The Patriots' secondary has been the biggest liability on one
of the NFL's most complete teams. But that glaring weakness may slowly be
transforming before our very eyes.
As Sam Bradford took advantage of the Patriots' tragic flaw
with a 50-yard touchdown pass during the Rams' first offensive series on Sunday,
thoughts of another letdown were abound. But changes in the secondary saw one
of the league's worst pass defenses shut out Bradford and the St. Louis offense
the rest of the afternoon.
The Patriots held the Rams to just 219 passing yards and
intercepted two passes, one from Bradford and the other from backup Kellen
Clemens, something they had done just once prior in the season. The secondary wasn't
just active picking passes off, though. They also tied a season-high with nine
passes defended, accounting for all of the Rams' incompletions on the afternoon.
So, as Ice Cube might say, 'it was a good day.'
Much of the credit for the shift in secondary success can be
bestowed on the impressive play of Devin McCourty and Alfonzo Dennard. With injuries
sidelining key members of the Patriots' defensive backfield, including both
starting safeties, McCourty and Dennard have stepped up to make key
With both Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory still ailing from
injuries, McCourty, who was heavily criticized for his early-season play, has
moved over to fill the void at safety.
His play deep over the top has been eye opening, as he's been able to contain a
lot of the deep passes -- the Rams' touchdown was Tavon Wilson's blown coverage
-- that have killed the Patriots this season. His strong play could even see
the move become a more permanent solution to the secondary issues.
McCourty's absence on the corner hasn't been of great
concern though, not with the rookie Dennard filling in. A should be
second-round pick who fell all the way into the seventh round because of an
off-field arrest, Dennard has proven more than capable as a cover corner.
Dennard's a big, physical cornerback at more than 200
pounds, and he's been a very strong tackler on the outside and in the run game.
His ball skills are also noteworthy as he's been active in attacking the ball
in coverage -- something not many Patriots have shown capable of -- and has now
pulled down interceptions in back-to-back games. He might not have been the
most ideal starter on a hodgepodge defense coming into the season, but he's
certainly established himself a firm place at this point.
Sterling Moore looked much better on the outside against the
Rams, playing nearly all of the defensive snaps. Before suffering a
hamstring injury later in the game, Marquice Cole was the Patriots' best slot
corner. If the pair can continue improving in coverage, alongside Dennard, and
Kyle Arrington can ever return to the player who led the NFL in interceptions
last season, then the Patriots secondary will be much better off.
With McCourty at safety, alongside Chung, Dennard and Moore
on the outside and contributions from guys like Cole, Arrington and rookie
Tavon Wilson, we should see a lot more of what was on display Sunday.
The 45-7 romping of the Rams in London was a good sign for a
Patriots offense under something of an identity crisis in recent weeks. But it
was the emergence of a much-improved secondary that should be the Patriots'
biggest win heading into the bye week.
Have a question for Luke
Hughes? Send it to him via Twitter at @LukeFHughes or send it here.