It wasn’t pretty, but the New England Patriots remained perfect at Gillette against the Buffalo Bills with a 37-31 victory. Here’s a look at some of the things we learned or are now more weary of as we trudge on in this crazy 2012 season.
1. Not so fast on Dennard
Alfonzo Dennard looked great ever since shutting down the speedy Eric Decker in Week 5, but this was a real letdown game for Dennard. He was targeted at least ten times, and he gave up around 6-8 catches by my count against the Bills. Dennard is still a solid rookie, but he is showing that there are growing pains and it is too quick to pencil him into a starting outside slot. He still deserves one, and it’s because the guy I’m going to be talking about next was just that bad.
2. Confirmation on Arrington
Kyle Arrington has been horrifically bad. He can tackle, but it seems like every game he gets burned time and time again. Dennard and Brandon Spikes were far worse in coverage, but I thought Arrington’s performance also left a lot to be desired. At least he didn’t botch any tackles, and that’s actually a big positive due to the overwhelming number of missed tackles yesterday (15, in fact, with Dont’a Hightower providing some particularly awful ones). Arrington is terrible, and his poor performance is the one thing holding back a lot of Pats fans from wanting to play McCourty at safety. And yes, I am one of them. Arrington can blitz and make plays as a nickel corner, but he’s just awful in coverage and cannot be trusted on the outside either.
3. Devin McCourty is not an issue
I hope nobody is just “learning” this one, because it is obvious that Devin McCourty is the best defensive back on the New England Patriots. In fact, he’s one of the best defensive players on the Pats. McCourty only gave up one catch, and he was in the right place at the right time (that usually means “good coverage”) to pick off Ryan Fitzpatrick and seal the game for the Patriots.
McCourty was nearly perfect in coverage at safety, and I came away impressed with his range out there as well. I still think he’s better of at cornerback, because the depth and talent at corner is much worse when Steve Gregory and Patrick Chung are healthy. Chung is a big question mark in terms of health, but I would rather have those guys playing than Kyle Arrington.
The defensive backfield should be Dennard in the nickel where he can use his physical ability, McCourty and Talib locking it down on the outside, and Gregory/Chung and Wilson at safety. There is enough depth at safety when both Chung and Gregory are healthy, and it’s fine if only one of them is available with Talib in the fold in Week 11. I would much rather have Gregory/Chung starting than Arrington.
4. Ninkovich and Cunningham
Rob Ninkovich had the worst game of his career, as he was consistently mauled by inferior competition. Usually solid against the run, Ninkovich was mauled in run defense. He’s only a useful pass rusher when facing an extremely weak right tackle. While the Bills RT in this game was not extremely weak, Ninko still had the advantage.
I wouldn’t mind seeing Jermaine Cunningham eating into his snaps, and that’s because Cunningham creates so many problems and mismatches as a pass rusher. He and McCourty were the two best players on the Pats defense in this game, and Cunningham was the only bright spot on a front seven that had a rare off game.
5. Deion Branch?
I loved his blocking and he deserves a ton of credit for helping Stevan Ridley find the end zone, but can somebody make a case for Branch receiving eight targets in a game? He had just four catches on those, and they only went for 7.5 yards per catch. That means Branch averaged just 3.75 yards per target, which is appallingly low. Branch’s poor day is one of the reasons why Tom Brady’s numbers don’t tell the whole story about just how valuable the Patriots star QB was today.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.