The Patriots suffered a bevy of key injuries in last week’s win over the Saints, including losing cornerback Aqib Talib to a hip injury in the second half. Talib has missed the first two practices this week, which never bodes well for a player appearing in the coming contest. Initial reports have stated that the Patriots don’t believe that Talib’s injury is major, but he will likely miss Sunday’s divisional tilt with the New York Jets.
Talib has played at an incredibly high level thus far in 2013, and in my opinion he his giving Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis a run for their money as the best cornerback of this season. He has reeled in four interceptions through six games, which is tied for the league lead, and he has faced some tough competition over the last few games. In week four, he was locked onto Julio Jones for a solid portion of that contest in Atlanta, and he shut down the Pro-Bowler. Talib was targeted eight times, and he only allowed one completion, which went for a whopping one yard. One week later, the Pats were faced with the challenge of bringing down the Cincinnati Bengals, and again Talib found himself opposite of one of the most explosive wide-outs the NFL has to offer. Talib wasn’t as effective versus A.J Green as he was against the Falcons, but he still managed to limit the young star’s performance. Green caught five balls for a total of 61 yards, with his longest reception being a gain of 18. For a guy that has the capability to go off for 150+, I think this constitutes as another solid outing for Talib. And perhaps his most impressive lock-down performance came in last week’s win over New Orleans. He was matched up with the behemoth tight end Jimmy Graham throughout the afternoon, and he didn’t allow Graham to catch a single football. Talib was all over the big man, getting physical with him, and allowing absolutely no separation as soon as the ball was snapped. I think that this performance showed how talented of a cover corner that Talib is, and when he stays out of trouble off the field, he gets recognized for his tremendous skill-set.
So, based on the terrific 2013 campaign that Talib has put together, the Patriots will probably miss him this weekend when they trek up to MetLife Stadum, correct?
If you assumed this was true, then you assumed wrong. I think that even though Talib has played out of his mind so far this season, the Patriots will be just fine without him when they face off with the rival Jets.
I have two main reasons why New England will handle this week’s game just fine without Talib, and the first goes by the name of Alfonzo Dennard. Lost amid the hype of Talib’s play in 2013, has been the equally stellar season that his partner Dennard is putting together. Each week I re-watch each Patriots game, and a good deal of the time, I find myself focusing in on the secondary. I probably do this because I am still petrified that New England’s back group will suddenly morph into the defense of previous years, and give up 500 yards a game. But when I have done this, I notice the increasingly dominating play of the young Dennard. His coverage skills are up there with the best, and Dennard actually reminds me of Talib because of the aggressive style that they like to bring to the table. Dennard limited Marques Colston to a one catch last week, which followed up a solid performance on Cincinnati’s Mohamed Sanu, in which he held him to a two catch outing. The only thing holding Dennard back in my eyes, is his height. He only stands at 5’10, and this hurts him when going up against bigger receivers. Dennard will be covering the opposition as closely as he can, but someone with three or four inches on him will still be able to go up and make the grab. However, Dennard does fight like hell for position on the receiver, and far more often than you would expect, he is the one making the play on the ball, despite giving up a lot of size. I have been a fan of Dennard ever since he stepped on the field for New England, and I am confident that he will continue his solid play while Talib deals with his hip injury.
The New York Jets offense is not a juggernaut aerial assault by any stretch of the imagination. Geno Smith is certainly a big upgrade over Mark Sanchez, but he is still learning on the job, and he still makes the classic rookie mistakes. He also will be limited with who he has available to throw the football to on Sunday, because his second leading receiver, Santonio Holmes, is not likely to play as he is sidelined with a hamstring issue. As it is, the Jets don’t throw the ball very often, in fact they are 22nd in the league in passing attempts, which probably plays a big role in their 22nd ranking in total pass yards. It is evident that Rex Ryan doesn’t completely trust his rookie signal caller to drop back 40 times a game, which is a normal action to take when you have a first year quarterback leading your offense. With Holmes out, I think the Jets will go to the ground game more often, especially seeing the types of injuries that New England is dealing with in the middle of their defense. Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo are both gone, and I think that Tommy Kelly will also be in street clothes this Sunday. You would have to be a really dumb guy to not realize that the Pats are hurting in this area, and a smart head man will attack this weakness.
Without Talib, the Patriots will have to trust Dennard to cover second year receiver Stephen Hill, (although since Holmes is out, they can afford to shade safety Devin McCourty to Hill’s side as the Jets depth at receiver is not that great). Behind Hill is slot man Jeremy Kerley, who will probably draw Kyle Arrington of the Patriots, and that is a plus for the Pats as Arrington is a one of the top slot defenders in the league. He often gets criticized for his play on the outside (as he should), but when moves into the slot, he locks opposing receivers down, which has helped this year’s defense excel.
The bottom line is, the Jets offense is a fairly stagnant group, specifically through the air. They rank 22nd in the league in throwing the football, and they are without their second leading receiver, who also happens to be their top deep threat (averaging 24.3 yards per reception). For that reason, I think the Patriots will do just fine without the services of Aqib Talib for this meeting with New York.