against the Bills.
They know what they’re in for with Bush’s explosiveness, and also know that to bottle him up, they’ll need to shore up a run defense that’s been more generous than usual.
“He’s a special guy,’’ said Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich. “A guy like Reggie can do a lot of different things. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, he can run the ball, he can play on punt return, he can return the ball, so there’s many things he can do on the field that can hurt you, so you’ve just got to make sure you don’t let him do those things.’’
The Patriots are giving up 117.6 rushing yards per game (ranked 19th in the league). But last week, they gave up 252 to Denver - 93 to Tim Tebow - and needed to make adjustments after the Broncos ripped off 167 in the first quarter. The Redskins totaled 170 yards on the ground.
It’s an obvious red flag for the defense going into Saturday’s matchup with the Dolphins, who have the league’s No. 7 rushing attack.
“I think our run defense, really the last two weeks, is really been something we’ve struggled with,’’ Ninkovich said. “We need to get back to the things that we were doing well early and midseason, doing a good job against the run.’’
The Patriots’ defense had done a solid job of limiting some of the league’s best runners. Bush ran for just 38 yards in the season opener, won by the Patriots, 38-24.
They’ve also held the Chargers, Bills, Jets, Cowboys, Steelers, Eagles, and Colts to fewer than 100 rushing yards.
“As a defense, we’re trying to improve each week,’’ said cornerback Devin McCourty. “I think we do pretty good against the run. Last week, they got some big plays in the first few series, but then we were able to get on the sidelines and talk about it.’’
It starts up front, according to McCourty.
“[Vince Wilfork] will always turn to us in the secondary and say, ‘We’re going to handle this run, we’ll take care of it up front,’ and those guys, that’s what they love to do, they love to go out there, beat guys up trying to block them, and get to the ball and tackle the running back,’’ said McCourty. “It’s a team defense, it’s those guys working up front, then it’s the secondary coming in and being able to make tackles.’’
For perspective’s sake, Helu is the only runner this season to crack the century mark on the Patriots.
And outside of Tebow’s performance last week, the next most yards racked up by a runner is 83 by the Jets’ Shonn Greene.
Bush is having the best season of his career (973 yards and six touchdowns), but McCourty said in the first meeting the Patriots made a conscious effort to keep an eye on him.
“We were very aware of where he was on the field at all times, whether it was catching the ball or running the ball,’’ McCourty said. “I think we still have to have that awareness. Coming into the first game, even with no stats or anything, we knew what type of player he could be. Now that he’s hot, there has to be even more of an awareness coming into the game.’’
Beyond that, the Patriots are dealing with a hole on their defensive line with Andre Carter going down with a season-ending quadriceps injury. Mark Anderson filled in for Carter last week, and knows the challenge Bush poses.
“I think he’s a very talented guy,’’ said Anderson. “This has kind of been his coming-out year. We’ve just got to do our job, have everybody flying to the ball. We can’t have no mistakes, no mental errors. Everybody has to be ready at the point of attack because he’s able to bounce from one side of the field and make you miss. You’ve got to be ready at all times when you play this guy. As long as we do our job, not miss any tackles, I think we’ll be fine. I’m confident in our defense.’’
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.