(This is the sixth entry into a seven part series that will grade the players from the 2012 season).
Talib only played in six games for the Pats last year, and he only had 19 tackles and one interception, but he made a big impact for New England in 2012. Talib was a guy that finally allowed the Pats to play aggressive defense, and that really helped improve this unit. Talib was frequently placed on the opposing teams best receiver, and he did a great job throughout the season. The only evidence you need on how big Talib was for the Patriots, was the AFC Championship game. Before Talib went down with a hamstring injury, the Patriots were shutting down the Ravens offense. After he went down, the Patriots defense was making Joe Flacco look like Joe Montana. Talib was signed to a one year deal this offseason, and hopefully the Patriots defense improves even more in 2013.
Dennard played 10 games for New England in 2012 where he picked off three passes, and racked up 35 tackles. Dennard is an extremely talented young corner, and if it weren’t for some injuries last season, I think he would have gained a lot more nation-wide praise than he did. Dennard is only 5’10, but he is aggressive, and plays exceptional man coverage. The only problem that has hindered him thus far in his career is injuries. He had a couple last season that forced him to miss six games, and he suffered another one in mini-camps a couple of weeks ago. If he can clear these things up then I see him becoming a great player in the NFL.
When Arrington is in the slot, he is a fine defensive back. When he is on the outside, he may be the worst one in the NFL. Arrington just doesn’t have the skills needed to be a cornerback on the outside for the Patriots. This showed in the AFC Championship game when Talib went down. Arrington was forced to play on the outside of the defense, and he got eaten alive by that Baltimore offense. However, he is a solid player in the slot and hopefully that is where he is kept for the 2013 season.
McCourty began the 2012 season as a cornerback, but he finished the year as a safety. This move saved the Patriots defense. After McCourty’s rookie season, he really fell off as a cornerback, and he was really struggling in 2012 until he was moved to safety. The main reason McCourty was moved, was because the Patriots defense was giving up far too many big plays. But once McCourty learned the ropes as a free safety, the Patriots didn’t give up many 20+ yard plays in the passing game. McCourty has great ball skills, and he knows the game of football, and I think the future is very bright for this young safety. He finished the year with 82 tackles, five interceptions, and three forced fumbles.
Gregory came to the Patriots via free agency the year before last, and to be honest, he didn’t have that great of a 2012 season. He wasn’t very good in the run game, as he kept taking awful angles to make the tackle, and he didn’t do a very good job in the pass game either. When the Patriots grabbed Adrian Wilson in free agency this year I breathed a sigh of relief because that meant there would be less Gregory on the field. He finished the season with 37 tackles and three interceptions.
For a rookie, I was really impressed with Wilson’s ability to play safety. He gave up a lot of “explosion” plays, but that comes with being a first year safety in the NFL. I thought that he improved from the beginning of the year, to the end and that is the main thing you want to see from rookies in the NFL.
Chung brought one good thing to the table for the Patriots in 2012. That was being a physical guy in an otherwise pretty vanilla secondary. But Chung couldn’t seem to grasp the idea of covering guys that came in his direction. He was always flagged numerous times for unsportsmanlike conduct penalties as wel, and when it was all said and done, he wasn’t worth the time for the Patriots anymore.
Cole was a good dime back for the Pats when he was needed. He played solid in the slot, and came up with a couple of big plays throughout the year. He finished 2012 with 17 tackles and one interception.