Originally written on NESN.com  |  Last updated 11/3/14
It will be nearly four months since the Patriots went to Baltimore and lost to the Ravens in Week 3 by the time the AFC Championship Game rolls around on Sunday, and New England may still be having nightmares about Torrey Smith (and the officiating) from that first matchup. Fortunately for the Patriots, the team has seen a sizable shakeup in the secondary since Smith went off for 127 yards on six receptions and two touchdowns less than 24 hours after his younger brother died in a motorcycle accident. Those changes to the defensive backfield should help New England fare much better against the Baltimore deep-threat option. Since Sept. 23, Devin McCourty has moved from cornerback to safety, Steve Gregory has leapfrogged Patrick Chung as a starter, Kyle Arrington has moved from outside to the slot, Alfonzo Dennard has emerged as a starter and Aqib Talib has come in from the Buccaneers in a trade. Needless to say, this is not the same team that Joe Flacco threw for 382 yards and three touchdowns against. Through the first six weeks of the season (pre-McCourty move to safety), the Patriots allowed 18 receptions on passes that traveled over 20 yards on 40 attempts. Since McCourty moved to safety, the Patriots have allowed 18 receptions on passes that traveled over 20 yards on 49 attempts. Even though New England has played nearly twice as many games, they’ve allowed the same amount of deep pass completions and just nine more deep attempts. Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia deserve a lot of credit for highlighting an issue and taking the steps to solve that problem. It wasn’t an easy fix, and it can’t all be heaped on the McCourty move. That certainly helped, as his instincts and closing ability has been a major upgrade over the rest of the safeties on the roster, but Talib and Dennard deserve credit, as do Belichick and Patricia for changing the defensive scheme. Before Talib and Dennard were entrenched as starters, the team was playing far more zone coverage and cover two, whereas now we’re seeing a lot more man on the outside with one safety over the top. The fact that Arrington can now focus on his strengths as a slot cornerback help as well. Arrington struggled on the outside, and plays much better with a wide open field — and the ball — in front of him. Even with all the changes the Patriots have made, Smith and his wide receiver companion Anquan Boldin offer a major challenge. Smith made a couple huge plays against the Broncos on Saturday during the Ravens’ double overtime 38-35 win over Denver. Smith had three receptions for 98 yards and two touchdowns, and offers incredible speed and tracking ability for Baltimore. Smith was known as a one-route guy coming out of Maryland, and while he still won’t amaze with his route running ability, few receivers run in a straight line and catch the deep ball better than the former Terrapin. But while defending that was one of the Patriots’ biggest weaknesses through the first six weeks of the season, they haven’t been exploited on the deep ball for weeks. The only team that had double-digit deep attempts since McCourty switched positions was the Colts. They’re also the only team that connected on four of those attempts. Andrew Luck led the NFL in deep attempts this season, and finished second to Drew Brees on deep completions. So the Patriots weren’t the only team Indianapolis was airing it out against. While the Ravens do offer plenty of other threats for the Patriots’ defense, including Ray Rice in the backfield, Smith may not be quite as much of a mismatch on the outside this time around. The Week 3 tape might as well be useless for Baltimore in preparing for New England’s secondary after a complete retool.
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Lightning reach Stanley Cup Final with Game 7 win

Devon Still: Daughter has complications with transplant

Rivers denies report of problems with CP3 and Jordan

Orlando Magic hope Skiles can right sinking ship

Falcons waive Shembo over animal cruelty charges

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Report: Tom Brady’s suspension appeal hearing set for June 23

Peterson is wrong (sorta): NFL players have great power

Scout: A-Rod 'looks like he doesn't give a (expletive)'

Belichick mum on Deflategate in first remarks since discipline

Dwight Howard suspended for first game of 2015-16 season

Bucs veterans missing Jameis while he's at rookie symposium

WATCH: Josh Hamilton hits first two homers of the season

Did Andrew Bogut take a shot at Mark Jackson?

$70 million Reebok deal is bad for UFC fighters

If the Warriors win the NBA title, the parade will be for Oakland

SEC no longer allows transfers with 'serious misconduct' issues

Klay Thompson officially diagnosed with concussion

Snoop Dogg hooks Texas A&M up with adidas cleats

WATCH: Stephen Curry rides a mini-horse

Metta World Peace gets ejected after five fouls in one minute

On satellite camps and the SEC crying over its self-protections

Four NFL quarterbacks set to take a step back in 2015

Spelling Bee co-champ wears LeBron jersey under shirt

NFL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Lightning reach Stanley Cup Final with Game 7 win

Devon Still's daughter has complications with transplant

$70M Reebok deal is bad for UFC fighters

If the Warriors win the title, the parade will be for Oakland

Peterson is wrong (sorta): NFL players have great power

Dwight Howard suspended for first game of 2015-16 season

Four QBs set to take step back in 2015

Spelling Bee co-champ wears LeBron jersey under shirt

Top 10 stories from 2015 NBA Playoffs

Rangers-Lightning Game 7 preview

The can't-miss Prince Fielder

Chip Kelly: Tebow is a quarterback

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.