It’s easy to form a quick opinion about a player, a team, or a position after watching a game without letting the season play out, but that’s exactly what I’m going to do in the weekly postgame “Rush to Judgment” feature here on Musket Fire.
The Patriots turned out their best defensive performance of the season thus far yesterday against the New York Jets. The Patriot defense held the Jets to a 27% conversion rate on third down and 255 total net yards on offense. The 3rd down statistic is the most impressive, including the Jets going three-and-out on 7 of their 11 offensive series. There were some changes in the defensive lineup, mostly due to injury, positive or negative. Jerod Mayo was out, so Gary Guyton started in his place. Albert Haynesworth was active for the first time in two weeks, though he played in less than half of the defensive snaps.
Safety Josh Barrett was inactive for the game with a leg injury and with Sergio Brown struggling last week, James Ihedigbo, formerly of the NY Jets, started alongside Patrick Chung. It was Ihedigbo’s first career start after five seasons in the NFL, and while it wasn’t perfect, the defense certainly played better. Did James Ihedigbo play a role in the defense’s improvement?
Yes and no. Ihedigbo certainly brought a physical presence to the secondary and laid some big hits on Jets receivers and running backs. He did well in run support, which was a point of emphasis against the Jets. It’s tough to judge his performance against the passing game using the TV copy of the game, so it’s unclear if he helped the defense hold its first opposing QB to under 300 yards or if it was just Mark Sanchez being, well, Mark Sanchez. It did appear that there was one hiccup in his coverage.
On the Santonio Holmes touchdown, it appeared that Ihedigbo was not where he was supposed to be. It’s tough to say for sure without having the coaches’ tape or knowing the play call, but from what I could see, it appeared that Kyle Arrington, who was lined up on Holmes, jammed Holmes at the onset of his out-route. He then released Holmes, glanced over to his left, and noticed that Holmes was running free and chased after him. You can see Ihedigbo coming in from his safety position, but it was too late. Holmes was wide open and ran in for the touchdown. My guess is that Ihedigbo was supposed to pick up Holmes after Arrington jammed him but was late coming in.
Hiccups like that will happen even in experienced secondaries, let alone those with new starters. If there weren’t many of those communication breakdowns and other responsibility issues, we could very well see Ihedigbo starting again this Sunday. If the Patriots can find that correct mix at safety, it will go a long way in solidifying the secondary. James Ihedigbo could be that player to start with Patrick Chung. Will he? Josh Barrett’s health will likely partially determine that, though a solid week in practice could put Ihedigbo in the driver’s seat. This will be an area to watch throughout the week.