FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – With the lowest-rated pass defense in the NFL and one of the league's top quarterbacks coming to town, it could be a busy Sunday for the New England Patriots' secondary.
Knowing the pass is coming hasn't helped the Patriots defense so far.
"In this game you have to find a weakness and right now, our weakness is our pass defense," nose tackle Vince Wilfork said Thursday. "We understand that but a one-dimensional team shouldn't be able to beat us."
New England is allowing 323 passing yards per game, the worst average in the league. The Patriots also rank last in total defense, allowing 424 yards.
Considering what happened last week in a loss at Pittsburgh and who New England faces this week, the Patriots' defensive backs know they will be targeted.
"It's not a lack of focus or anything throughout the week. I think we practice pretty hard and are a competitive group of guys. We've just got to execute better," cornerback Kyle Arrington said. "We do a great job throughout the week of practice as far as our focus and our commitment goes.
"We just have to bring it with us on Sundays."
Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger threw 50 times last week against New England, completing 36 passes for 365 yards and two touchdowns in a 25-17 win.
And that was without star receiver Hines Ward, who sat out with an ankle injury and said this week that he didn't feel he needed to push his recovery for the Patriots' beleaguered secondary. Cornerback Devin McCourty said he hadn't heard Ward's comments and didn't consider them relevant because the Patriots are done with Pittsburgh for now.
"We really don't worry about what everybody else says. We're just trying to get better and we're trying to do it as soon as possible," McCourty said. "We're going to have that urgency at practice to get better — trying to make sure it keeps coming over on Sundays, not just for a week, not for two weeks but that we can be consistent stringing each game together."
Manning has completed almost 65 percent of his passes for 2,127 yards and 13 touchdowns with just five interceptions. And with running back Ahmad Bradshaw's status for Sunday uncertain because of a broken bone in his foot, Manning could be throwing the ball even more than usual on Sunday.
Wilfork said New England's defensive line can help the secondary by strengthening the pass rush and shutting down the run, forcing Manning into longer and more difficult passes.
"It works hand in hand. It's not track where you can out and throw a shot put or run a 100-yard dash and win a medal by yourself. You win together," Wilfork said. "I don't want none of our DBs to think that it's their fault."
The defensive woes have only cost the Patriots two games. New England's offense has been strong enough to compensate, but stalled the last two contests. After scoring 30 or more points in the first five games, New England has totaled just 37 in the last two.
That isn't likely to be enough against Manning unless the defense manages to shut him down.
"I wish there was a way we could just press a button or something," McCourty said. "But it's just hard work and I think time, putting the extra effort into it, watching film together — doing all that stuff I think will pay off for us."