The New England Patriots since 2001 have been a machine – a machine that doesn’t sweat injuries, free agency, outside jealousy, etc. So why would they sweat a few injuries to some key defensive backs at this point in the season?
When any successful organization has bumps in the road, what do they do? They fix them or move on, and that is what has faced New England in regards to their secondary in 2011. Projected starter and 2nd round pick of the 2011 NFL Draft, RAS-I DOWLING, was projected to start at right cornerback for this season, but his season went down in flames in Week 2 due to a hip injury he suffered, and was subsequently put on the Injured Reserve list. So in came backup KYLE ARRINGTON, and he hasn’t relinquished his starting post ever since Week 3 versus the Buffalo Bills. And it wasn’t like Arrington was some slouch from off the street; Arrington had two years of experience (25 games-14 starts) and 89 tackles to his credit.
Arrington is an aggressive and athletic cornerback who can cover and defend the run. But, no matter what Arrington does in his career from here on out with the Pats or anyone else, it will be in relative anonymity and he’s fine with that. To date, Arrington is New England’s leading tackler with 102 tackles (including the playoffs) and he leads the team in theft with 7 interceptions. And those tasty statistics are a credit to Arrington’s skills, Belichick’s defensive system, and defensive backs coach Josh Boyer.
Then there is JOSH BARRETT who started 4 straight games at strong safety, then out of the blue he was inactive for three straight weeks, then he saw time in the New York Giants game in Week 9 and got hurt, then he was placed on injured reserve. So, like Dowling, Barrett will be spending his first ever Super Bowl in street clothes and cheering on his teammates.
In Barrett’s place stepped alternate then full time starter JAMES IHEDIGBO, who has been starting since Week 5. Ihedigbo, with the New York Jets and now the Patriots, has had a non-descript career but somehow he makes plays and he stays employed. In the playoffs, he is tied for second on the team in tackles with 15 and in a four-way-tie for third on the team in sacks with 1. As for the season, he was fourth in tackles with 69, which led all of the safeties on the team.
Free safety PATRICK CHUNG is a cold-blooded hitter and a professional, and these are traits he has shown since his days as an Oregon Duck from 2004-2007. But, in 2011 he too has experienced injuries as he has missed eight games. Rookie STERLING MOORE (among others) stepped in for Chung for four of those eight missed games and he was serviceable enough to earn key playing time in the playoffs thus far. But as far as the Super Bowl is concerned it looks promising that Chung will start, even though his knee has been bothering him for the balance of the playoffs.
Chung is only the second (more on that later) defensive back that was projected to start the entire 2011 season, who has played in half or more of the total amount of games that the Pats have played so far. To date he has made 62 tackles, 4 passes defenses, and intercepted 1 pass. Chung is a big play defensive back but he is not asked to be that per se in the Pats secondary, because he can make more than 1 interception in his sleep.
The star of the secondary is none other than second-year man DEVIN MCCOURTY who like Chung, was in line to start the entire season at left cornerback. He has only missed 2 games this year and he is ready to go for the Super Bowl. The fact that he has only 2 interceptions is not a typo, it’s true, but largely because many quarterbacks don’t want to test him, as he possesses some of the best hips, speed, instincts, and annoyance skills (not giving receivers much room to get open) in the NFL.
We are counting down to the Super Bowl and Patriots are set in the secondary. Yes, injuries have affected the Patriots this year but like they always do, they find players to fit into their system and who at the same time keep their mouth shut and focus on team goals.
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