Defense a problem for Patriots heading into stretch drive
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) The ever-changing New England defense, still searching for answers, hopes to build on last week's effort when the Patriots visit the New York Jets this Sunday.
The Patriots sacked San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick five times – all in the first half – in a 30-17 win over the 49ers after getting 16 sacks in the previous nine games.
''That's what we've been trying to do all year is get after the quarterback, continue to put pressure on him to make bad decisions,'' defensive lineman Trey Flowers, who leads the team with four sacks, said Wednesday. ''Last week it was definitely a step forward in the right direction.''
Since the end of last season, New England has sported a defense in transition. It started in the offseason when the Patriots dealt sacks leader Chandler Jones to Arizona. Then, Rob Ninkovich, second in sacks in 2015, was suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the league's drug policy.
During the season, Jamie Collins, weeks after winning AFC defensive player of the week honors, was exiled to Cleveland. Last week, Jabaal Sheard, who started the first eight games and had 3+ sacks, second on the team, was left off the traveling squad and was at the Celtics game Friday night while his team was on the West Coast.
Then, this week, a report surfaced that Alan Branch, seventh on the team in tackles, was about to be hit with a four-game drug suspension – and that he was appealing. He was still at practice this week.
The Patriots' 21 sacks are 10 off the league lead, and they have forced just seven turnovers on defense, none in the last three games, four of them in the second game of the season against Miami.
The constant changes led to Kyle Van Noy making his Patriots debut last week, almost a month after he was acquired from Detroit – and he had a sack, matching his two plus-season total with the Lions.
''I was happy to play, happy to contribute,'' Van Noy said Wednesday.
Fellow linebacker Shea McLellin,a free agent signing in the spring, made his first start with the team. And rookie linebacker Elandon Roberts, a sixth-round draft pick, is getting all kinds of playing time and has 26 tackles.
The secondary has been torched too often. The Patriots have five interceptions on the season, two by the departed Collins.
On his regular Tuesday conference call, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia bristled at a question concerning frustration over Collins and Sheard, and looking for answers this late in a season.
''It's getting toward Thanksgiving,'' he said. ''We're going to try to play our best football here moving forward with whoever is out there and try to get better no matter what. I certainly, me as a coach, I'll answer that one, always look at myself first, and I'll always try to make sure I'm doing everything I can to help our team prepare to win, and do the best job I can week in and week out, which is what I really try to do.
''From that standpoint, those guys know that. We're always trying to do whatever it takes to help the team win.''
NOTES: Patriots coach Bill Belichick, asked about the struggling Darrelle Revis, his former cornerback, said Wednesday, ''You just go back to our game (last year) – really, he had a big interception against us down there. I would never underestimate that player. He's got good skills, he's a good competitor. I would never underestimate him.'' … ESPN sports business analyst Darren Rovell tweeted Wednesday that Rob Gronkowski is a minority owner in the new Vegas Golden Knights NHL franchise. Gronkowski (chest) practiced Wednesday.
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