Aqib Talib’s Coverage, Rob Ninkovich’s Pass Rush Among Five Takeaways From Patriots-Falcons

Patriots Falcons FootballA lot will be said about Aqib Talib‘s performance on Sunday night. It won’t be enough.

Talib was absolutely incredible against the Falcons. Julio Jones and Roddy White are two of the best wide receivers in the NFL. Talib held them to one yard. Let me repeat that: one yard.

Talib got his hands on four passes and his back on another. Talib was blanketing Jones and White throughout the game, and it was a minor miracle that Matt Ryan kept throwing toward the sixth-year pro.

Talib now has four interceptions on the season. Three of those have come in the fourth quarter, including one against Atlanta.

To read more about Talib and the rest of the Patriots’ performance against the Falcons, check out my five takeaways below.

1. Patriots defense holds Julio Jones through three quarters: If it wasn’t for that onside kick, this would have looked like a downright dominant performance by the defense. It did happen, though, meaning Jones went over 100 yards and Ryan threw for more than 400.

The Patriots did a nice job of stopping White but couldn’t find the pieces to limit Tony Gonzalez. At one point, they tried to stick rookie Logan Ryan on him. That experiment did not work. What finally worked was just jamming Gonzalez at the line with two linebackers. That did the trick.

Check out Sunday night’s coverage charting stats below.

Alfonzo Dennard: 7 catches on 12 targets for 79 yards
Kyle Arrington: 5-6, 68 yards, holding
Devin McCourty: 3-3 64 yards
Dont’a Hightower: 6-7, 48 yards
Jerod Mayo: 2-4, 42 yards
Logan Ryan: 3-3 42 yards, TD
Jamie Collins: 3-3, 33 yards
Steve Gregory: 2-4, 23 yards, TD
Aqib Talib: 0-7, pass interference penalty, pass interference against

Check out the full charting stats for the season below.

Dennard: 15-31, 266 yards, INT
Arrington: 12-26, 142 yards, holding penalty
Mayo: 7-16, 93 yards
Talib: 5-19, 81 yards, 4 INTs, pass interference penalty
McCourty: 4-5, 82 yards, TD
Hightower: 9-12, 66 yards
Gregory: 5-11, 66 yards, TD
Ryan: 5-7, 65 yards, TD
Collins: 3-4, 33 yards
Spikes: 1-1, 7 yards
Harmon: 1-1, 3 yards
Ninkovich: 1-2, 2 yards

2. New England increases pass rush in second half: Matt Ryan likes to get rid of the ball quickly, so the Patriots didn’t have many opportunities to hit the Falcons signal caller, but they did a nice job of rushing Ryan’s throws in the third quarter.

Michael Buchanan came away with his second career NFL sack, while Joe Vellano recorded his first. With Wilfork likely out for the season, Vellano will have to continue to step up.

Ninkovich was the big winner in pass rush, even though he didn’t pile up typical counting stats. The sacks will eventually come. For now, he’s just hurrying throws.

Check out the pressure stats below.

Rob Ninkovich: 8 pressures, 1 QB hit
Chandler Jones: 2 pressures, 2 QB hits
Michael Buchanan: 1 sack, 2 pressures
Tommy Kelly: 3 pressures
Joe Vellano: 1 sack
Jerod Mayo: 1 QB hit
Dont’a Hightower: 1 pressure
Vince Wilfork: 1 pressure

Check out the pressure stats for the season below.

Ninkovich: .5 sack, 19 pressures, 4 QB hits
Jones: 3 sacks, 12 pressures, 6 QB hits
Kelly: 1.5 sacks, 7 pressures, 2 QB hit
Buchanan: 2 sacks, 5 pressures, 2 QB hits
Wilfork: 4 pressures, 1 QB hit
Hightower: 3 pressures, 1 QB hit
Mayo: 1 sack, 1 pressure, 1 QB hit
Spikes: 2 pressure, 1 QB hit
Vellano: 1 sack, 1 pressure
Bequette: 1 QB hit

3. Patriots’ offensive line shows improvement: The line is still not perfect, but it kept Brady upright and opened holes for the running backs. That’s pretty much all one can ask out of an offensive line, right?

Of course, Atlanta’s defense isn’t a very strong unit, but at least it wasn’t another game that New England’s offensive linemen could get down on themselves. Sebastian Vollmer looked fine after injuring himself last week, and Ryan Wendell showed a big improvement at first glance, though we’ll know better once the coaches film comes out.

4. New England’s running backs help themselves out: Stevan RidleyLeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden averaged 5.2 yards per carry on the evening. That’s a pretty big improvement for a unit that has struggled to find holes through the beginning of the season.

Blount’s 47-yard carry was one of the biggest plays of the day. Those plays will happen when Blount receives enough carries. For every 20 or 30 rushes where he averages three yards, he’ll rip off a huge run like the one he had on Sunday night. Ridley was doing a better job finding room, as well.

5. Patriots show improvement defending run: New England’s defense was averaging 125 yards per game on the ground before Sunday night. That average was lowered to 105 with a 58-yard performance from the Falcons. Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling were only able to manage 3.9 yards per carry against a front seven without Vince Wilfork.

Vellano and Chris Jones did an admirable job filling in for Wilfork. Kelly had to take on some extra reps without his usual linemate.

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

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