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Leaky defense, third downs, familiar problems

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff  October 30, 2011 10:04 PM

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The defense has a problem. They know it.

The Steelers were 10 of 16 on third downs against the Patriots Sunday, and six of eight in the first half. They controlled the clock, eating up 39:22 of game time, including 13:36 in the first quarter. (The Patriots held the ball for 20:38 in the entire game.) And they did it with a heavy reliance on the passing game. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger completed 36 of 50 passes for 365 yards and two touchdowns. He consistently found an open receiver on third down when he needed it.

“Very frustrating,” said Vince Wilfork, one of the Patriots’ defensive captains. “We talk about getting them in second and long, third and long, and taking advantage of those situations. We had them in those situations but we didn’t take advantage of it. It was a team effort. You can’t say it was the defensive backs, you can’t say it was us. I think collectively we didn’t do a good job defensively when it comes down to it.”

Kyle Arrington, from his view in the secondary, could see plain as day what the Steelers’ game plan was.

“From the first drive, they declared an inside passing game,” Arrington said. “You never want to give it all up in one play, either. We mixed the defense up and tried to do what we could out there and throw different looks at them. They did a great job in game-planning. They just outplayed us.”

The NFL’s 32d ranked pass defense (328.28 yards allowed per game) is obviously shaken after another loss that exploits its most glaring weakness and questions are bound to keep coming up about cutting veteran cornerback Leigh Bodden. Bill Belichick, while frustrated with his team’s execution, is unconcerned when asked about the release of several players this year in his secondary.

“We make the decisions we feel like are best for the team,” Belichick said. “That’s what every decision is.”

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

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