I'm sure you like many fellow Patriots' fans thought that the secondary would be far more stable when Aqib Talib started playing. I felt the same. But is he the main reason the secondary is more stable? I've heard whispers that he has brought better communication to the secondary. He seems to have an infectious attitude. The Jets only threw one pass in his direction the whole night. But IS Talib the reason for the Patriots playing better in the secondary? I'd venture to say that its Devin McCourty.
Yes, Bill is tinkering with the players he has. Finding places for them to fit in at. Devin has faced a ton of criticism as a corner. There were times he did not look back for the ball when he could have made a play on it. He's even dropped a few ints playing corner. He probably could challenge Jennings of the Chicago Bears for the int lead. He's been that close to the ball.
I'll tell you why I believe that the Patriots have seriously benefited from Devin playing safety. In baseball, your catcher, second basemen, shortstop, and center fielder are all the key pieces of your defense. Any team who is strong up the middle that way is often tough to beat. And I've discovered in any sport, when you are strong in the middle, it makes life difficult on the other team. I believe that Devin has helped stabilize the back end. And the deep middle of the defense.
I love Tavon Wilson. But he gave up 2 touchdowns on stutter and go moves. Which isn't unusual for a rookie. But I still like him better than I like the other two options in Gregory and Chung. But none of these options has helped to stone wall the long passes of opposing teams. Until Devin started playing safety.
I'm not excusing bad play by the corners at all. Arrington had his first really good game in NY Thursday night THIS SEASON. I've been all over him for consistently getting beat all over the field. Steve Gregory is a poor tackler and takes poor angles to the ball carrier. Patrick Chung is another suspect cover man. McCourty had some bad moments as well at corner. But when this is your secondary, what can you expect but big plays given up. I'm a believer that God works in mysterious ways. And such was the blessing in disguise last season when Devin was on a trial period at safety. When Gregory and Chung got injured this season, Devin was there to stabilize the back end.
Don't get me wrong. Its not all on one player. The linebackers have something to do with why the secondary is so bad as well. The defensive line shares some blame too. Chandler Jones has been marvelous as a pass rusher. Rob Ninkovich has been decent this season as well. But Nink has benefited from Jones pressuring the quarterback from his side of the field. Teams have been unable to block both at times. And that is a good thing. But the bad is that there is little pressure from inside. If opposing quarterbacks can step up or step out of the pocket with little resistance, they are still dangerous.
Which brings me to the linebackers. The Patriots have a set of big linebackers. They get down hill and they thrash the ball carrier. The big thrasher is the Brandon Spikes. He has forced 5 fumbles this season with his crunching play. But the size of the Patriot linebackers can also be a hindrance. In the Buffalo game they struggled to get to the edge. C.J. Spiller's speed had a lot to do with that. But they struggled to get there. They also haven't defended many passes or come away with many interceptions. Sometimes they weren't even getting good depth on their pass drops. Which has led to completions and extended drives by opposing offenses.
The linebackers also struggle to cover everyone in man to man coverage. And I mean everyone. I believe that with more experience D'onta Hightower will no longer have that problem. But he, Jerod Mayo, and Brandon Spikes have all had moments where they have been exposed in coverage. We'll see how that shakes out as the season progresses.
The good has been not only the trade that brought Aqib to New England. And Devin's move to safety. But the draft. Tavon Wilson, though not great yet, has the team lead in picks. And Alfonso Dennard has manned his spot in the defense well. Supplanting Kyle Arrington. He has three interceptions so far. He has been competitive in coverage as well. He may get beaten. But he still fights the receiver for the ball. He forced a fumble Thanksgiving night that was recovered. I loved both of these picks when Bill pulled the trigger on them.
There will be greater tests to be had against other teams. There are still five games left in the season. So I'm holding out hope as to how things will go as the team continues on its quest for no. 4.