Based on prior seasons, dead last rankings in passing defense, and countless failed draft picks, some would consider me crazy in labeling the New England Patriots secondary as one of the most talented groupings on the team. Steady development and a new found sense of confidence now has Bill Belichick trotting out one of the deepest units in the NFL.
In recent weeks, aside from the Patriots rushing attack and Julian Edelman, it’s been their secondary impressing.
Last week Alfonzo Dennard nabbed a pair of Andrew Luck picks while Logan Ryan has had a monster rookie campaign. The youngster out of Rutgers hauled in five interceptions during the course of the season. Kyle Arrington’s ability to play the slot and move to the outside cannot be overlooked.
Aqib Talib’s shutdown talent obviously lays the foundation for this unit’s effectiveness. Steve Gregory and Devin McCourty are a pair of veteran safeties who understand their role and duties in defending the back end.
Another trait of this group that seems to be always overlooked is their strength as tacklers. Dennard, Talib, Arrington, Gregory and McCourty all notched 40 or more tackles during the regular season. Gregory’s 79 stops led the secondary and were good for fourth most on the entire team.
Although I by no means am the only one who sees the value this secondary adds to the club. Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker does as well. The former Patriot had nothing but good things to say about them.
“Their secondary I feel like is the real strength of their defense and of their football team,” Welker said. “They have a lot of good players back there and lot of good cover guys. Their safeties are very knowledgeable, and they do a great job. I don’t see too many differences from what they did in the first game going forward, but we’ll just see how it plays out,” Welker said in an interview with WEEI.
Obviously this group is not perfect. Just like any other secondary, New England is susceptible to a big play or two. But if on the same page, they boast enough talent to win the individual match-ups against Peyton Manning and his arsenal of weapons. It all starts with Aqib Talib locking down Denver’s top gun and the others limiting the remaining targets.
The performance of Belichick’s defensive backs will be vitally important. This notion being especially true if the Patriots advance to contend for the Vince Lombardi trophy.
Getting off of the field in crucial third-down situtations will be essential in slowing down Denver. More importantly it will put the ball into the hands of Tom Brady more often.
Whatever Sunday may hold, one thing is for sure and that’s the advantage New England’s secondary has versus that of Denver’s. In a matchup of elite quarterbacks, it’s certainly a great advantage to hold.