Aqib Talib’s Improved Health, Jamie Collins’ Success in Pass Rush Among Five Takeaways From Patriots’ Win Over Bills

Aqib TalibAqib Talib‘s hip might not be at 100 percent, but the New England Patriots cornerback was back to dominating his competition Sunday.

Talib was targeted only once and did not allow a reception in the Patriots’ 34-20 win over the Buffalo Bills. Talib lined up on the left side of New England’s defense and shut down his area of the field at Gillette Stadium.

The Pro Bowl cornerback was one of two former Tampa Bay Buccaneers who had great games for the Patriots — running back LeGarrette Blount had 334 all-purpose yards. The Patriots got Talib, Blount and a seventh-round draft pick (used on defensive end Michael Buchanan) for a fourth-round pick (used on defensive end William Gholston), a seventh-round pick (used to trade for sixth-round running back Mike James) and running back Jeff Demps.

New England went 12-4 this season. Tampa Bay went 4-12.

To read more about Talib’s performance, check out this week’s five takeaways below.

1. Talib appears back at full health.

The Patriots’ starting left cornerback was playing his best football fresh off his Pro Bowl selection. He has been dealing with a hip injury for weeks now, but he’s recently been a full participant in practice. His play has improved the further removed he is from the initial injury.

New England mixed man and zone looks, which resulted in some open holes for running backs and wide receivers. For instance, Bills wide receiver T.J. Graham was left open on his touchdown catch. Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington was taking the shallow zone and bumped Graham before he released into the end zone. No one was back to pick up Graham.

Running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller accounted for 81 of Buffalo’s 247 passing yards. On most of their eight catches and 11 targets, the running backs went uncovered. That’s why the numbers below add up to 183 yards, not 247.

Undrafted rookie cornerback Justin Green made a nice play in place of Arrington. Arrington probably made the best play among Patriots defensive backs — a pass breakup over wide receiver Robert Woods.

Check out the coverage charting stats from Sunday below.

Logan Ryan: 2-3, 50 yards
Michael Buchanan: 1-1, 37 yards
Kyle Arrington: 1-2, 27 yards, pass breakup
Brandon Spikes: 2-2, 25 yards
Duron Harmon: 1-2, 22 yards
Jamie Collins: 1-2, 19 yards
Chris Jones: 1-1, 3 yards
Dont’a Hightower: 0-2
Rob Ninkovich: 0-2
Dane Fletcher: 0-1
Justin Green: 0-1
Aqib Talib: 0-1

Check out the coverage charting stats on the season below. Overall, it was a solid season by New England in pass coverage. Talib, Ryan, Gregory, Fletcher and Green all allowed fewer than 50 percent of their targets to be completed.

The Patriots found a solid rotation at both cornerback and safety, something they had not had in years’ past. Ryan and Harmon played about as well as a team could expect out of third-round rookies asked to step up in big games and situations. Both players also showed great versatility this year.

Arrington: 42-80, 613 yards, 4 TDs, INT, holding penalty
Alfonzo Dennard: 34-67, 509 yards, 2 TDs, INT
Talib: 29-65, 471 yards, 4 INTs, 2 TDs, pass interference penalty, 3 holding penalties
Ryan: 24-50, 328 yards, 3 TDs, 5 INTs
Hightower: 26-49, 242 yards, 2 TDs
Steve Gregory: 14-29, 180 yards, TD, 2 pass interference penalties
Jerod Mayo: 14-27, 146 yards
Marquice Cole: 9-15, 133 yards, 2 TDs, INT
Spikes: 14-21, 127 yards, TD, INT
Collins: 10-18, 123 yards
Devin McCourty: 9-18, 114 yards, 2 TDs, INT, holding penalty
Harmon: 8-12, 99 yards, 2 INTs
Ninkovich: 8-15, 49 yards, pass interference penalty
Buchanan: 1-1, 37 yards
Fletcher: 3-10, 21 yards, TD
Tavon Wilson: 1-2, 15 yards, INT
Chandler Jones: 2-2, 12 yards
Chris Jones: 1-1, 3 yards
Carter: 1-1, 2 yards
Green: 0-1

2. Rob Ninkovich ties last year’s sack total.

Ninkovich said he wanted one sack, maybe two, so he would at least equal last year’s total. The defensive end did just that against the Bills. It wasn’t Ninkovich’s best performance, but the defensive ends had other responsibilities, like making sure quarterback Thad Lewis didn’t scramble.

