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Patriots captains say communication wasn’t the defense’s entire problem

Sometimes the players were just doing the wrong thing.

Super Bowl LI - New England Patriots v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

We’ve pinned a lot of blame for the New England Patriots’ poor defensive start to the 2017 season on communication breakdowns. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore has made his fair share of errors, as have all of the new faces in the defensive front seven.

And while the defensive leaders were quick to highlight the miscommunications after the first four games, they’ve started to point to a different problem: defenders messing up before the snap.

“I think we’ve gotten better at [communication],” defensive captain Devin McCourty said, “and I’ve also said all our mistakes weren’t just communication. Some of it was just executing where we all knew what we were supposed to do. It was well-communicated, and we just didn’t all do our job. I think that’s gotten better with, for one, all of us being on the same page, and then every player individually going out there and executing our job.

“That’s how we’re going to be a good football team. It’s everybody being on the same page and then going out there, doing everything we practiced, everything we’ve worked so hard at, going out there and executing it. I think the thing is we know we’ve got the guys to do it. We’ve just got to do it consistently now, week-in and week-out.”

Fellow defensive captain Dont’a Hightower echoed McCourty’s sentiments.

“I think we've done a good job as far as trying to grow the front seven, the back end as far as communication and how we go about that,” Hightower said. “That helped last week so hopefully we'll just continue to build on that. Half the time it was us misaligned and wasn’t communication, so if we can nip that in the bud and stop ourselves from shooting ourselves in the foot, that'll be big.”

We just didn’t do our job. Half the time it was us misaligned. This Patriots defense recognizes that it wasn’t a simple misunderstanding of how to handle a bunch route that led to the defensive breakdowns- it was also poor alignment by the linebackers or the safeties or the defensive tackles that opened up cracks for the offense to exploit.

“We came a short way but we've got a longer way to go,” Hightower said. “The season is a lot longer. Obviously, there were things that we liked and things that we didn't like. At the end of the day, that's football. Hopefully, [we’re] just going to build on from last week.”

“I mean, it's different every year with the different players and who we're playing and how that other stuff goes,” Hightower added. “It starts as early as training camp and all of that stuff. It's easier when you have all of the guys on the same page. We've got that now... It took a little bit longer than we'd like but hopefully we'll grasp that and keep moving in the right direction and keep building and be a better and stronger defense each week.”

The Patriots will get to build upon their progress with a week 6 divisional game against the New York Jets. Hopefully they can prove the defense is better than the first four weeks implied and that they’re no longer in the running for being the worst in the league.