What a difference a cornerback makes. For the past few years, the Patriots secondary has been giving up huge amounts of yardage, and things looked bleak going into this year as well, until the team took a gamble on a trade.
Aqib Talib was acquired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on November 1st. He couldn't take the field until his PED suspension was over, but when he did, we saw a gradual transformation of the unit as a whole as the team shuffled around a few pieces to their liking. Devin McCourty stayed at safety, while Kyle Arrington covered the inside, and things started to pay off almost immediately.
Talib is guy they put on their opponent's best receiver. In last week's case, it was Pro Bowler Andre Johnson, who was held to 8 catches for 95 yards, but more importantly, no TDs. Johnson had little impact on the game.
“He loves the game,” Vince Wilfork said via Shalise Manza Young of the Boston Globe. “I always try to find guys that have the passion, have the love for the game, because I can play with anybody like that. When he got here, from day one, we saw his passion and love for the game and it didn’t do anything but help us.”
It certainly looks like head coach Bill Belichick made the right call bringing Talib in when many didn't see the point in acquiring a guy with a such a sketchy past.
“He’s a good football player, good teammate, he’s very well-respected because of his professionalism,” Belichick said. “He studies hard and prepares well. He’s tough. He competes well, both in practice and on Sundays. Smart kid. I like him; the team likes him. He’s a good guy to be around, and he works hard and competes well. I think those are his most impressive qualities.”
“He brings a lot of positives defensively,” Wilfork added. “Being able to isolate him in some situations. Being able to do different things defensively because we have a guy like that. He is a special player. Ever since we got him, he has been making plays for us... He made this defense better and we are happy to have him. Anytime you can basically say, ‘Hey, you got this guy and we are going to cover everybody else,’ that is a good sign.”
His assignment for Sunday likely will be to cover speedy wide receiver Torrey Smith, and Talib is up for the challenge. “Definitely, definitely. Whatever assignment Coach gives me, man, I’m going to take it and run with it.”