FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The New England Patriots keep drafting defensive backs in the early rounds. One of these years they may find one who lives up to that status.
For the third straight season, the Patriots have one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL, specializing in allowing big plays.
Clearly, their secondary is a primary problem.
"We have to play better in the secondary and this team will be better," said cornerback Devin McCourty, a first-round pick in 2010.
At Seattle last Sunday, New England gave up touchdown passes by rookie Russell Wilson of 50 yards to Doug Baldwin and 46 to Sidney Rice. A pass to Golden Tate gained 51 yards, and safety Patrick Chung, a second-round choice in 2009, was called for a 40-yard pass interference penalty. Rice's touchdown with 1:18 left and Steven Hauschka's extra point gave the Seahawks a 24-23 win.
The long completions are becoming painfully commonplace.
The Patriots have allowed 13 of 30 yards or more, a big reason they're just 3-3. Tom Brady has thrown only five passes for that distance in the six games.
Five of the six quarterbacks the Patriots have faced have completed passes for at least 30 yards. Wilson, Peyton Manning, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Joe Flacco did it three times and Jake Locker once.
"Obviously, you never want to give up big plays, regardless what phase of the game it is," said Matthew Slater, a wide receiver and special teams captain who was forced into action at safety last season by injuries. "Big plays are momentum plays so, in that respect, a lot of us have the responsibility not to give up the big play and to make the big play."
The Patriots have tried plenty of defensive backs, hoping they can fulfill that responsibility.
They've drafted seven of them in the first two rounds in the last six years. Only four remain. Is that because coach Bill Belichick's defensive system is tougher to learn than others or because the three no longer with the team weren't as good as Belichick thought when he drafted them?
Those three — Brandon Meriweather, Terrence Wheatley and Darius Butler — haven't done well after leaving the Patriots. And cornerback Ras-I Dowling, slowed by injuries after being taken in the second round last year, hasn't lived up to expectations this year.
The turnover in the secondary has been constant.
Of the 10 defensive backs who played for the Patriots in 2009, four didn't play for them the next year. Of the nine they used in 2010, five were gone in 2011. They tried 13 different players in the secondary in 2011 and eight are no longer with the team. That includes James Ihedigbo, who started 12 of the 16 games he played.