FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Patriots lead the NFL in scoring at 32.8 points per game.

And that’s a good thing.

The common perception about the 2010 Patriots is that they better score a lot of points because the defense is going to give up a lot.

And, sure enough, New England ranks 26th in the 32-team NFL in points allowed (24.0) and 29th in total defense (384.5 yards).

But ask John Harbaugh, head coach of the Baltimore Ravens — New England’s opponent today at Gillette Stadium (1 p.m.) — about the Patriots’ defense and he sees a pretty good unit.

He likes the safeties. He likes the young cornerbacks. He calls inside linebacker Jerod Mayo “one of the best linebackers in football. He does it all.”

He likes the pass rush from the outside linebackers and thinks the defensive line, led by Vince Wilfork, is very physical.

“I think they’re able to be very multiple,” said Harbaugh. “They can get in odd fronts, even fronts, plan man coverage, play zone coverage, press you, not press you. It just looks like they’ve always looked.”

One of Bill Belichick’s tenets of coaching has always been that the only statistic that matters is points. As long as you have one more than your opponent, you’ve done your job and won the game.

His players seem to be taking that to heart this year.

“They don’t ask you how, they ask you how many (wins),” said cornerback Kyle Arrington. “Who wouldn’t want to win in better fashion sometimes? But any win in this league is a good win.”

New England is 3-1, coming off a bye week that followed perhaps its most impressive win of the season, 41-14 at Miami. In that game, the Patriots allowed only 95 yards rushing and intercepted four passes.

“That was a step forward,” said Arrington. “Any time we can come together and create turnovers, and points off turnovers at that, is great for our team overall. If we continue to get better week after week, we’ll be OK.”

At any time the Patriots might have four defensive rookies on the field, along with a couple of second-year players. It is a young defense, one that may finally be starting to understand Belichick’s often-complicated system.

“I think we’re playing well, we’ve got a lot of room for improvement,” said linebacker Tully Banta-Cain. “It’s still early in season, we’re jelling, we’re growing, we’re creating chemistry with the guys we have on the team but it’s early in the year so we’ve got a long way to go. There’s a lot of work to do.”

Banta-Cain said Belichick is taking a more hands-on approach to the defense this year. With no defensive coordinator named, he now leads the defensive meetings. In the past, the defensive coordinator, be it Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini or Dean Pees, would run the meetings.

Banta-Cain said Belichick always influenced the defense, but now “we’re getting more coaching tips in our face because he’s in front of the meeting.

“The message was always pretty well-conveyed,” said Banta- Cain. “Now, when we hear it from Bill, there’s no gray. I mean, the other guys did a good job getting the point across and Bill, if you had any questions, he answered them.

“Now you’re getting it straight from him.”

Belichick said the defense is growing more confident.

“I think our defense is coming together a little bit each week: better communication, guys getting more experience, more playing time together through different situations,” he said. “We have a long way to go. We need to keep getting better. We have to accelerate the pace, but I think they are gaining experience as a group and individually. Hopefully we can continue to head in the right direction and play better defense.”


Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: [email protected]