Logan Ryan started over Kyle Arrington in yesterday's win
It's well documented that Kyle Arrington is much better at covering the slot than on the outside. It seems like the Patriots have taken notice.
Despite Alfonzo Dennard's expected absence with a knee injury, it was rookie Logan Ryan who got the start yesterday over the more experienced Arrington. Ryan wound up playing 54 of the 59 defensive snaps, while Arrington's 18 snaps represented a season low.
As ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss noted, the Patriots played two separate base packages in this game. The first was a traditional two corner, two safety look, with Ryan and Talib as the starting corners. The second had a third cornerback, Arrington, replacing one of either Duron Harmon or Steve Gregory, who split snaps at safety next to Devin McCourty.
Arrington deserves a lot of credit for gutting it out and playing through a painful groin injury, but the injury is clearly affecting his performance on the field now. Just as it was Arrington who got beat easily by Ted Ginn Jr. for the eventual game-winning touchdown, it was Arrington again yesterday getting lost in coverage on a 66 yard catch and run to rookie DeAndre Hopkins. Two plays later Houston had run in the go-ahead touchdown, necessitating some clutch kicking from Stephen Gostkowski just to escape with a win.
It's certainly conceivable that Arrington's health played a factor into the coaches decision to start Ryan. There are few injuries more painful and limiting to a corner than a groin pull, which is affected by every sudden change of direction.
For his part, Ryan seemed to have a solid if unspectacular day in coverage. Most of Case Keenum's damage went elsewhere, either to Andre Johnson, who was a step ahead of the clearly hobbled Aqib Talib most of the afternoon, or tight end Garrett Graham working the middle of the field. Ryan did have an interception, largely the result of DE Andre Carter hitting Houston QB Case Keenum during the throw, along with two passes defensed. The Rutgers rookie also had some uncharacteristic struggles with tackling, although that seemed to be a defense-wide problem yesterday.
However, the game served to reinforce Ryan's importance to the Pats going forward this season. With Dennard shelved "indefinitely" due to his knee and both Talib and Arrington noticeably limited by their injuries, Ryan becomes the only healthy body left amongst the Pats top four cornerbacks. The rookie has held up on his end of the bargain all season. He may have to continue to do so with added responsibility if this defense is to stay afloat.