Discussion

Can Aqib Talib save Patriots?

How troubled secondary can benefit from addition of shutdown corner

Updated: November 17, 2012, 2:08 PM ET
By Field Yates | ESPN Insider

Really, no matter what way you slice it, the New England Patriots' ability to defend the pass in 2012 has been substandard. The secondary is a primary culprit in the team's having allowed 285 yards passing per game, but the pass rush and linebackers are due their share of the blame pie, too.

But let's focus on the secondary by first dissecting some of its issues and then turning our attention to the recent acquisition of talented-but-troubled cornerback Aqib Talib, picked up from Tampa Bay hours before the NFL's trade deadline.

The Patriots' secondary struggles to start the season were encapsulated in a single play against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 6. Receiver Sidney Rice blew past safety Tavon Wilson -- who was supposed to have over-the-top coverage in the team's Cover 2 scheme -- for a touchdown in the game's closing minutes. It wasn't the first time a safety had blown over-the-top coverage in New England this season (the Patriots have surrendered 47 passing plays of 20 or more yards, by far the most in the NFL), but it was a tipping point.

Rice's score pushed Seattle past the Patriots, and Devin McCourty was moved from cornerback to safety the next week to patch up the big-play deficiencies. Since McCourty's transition, the defense has tightened up over the top, but it has lacked the reactive cornerbacks on the perimeter to lock down receivers in the short and intermediate passing game. Receivers have been able to beat the Patriots' cornerbacks at the top of their routes and generate enough separation to open up a window for quarterbacks to throw to.

Back to Talib, who became the most talented player in the Patriots' secondary the moment he (finally) entered the facilities and has the ability to allow Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia to change what they do defensively.

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