New England Patriots on Paper: “That Good Prime time”


Rex Ryan knows a little bit about great cornerbacks.  He coaches Darrelle Revis, a corner that Sports Illustrated has dubbed one of it’s top 10 defensive backs of all time.

So when he gushes about Aqib Talib, most people figure he knows what he’s talking about – but the smart ones also know that his words come with a caveat because he also knows a little about gamesmanship as well – so anything that the New York Jets’ head coach says should be taken with a grain of salt.

And you might want to have the entire salt shaker handy, just in case he really starts jabbering.

“As if they needed another great player,” Ryan lamented, speaking of the Patriots’ brand new cornerback…then he went on to say that Brady is a machine, Belichick is a genius and that he feels bad for Gronkowski but not the Patriots for losing the Pro Bowl tight end for a few weeks.

Ok, ok –  he didn’t say Belichick was a genius, but did offer up a sideways compliment, saying, “Obviously, Belichick does a lot of things on defense to take advantage of players’ talent, so it will be very interesting to see what he does with Talib.”

It’s really no secret what Belichick is going to do with the former 1st round draft pick:  Play him as the mirror on whomever lines up split wide to his side – straight up – while upstart rookie Alfonzo Dennard takes on the other side with help over the top from Devin McCourty – and from Ryan’s way of hinting around you would think Dennard and McCourty are going to see a lot of balls come their way.  Right.

“We’ll have to see what they do schematically. Generally if it’s just straight man coverage you’ll probably go away from him,” said Ryan on Tuesday, suggesting that the Jets offense would steer clear of Talib.

Nov 18, 2012; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib (31) returns the punt for a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-US PRESSWIRE

Talib is getting a lot of attention these days, and you can see that he is enjoying the spotlight.  In fact, one gets the feeling that when the light is shining brightest is when Talib shines like a star.  If that’s true, then Thursday night promises to be a real treat…

…because the lights don’t get much brighter than playing the prime time game on Thanksgiving night – particularly when the opponent is the hated rival from New Jersey.

“You always get a little bit more excited when you know you’re going to be on that good prime time.” mused the newest Patriot on Tuesday.

Playing in a fierce rivalry on Thanksgiving evening in Prime time with the chance to show the entire world that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made a mistake dealing him?  With the chance to show the world that he’s responsible and dedicated to his craft, and makes the New England Patriots secondary more solid with each snap?

Excited for the spotlight, are we?

That’s good, because regardless of what Ryan says, he’s going to test you early – and how often depends on you.  Playing on the Biggest stage this side of the Super Bowl in front of a national television audience, he is going to go deep.

He can’t help it – he’s Rex Ryan, and his arrogance trumps common sense.

It happens to all coaches at some point in their career – it’s gotten Belichick a few times – but Rex Ryan has an arrogance bordering on narcisism.  He will identify your strengths and weaknesses, then attack your strengths believing that your weaknesses will take care of themselves as the game progresses.

He will attack your strengths because he desperately wants – desperately needs – to beat your best regardless of the implications.  Sometimes it swings in his favor, but not enough to depend on that tactic on a weekly basis…and sometimes it leaves his players hanging out to dry.

Ever wonder why Ryan sticks with Mark Sanchez despite his less than amazing stat line?  It’s because Ryan created Sanchez.  Ryan and his afore mentioned arrogance put Sanchez in a position where he has to be nearly perfect, and ends up looking like a scrub if he isn’t – but to give up on Sanchez at this point would be like admitting that he was wrong about everything…

Regardless, it’s been only four weeks, but the Patriots’ defense is markedly different than the unit Ryan faced in week 7:  Devin McCourty has emerged as a top flight safety.  Rookie Alfonzo Dennard has supplanted Kyle Arrington at one corner and Talib has stepped right in at the other.  Tavon Wilson has struggled a bit, but is still the team’s best option at the nickle, and his upside is tremendous.

Up front, Brandon Spikes has reached a level of intimidation reserved for the Harrisons of the world – Rodney and James – while the rest of the linebackers have solidified the second level.  Spikes has shown up on coverage, as has fellow linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who had a huge pass defended against the Colts last week – and these two will have primary responsibility on Jets’ tight end Dustin Keller, who ran all over them in the first meeting.

The Patriots will be without rookie end Chandler Jones this evening, but 3rd year man Jermaine Cunningham is having his best season as a pro and will fill his vacancy.  Rob Ninkovich is gathering steam in pro bowl voting and has a relentless motor, and Vince Wilfork is still maintains his status as an elite run stuffing tackle, providing clear gaps for the linebackers to stuff or blitz through, which they will be doing more and more of as the season grows toward January.

In short, The Patriots’ defense is a much improved squad from a month ago.  The only question is how much.

Bill Belichick has always maintained that the season really doesn’t begin until after Thanksgiving, and that’s when his team should be playing it’s best ball.  On a nationally televised stage tonight, we are going to see if his new look defense’s best ball is good enough to be considered championship quality.