It started in training camp when safety James Sanders was cut, then later on in camp Brandon Merriweather and Darius Butler were also sent packing. These were three players which saw significant playing time with the Patriots that coach Bill Belichick let go. Knowing the type of coach Belichick is nothing really surprises you, so you move on.
Then came last Friday and cornerback Leigh Bodden was cut, and a day later rookie cornerback Ras-I Dowling was put on season ending injured reserve. This left the Patriots with only four cornerbacks, Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington, Antwaun Molden and Phillip Adams. And only four safeties, three of whom were active on Sunday — Patrick Chung, Sergio Brown and James Ihedigbo. This lack of talent proved costly in the Patriots 25-17 loss to the Steelers on Sunday.
Through seven games in the season the Patriots have given up 300 plus yards passing in every game except one, the Jets. The trend continued on Sunday as Ben Roethlisberger threw for 365 yards. Third down defense has also been a struggle all year for the team and that also continued as the Steelers converted 10 of 16 third downs. This was on the secondary as a whole, not just one particular player.
This raises the question, did Belichick might the right call cutting the players that he did? The simple answer is no.
Sanders and Meriweather were both players that have started for Belichick in the past few seasons. They certainly can play at a higher level than Ihedigbo has played at this season. While Meriweather made some plays, and had an attitude that made you shake your head at times, he still could make plays on the field. Sanders was a pretty solid safety. To me, I just don’t see how Belichick can say that the safety position is better with what he has now, than it would have been with Chung, Sanders and Meriweather.
This past Friday Bodden was released and then a day later Dowling was put on IR. This was puzzling considering the Patriots had been off for 12 days, so why wait until two days before the next game to make this decision, especially knowing that there was a distinct possibility that another cornerback could be placed on IR. This leaves the team with four cornerbacks, two of whom have seen limited time in the league. The release of Bodden had to have been off-field related reading between the lines. With the lack of depth at the position and timing it seems the only logical scenario. And again, while Butler made some poor plays, can you really say that he is worse than Molden or Adams?
All these personnel decisions are effecting the defense at a whole. Being so weak in the secondary has forced the team to play a lot more zone coverage and also they cannot call some blitzes because they cannot count on the secondary to cover receivers one on one. While it is sometimes difficult to question the decision making of Belichick, but with this one can you really not question him?