And if their efforts against the New York Jets' offense in New England's 27-25 win were indicative of anything, the defense might be in more trouble than they thought.
Led by running backs Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson, the Jets rushed for 218 yards on 43 carries, consistently breaking tackles and charging through the Patriots' interior defense. The Jets were able to stay in the game until a blocked field goal as time expired kept them from completing the comeback.
"I'm not taking anything away from what the Jets did, they're a tough team," Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich said. "They run the ball, they've got a good running back [Ivory] who's a tough downhill runner. Their offensive line is big, strong guys that they're able to run the ball a little bit. We've got to do a lot of things better. I think we're going to continue to get better as the season progresses. There's always corrections to be made."
A lot of fixes will need to be made after this one. Despite the final score, the Jets' offense was in control for the better part of the game. It racked up 28 first downs compared to the New England's 16, maintained possession of the football for 40:54 and was able to convert on third down on 9 of 16 chances. As a result, New England's defense often appeared winded, struggling to keep up. The Patriots' offense didn't help matters, taking a while to hit their stride after scoring on their opening drive. Regardless, the Jets didn't have to punt until the third quarter, on their sixth possession.
"We had our chances to get off the field on third down," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "That would eliminate a lot of those plays. And we have to play the run better too. We didn't make them punt until the [third] quarter. ... It was late. Luckily we played well in the red area, kept them out of the end zone and kept the points down."
Red zone defense was about the only area that the Patriots' defense excelled in. The Pats held the Jets to field goals on their first four drives, keeping the game in control when it could have been a blowout. The Jets would go on to find the end zone twice in the second half, but by that time it was too little, too late.
"If you can hold them to field goals in this league you have a better chance of winning," Ninkovich said. "Holding them to field goals was huge, our offense was able to score some points and we came out with the win."
To Ninkovich, credit was due to the Jets. He lauded Ivory for his performance and quarterback Geno Smith for being able to make plays while out of the pocket.
Meanwhile, Patriots defensive lineman Casey Walker was more critical in his evaluation, placing the blame on himself and the rest of the defense.
"We've got to communicate better," Walker said. "A lot of their successful runs, I would say it was on us. We've got some things to iron out this week. It was a short week for us but at the end of the day we went out there and we did what we have to do to get the win. That's what matters right now. Then we'll come in and we'll iron out the details.
"[Communication needs to improve] between everybody. Majority defensive line, because we communicate between each other with things that we have to do and calls and stuff like that. And also listening to [Dont'a Hightower], to Jamie [Collins] off any calls or stunts. Sometimes we didn't get those and we didn't run them. If we would have ran them, then their success running the ball would have been limited."
Defensive captain Vince Wilfork struck a similar note.
"It's just making sure we are on the same page -- sometimes we were and sometimes we weren't," Wilfork said. "Sometimes we tackled well, sometimes we didn't. So we're going to go back and look at the film and see the things that we did to give up over 200 yards rushing again."
All the same, every player on defense agreed that the most important thing was getting a win. But with the Chicago Bears and Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte coming to town next Sunday, many improvements will need to be made in the coming week.
"We will fix it," Wilfork said. "We always do and hopefully we can get this thing rolling consistently."