Prior to the Texans game, fellow staff writer Elisa Moore gave us some some insight into Aqib Talib the person (read it here), and highlighted that his troubled past seems to be just that - in the past, and that the New England Patriots currently can't say enough good things about him. To add on to that, let's talk about Aqib Talib and his difference to the Patriots as a player.
To put it simply, before Talib arrived in Foxboro, the Patriots secondary was horrendous. The Patriots had no identity, and they had no confidence. Steve Gregory and Tavon Wilson struggled as the two were asked to start as safeties because of injuries, specifically to Pat Chung. Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington were getting burned on deep balls (twenty passes over twenty yards on forty attempts for opposing teams) and it seemed like the Patriots would continue their near-decade long difficulties in the secondary.
However, the Patriots problems began to get fixed after a couple of personnel moves. Coach Bill Belichick moved McCourty to safety, Gregory started over the injured and inconsistent Chung, Arrington moved to slot cornerback, and the Patriots brought in Talib to be their shut-down cornerback along with Alfonzo Dennard becoming the cornerback on the other side of the field. Here is the difference with a visual by football-reference (posted by the Bleacher Report):
Every single defensive category has improved after Bill made the changes to the secondary. If you take the final eight weeks' stats and double them (simulating what the Patriots would have been like with the new adjustments all year) the Patriots are no longer one of the worst defenses in the league, as many claim. The Patriots go from being ranked 15th in sacks, to 8th. They go from 5th to 2nd in interceptions, from 20th to 9th in opposing QB's completion percentage, and 17th to 6th in opposing QB Rating. Finally, the Patriots Defense would go from being ranked 13th in TDs given up, to FIRST PLACE. With the addition of Aqib Talib, the Patriots are now able to be a lot more aggressive with the front seven hence the greater number of sacks. Before Talib arrived, the Patriots were forced to play a lot of zone coverage due to poor cornerback play. Now they tend to go man outside since Talib is so effective at stopping the opposing premiere wideout (not to mention Dennard also being extremely good), and they keep McCourty over the top at safety. This new defensive set up has allowed the Patriots to accrue all of these chart-topping statistics.
Vince Wilfork was quick to praise Talib.
"He definitely made a big difference in what we do defensively," Wilfork said of Talib. "Anytime you can basically say, ‘Hey you got this guy and we are going to cover everybody else,’ that's a good sign."
Wilfork isn't the only one who is happy that Talib arrived,
"He's a good football player. A good teammate. he's very well respected, because of his professionalism. He studies hard, he prepares well. He's tough, he competes well, both in practice and on Sundays. He's a smart kid. I like him. The team likes him. He's a good guy to be around. But he works hard and he competes well. And I think those are his most impressive qualities," commented Coach Belichick.
Let's hope Aqib Talib can continue his shut-down abilities like he did against Andre Johnson (when Talib covered Johnson he was held to five catches for 71 yards). The Patriots obviously aren't the same defense that they were in Week Three, and it will show this Sunday with a Patriots victory.