Week 10 Risers and Fallers: Defense Struggles but Manages to Seal Victory

It's never easy against the Buffalo Bills. 

And if the defense doesn't tighten up, the road to the Super Bowl will only get tougher in the second half of the season. 

After executing a historic beatdown of the division rival earlier this season, New England looked poised for a similar result Sunday before it appeared Bill Belichick's squad was on the verge of yet another fourth-quarter meltdown. 

However, thanks to to cornerback-turned-safety Devin McCourty's late interception, the Patriots managed to escape Foxborough with a 37-31 victory over the feisty Bills. 

Offensively, New England moved the ball at will for most of the game, but injuries to starting offensive linemen Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly put the team in a tough spot late in the game. 

Still, the Pats, led by Tom Brady's two-touchdown day, hung 37 on the Bills' pathetic defense. 

Unfortunately, the Patriots defense was nearly as awful, as the unit surrendered 481 total yards, including 319 through the air. 

Earning their sixth win puts the Pats in the driver's seat for another AFC East crown, but there are still some gaping holes on this squad. 

Let's take a look at this week's risers and fallers. 

 

Risers

1. Stevan Ridley, RB: New England's No. 1 running back didn't match his 106-yard, two-touchdown performance against Buffalo in Week 4, but he still managed a very solid effort in the six-point win. Ridley carried the ball 22 times for 98 yards and found the end zone once. Although he had a few negative plays, it was a good effort for the second-year tailback. 

2. Danny Woodhead, RB: He'll never match his 2010 season in New England, but the lightning-quick chess piece is having a clutch year for the Patriots. Although he doesn't receive a ton of touches, Woodhead is maximizing his opportunities, and Sunday was no different. The former Division III star took his only carry 15 yards for a touchdown and caught four passes for 46 yards and a score. 

3. Sebastian Vollmer, RT: Another matchup against Mario Williams ended with the same result: domination. The 6'8" right tackle has been the best at his position this year, and for the second time this season the giant German dominated the NFL's richest defensive player. Vollmer limited Williams to just three tackles and no sacks in another vintage performance. 

4. Devin McCourty, S: Say what you want about McCourty's coverage skills, but the third-year pro has been the best defensive back all season for New England. Forced to move to safety because of injuries, McCourty has continued to make plays on the ball. His strip of Fred Jackson near the goal line and game-sealing pick were monumental plays. 

5. Jermaine Cunningham, DT/DE: When the Patriots took Cunningham 53rd overall in 2010, I'm sure they didn't envision him becoming their best interior pass rusher. Although the former Florida product hasn't exactly panned out as a 3-4 outside linebacker, he's carved out a valuable role as a subpackage rusher. Cunningham drew his team-leading fourth holding call and notched another sack in his limited snaps. 

 

Fallers

1. Run Defense: Although the defensive line produced three sacks and four quarterback hits, it did a poor job of shutting down Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. Then again, it's been pretty difficult for any defense to accomplish that feat. The Patriots entered the game with a top-10 run defense, but surrendered 162 yards and two scores in a disappointing effort. Poor tackling and run fits played a big role in the Bills averaging 5.8 yards per carry. 

2. Cornerback Play: Somehow the Patriots always manage to make Ryan Fitzpatrick look like a Pro Bowler. Much of that has to do with poor cornerback play, especially from Kyle Arrington. The Patriots CBs gave too much cushion and played a huge role in allowing Fitzpatrick to rack up 319 passing yards and two TDs. Hopefully Aqib Talib is the real deal, otherwise we're in for another postseason letdown. 

3. Dont'a Hightower & Tavon Wilson: Both rookies have earned heavy snaps this season, but Sunday wasn't their best effort. Hightower, whose strength is supposed to be his run defense, struggled to fight off blocks and missed a few tackles. Wilson's snaps fell dramatically after drawing the past four starts. Hopefully things turn around for these two, as they will be counted on heavily going forward. 

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