FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – It’s no secret that the New England Patriots defense has struggled to stop the pass this season.
Linebacker Jerod Mayo didn’t lay out any excuses for it, either.
“I think we have great players on our defense. At the same time, we have to go out and prove it on Sundays. Up to this point we really haven’t done that,” he said. “The numbers are what they are. We have to go out and try to change those numbers.
“No matter how good you think you are, the numbers don’t lie.”
Neither do Darren McFadden’s.
The Oakland Raiders’ bruising running back leads the league with 393 yards and was the driving force in the Raiders’ 34-24 win over the New York Jets on Sunday. McFadden piled up 171 yards and scored twice, including a 70-yard jaunt in the second quarter, one of five runs totaling 20 yards or more this season, tied for tops in the NFL.
“He’s in a world of his own,” Patriots defensive end Andre Carter.
At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, McFadden poses yet another trying test this week for a surprisingly porous New England unit that ranks last in the league in defending the pass, allowing 377 yards per game.
So, the question is, stop the pass or slow the run? The Patriots (2-1) are prepared to do both.
“It could go either way,” Carter said. “A football game’s like a roller coaster, you’ll have highs and lows. If one thing doesn’t work they’ll try to air it out, or vice versa. If they’re trying to air it out and being unsuccessful, try and run the ball.
“It’s always important to stop the run.”
That’s one facet the Patriots have somewhat succeeded at this season.
Surrendering 91.7 yards a game, New England has yet to allow a 100-yard rusher, although Buffalo’s Fred Jackson amassed a combined 167 yards — 87 of that coming on five catches — in the Bills’ stunning 34-31 victory over the Patriots last week.
New England’s focus has now shifted to Oakland (2-1) and McFadden, the bullish fourth-year back out of Arkansas who has found the end zone four times already this season, three on runs, and anchors the league’s top-ranked rushing attack. He is averaging an incredible 6.4 yards per carry.
“He’s a guy that can kind of go anywhere on the field and he has the speed to always take it to the house,” Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty said. “You’ve seen him break long runs, you’ve seen him make runs where he has to run inside and get a first down. That will be challenge for the defense to just come prepared and most important, tackle.”
Mayo, who played collegiately at Tennessee, recalls facing McFadden twice during his tenure as a Volunteer and stressed the importance of bringing him down.
“Just everybody to the football,” he said of limiting McFadden’s home-run ability. “We want the backside corner to the ball, we want everyone there. It’s all about rallying to the football when a guy like McFadden has the ball. Like I said, he poses a great threat every time he touches the ball.”
The Patriots have allowed a league-high 23 passing plays of 20 yards or more, and the defense is well aware that the Raiders may try and exploit that.
“Big plays have been killing us and that’s one of the main priorities in practice this week,” Mayo said, “stopping the big play and getting off the field.”
A stronger pass rush from the Patriots’ veteran defensive line would go a long way toward aiding that effort.
“I know people have mentioned that we have to get to the quarterback, and that’s something that we do take pride in,” Carter said. “As far as just from a technical standpoint, every standpoint, we’re almost there. We just have to get there quicker.
“It’s as close as it can be. But like I said, you always get constantly closer.”
Oakland quarterback Jason Campbell may opt to air it out more than usual this week with New England safety Patrick Chung possibly sidelined for a second straight game after undergoing surgery on his injured right thumb.
Chung, who practiced in a limited capacity on Wednesday, said on Thursday he felt good, yet wasn’t in the position to declare himself active for Sunday.
“That’s coach’s decision, trainers’ decision. I don’t make those decisions. I’m just going to make sure I’m ready to go,” said Chung, sporting a cast. “Hurt, injured, you have to always prepare mentally, physically, whatever you have to do to make sure that you know what you’re doing so if coach needs you to go in there, you’re ready.”
If Chung does see any action in Oakland, he’s prepared for McFadden to burst into the secondary at any moment.
“He’s fast, he has a good stiff arm, he’s strong, he breaks tackles, he’s a good running back,” he said. “He can take it the distance. I’ve seen him run 80-yard runs like nothing.
“He’s definitely fast, he’s explosive, he’s a good player.”