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OSTROWSKY: For Patriots, its all about defending their title

By Dave Ostrowsky

Section: Arts

February 4, 2005

They have walked off the gridiron victorious in 34 of their last 38 (meaningful) contests. They are perfect (8-0) in the post season under the realm of head coach Bill Belichick. In the past three years they have been able to call themselves world champions twice. The statistics that this team will acknowledge virtually stops at this point. The only I in this team is in their team name, and no where is this ideal more apparent than in the teams defensive squad. The Patriots offense, as good as it is, is not head and shoulders above the rest of the league. What really separates this dynasty bound teams from others is its tenacious, potent defense.

When discussing the defense, the linebackers come to mind first and foremost. The anchor of this cohesive unit is fun-loving Tedi Bruschi. Off the field that is. Between the hash marks he is anything but fun for opposing teams. Statistics dont do this guy justice. He is involved nearly every time in taking down the opponents running back, and is constantly blocking the passing lanes. Ditto Mike Vrabel. The converted defensive end from The Ohio State Universtiy has been used as linebacker as well as occasional tight end during those times when the offense is sniffing Touchdown. Dont forget the run-stopping monster Ted Johnson with the neck the size of a tree trunk. Rounding out the linebackers is veteran Willie McGinest who with his blazing speed is still a force to be reckoned with.

The group that quietly goes about its business is the defensive line. There are no guys here whose jerseys are flooding sporting goods stores. There is second year defensive lineman Ty Warren, who seems to be improving every game. Next to him is the big man, Vince Wilfork, who occupies nose tackle. Sack master Jarvis Green does not make people forget about Seymours absence but has filled in more than adequately for him. Due to the 3-4 nature of the Patriots defense, the defensive line does not get noticed because they are busying tying up the offensive line so that the linebackers are freed up to make the majority of plays. Similar to the rest of the team, attention and recognition are non factors for this blue collar unit.

Finally there is that depleted Patriots secondary that is missing its two starting cornerbacks. From Labor Day until now they have had to resort to using a wide receiver (Troy Brown) as nickle-back, a linebacker (Don Davis) as safety, and moving safety Eugene Wilson to corner. Lets not forget Randall Gay, who happens to be a un drafted free agent who started at corner for a good portion of the season. Sure McNabb and Co. will try to test them through exploiting one on one coverages and finding holes down field. The defensive backs will make their mistakes, blow their coverages, etc. but not when its all on the line. They never do. Theyll come up with the big defensive stop. And if they dont do that, theyll come up with the big turnover. They always do.

Perhaps the most amazing part of this special unit is that it seems to get even stronger when it loses some of its studs. Look no further than this years playoffs. In the Divisional Round, without star corner back Law and all-pro defensive end Seymour, the Patriots held the Indianapolis all-universe offense to a meager field goal in snowy Foxborough. They followed that performance up in the Steel City, where Bill Belichicks troops were able to effectively contain the Steelers. No Law. No Seymour. No big deal. Four forced turnovers (three of which landed in the hands of that makeshift Patriots secondary), big stops on third and fourth downs and getting the receivers off their timing were the ingredients for success in this ice bowl.

I do not mean to take any credit away from the near flawless directed offense by textbook leader Tom Brady and Notre Dame-bound Charlie Weiss. The offense is a huge reason why this team is playing in its third Super Bowl in four years. We all know about Tom Brady, but we do not all know about his supporting cast of wide receivers. They are not the most physical nor talented group of receivers, but they are reliable play makers who are not prone to making huge mistakes. Throw in running back Corey Dillon, for whom Super Bowl Sunday is like that high school student who finally gets into that Ivy League school he has wanted his whole life. Overall this offense is explosive in so many ways, and never allows the score keepers hands to be frozen.

The bottom line is that this Superbowl XXXIX in Jacksonville (does it really have to be there?) will come down to defense. The total points scored for both teams will probably not crack the half century mark. Expect a lot of punts, field goal attempts and especially from those high flying Eagles, many penalties. For those of you who enjoy offensive fireworks, wait until the Pro Bowl the following week in Honolulu.

If youre a Patriots fan/late season enthusiast, take the Eagles offense seriously. Theres reason why this team has been the talk of the town on The Streets of Philadelphia for half a year now. The Eagles as a team were atop the NFC in both points and yards per game. McNabb had a very strong year, finishing amongst the league leaders in nearly every offensive category for quarterbacks. A guy named Terrell Owens might be playing for the first time since last year.

The last time the Patriots faced an Andy Reid led offense in the post season, it was not such a pretty sight, as they lost to the Green Bay Packers 35-21 in 1997, when Reid was the offensive coordinator. Some of the keys for the Patriots are going to be to rough up those Eagles wide outs at the line of the scrimmage, get them off their timing, disguise blitzes, rough up all around star Brian Westbrook, and force turnovers. And the Patriots are oh so good at all of those things. Just ask the Colts receivers from two weeks ago or Marshall Faulk from two Super Bowls ago.

The Eagles have Jevon Kearse, Jeremiah Trotter and Lito Sheppard patrolling the field, who bring with them numerous pro bowl appearances as well as very impressive individual statistics. The Patriots defensive unit boasts relatively few of these accomplishments. The names on the backs of their jerseys are not exactly household names. All that matters to them are the numbers on the game scoreboard, which will be in their favor cone Sunday night in northern Florida. What a shame the season has to end this upcoming Sunday.

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