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Three and ouch

Posted by Adam Kilgore, Globe Staff  December 8, 2009 02:35 PM

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In the past two weeks, the Saints and Dolphins handed the Patriots their first losing streak in more than three years in two different manners. The Saints tore huge holes in the Patriots defense in an obvious way. The Dolphins did so with in a more subtle, more frustrating style. They tore the Patriots defense to shreds.

Chad Henne threw the ball 52 times, but none of his passes accounted for 30 yards. On those 52 passes, the Dolphins averaged 6.2 yards. The problem with all those passes was inherent in all those passes – Henne threw the ball so many times, plainly, because he was always on the field.

“Our problem in this past game was simply third down,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said today on a conference call. “We couldn’t get off the field. That’s why we had so many plays. That’s why they had so many yards.”

The Dolphins converted 10 of 19 third downs and two of three fourth downs. The first goal of any defense is to, as Pees put it, get off the field. The Patriots couldn’t do it Sunday, and it was not a new problem.

The Patriots defense ranks 19th in the NFL allowing third-down conversions. Opponents have made first downs on 60 of 151 third-down chances, 39.7 percent of their attempts. On fourth down, the Patriots have a similar problem getting off the field. They have allowed 7 of 14 fourth-down conversions, 50 percent and tied for 15th in the NFL.

Add it up, and of the 151 third downs forced by the Patriots defense, 67 of those have led to the drive continuing. The problem was most glaring Sunday.

“We didn’t give up as many plays – didn’t give up a lot of big plays," Pees said. "We just couldn’t get off the field on third down, for a lot of different reasons, most of which were fundamental mistakes, not necessarily attacking the team this way because we ran this particular coverage. Because we really almost never were in the same coverage twice. We just fundamentally didn’t play well on third down, from the front to the back end. We just didn’t play well enough. And that’s my responsibility, and I’ve got to get that fixed."

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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