Being a defensive back in the NFL can be a fairly thankless job. That is, unless a cornerback gets a cool nickname, like Neon Deion or Revis Island. Or unless they keep telling everyone they’re the best until the general populace finally takes notice and believes it, like Mr. “U Mad” himself, Richard Sherman.
In New England, when defensive backs are noticed, it’s usually not for good reasons. They’re typically getting burned down the sidelines, missing a tackle or arriving late on a pass in the middle of the field. On Sunday, however, the Patriots’ defensive backs were mostly invisible. And that’s a good thing.
There were five plays when their performance stood out. Two of them were forced fumbles by Kyle Arrington, the defensive star of the game, one was a just-missed interception by Alfonzo Dennard and two were Buffalo touchdowns.
Those plays just go to show that no matter how good a defensive backfield can be, they’ll never be perfect. That’s the way NFL rules are set up in today’s game.
The first negative play appeared to be miscommunication between Aqib Talib and Steve Gregory that left Robert Woods wide open in the end zone. The other was a strike from EJ Manuel to Stevie Johnson in the left corner of the endzone where Arrington couldn’t keep up and Devin McCourty arrived late.
Outside of those two 18-yard touchdowns, the only two scores New England’s defense let up all game, the Patriots’ secondary allowed just three catches on eight targets for 21 yards to wide receivers. Dennard, Arrington, Talib, McCourty and Gregory were on the top of their game. Logan Ryan looked good in limited snaps in dime, as well.
It was much of the same that we saw from the New England secondary during preseason. This strong play dates back to last season, as well.
The Patriots secondary is mostly viewed as a joke around NFL circles, but that theory will be outdated before long. With a full offseason in the system, Talib should be one of the best cover corners in the NFL. Dennard looked as good as ever playing man coverage across the field from Talib. He missed the whole offseason, but it didn’t look like it affected his game at all.
Arrington is one of the best slot cornerbacks in the NFL, and that’s against the run and pass. Arrington had the two forced fumbles, but also recorded a deflected pass and had five nice open-field tackles.
McCourty has become one of the best cover safeties in the league since moving from cornerback and there’s a reason teams generally try to stay away from his part of the field. Since moving to the deep position, McCourty has been a magnet for the ball.
Gregory may be the weakest link to the secondary, but he had a great game Sunday, outside the one touchdown he or Talib allowed. Gregory’s tackling looked much improved and he does a nice job covering the shallow portion of the gridiron.
After seeing what he contributed this summer, there may not be a better player suited for the dime defensive back role than Ryan. The rookie is a solid tackler and does a nice job when the ball’s in front of him in the shallow part of the field.
In all, that’s a very solid crew. And yes, they were facing a rookie quarterback in his first start, but they also were not getting much help from the pass rush due to that signal caller’s foot speed. The Patriots couldn’t generate as much pressure because of the fear that Manuel could just take off and run.
So, Manuel had plenty of time to throw, but his receivers still couldn’t get separation from the Patriots. That’s a solid receiving corps, too.
After watching New England’s offense on Sunday afternoon, the defense may need to continue to step up all season. Tom Brady and the offense may need to rely on the defense this year, rather than vice versa.
Against the Bills, the secondary, led by McCourty, looked like they were ready to step up to the challenge. A full year together will only help New England defensive backs.