Defensive tackle Sealver Siliga should have had two sacks, but defensive end Chandler Jones got charged with illegal hands to the face on Siliga’s second sack. Siliga left the game briefly with a leg injury, but he came back and played well.

Linebacker Jamie Collins should get more pass-rushing opportunities next season. He’s been active in that aspect of his game.

Check out this week’s pressure charting stats below.

Rob Ninkovich: 1 sack, 4 hurries
Chandler Jones: 4 hurries
Jamie Collins: 2 QB hits
Steve Gregory: 1 sack
Chris Jones: 1 sack
Sealver Siliga: 1 sack
Logan Ryan: 1 QB hit
Brandon Spikes: 1 hurry
Andre Carter: 1 hurry

Check out the pressure charting stats on the season below. It’s notable how drastic of a dropoff there is after Chandler Jones.

Ninkovich: 8 sacks, 62 hurries, 16 QB hits (86 pressures)
Chandler Jones: 11.5 sacks, 52 hurries, 16 QB hits (80 pressures)
Chris Jones: 6 sacks, 19 hurries, 4 QB hits (30 pressures)
Hightower: 1 sack, 13 hurries, 5 QB hits (19 pressures)
Tommy Kelly: 2.5 sacks, 12 hurries, 2 QB hit (17 pressures)
Carter: 2 sacks, 8 hurries, 7 QB hits (17 pressures)
Vellano: 2 sacks, 12 hurries, 3 QB hits (17 pressures)
Michael Buchanan: 2 sacks, 11 hurries, 3 QB hits (16 pressures)
Spikes: 9 hurries, 1 QB hit (10 pressures)
Siliga: 3 sacks, 3 hurries, 2 QB hits (8 pressures)
Fletcher: 2 sacks, 5 hurries, 1 QB hit (8 pressures)
Collins: 4 hurries, 4 QB hits (8 pressures)
Vince Wilfork: 4 hurries, 1 QB hit (5 pressures)
Ryan: 2 sacks, 1 QB hit, 1 hurry (4 pressures)
Mayo: 1.5 sacks, 1 hurry, 1 QB hit (4 pressures)
Arrington: 2 sacks, 1 hurry (3 pressures)
Sopoaga: 1 sack, 2 hurries (3 pressures)
Gregory: 1 sack, 1 QB hit (2 pressures)
McCourty: 1 hurry, 1 QB hit (2 pressures)
Jake Bequette: 1 QB hit (1 pressure)
Cole: 1 hurry (1 pressure)

3. Shane Vereen’s drop was costly.

There were two drops among quarterback Tom Brady‘s 10 incompletions, and both were fairly glaring. Vereen’s drop in the fourth quarter resulted in an interception by Bills linebacker Manny Lawson.

Two of the incompletions were the results of strong defensive plays, four incompletions were inaccurate throws from Brady, one appeared to be miscommunication with wide receiver Julian Edelman and one was thrown to wide receiver Aaron Dobson, but the rookie pulled up with a foot injury.

Brady likely would have had a much better day if Blount wasn’t so dominant. Brady wasn’t really put in the position to be forced to throw.

4. Patriots fail to force any turnovers.

If there’s one reason why Sunday’s game was so close, it’s likely because the Bills forced only one turnover to the Patriots’ zero. New England has had trouble forcing turnovers lately. Fortunately, Blount took a lot of pressure off the defense by being so effective on the ground and returning the ball.

The Patriots didn’t win the turnover battle, but they did hold the ball longer and were penalized less.

5. Brady keys in on Edelman

Brady has to start looking off his favorite target. Of his 24 attempts, 11 went to Edelman. And of Brady’s 14 completions, nine went to Edelman.

Obviously the two were efficient with one another, and Edelman was doing a nice job of getting open, but Brady has to start switching it up more. It didn’t help Dobson didn’t come back after injuring his foot or that this was wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins‘ first game back from a hip injury.

Brady will need to start looking toward his rookie receivers and Vereen more often. Edelman’s not always going to be open.

Have a question for Doug Kyed? Send it to him via Twitter at @DougKyedNESN or send it here.

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