As bad as the Patriots' secondary has looked this season (and the season before that, and the season before that), there is still a glimmer of hope that this young group can pull it all together.
As dim as that glimmer may be, there is always potential for such a young collection of players to straighten things out.
So in the words of the great Lloyd Christmas, “You’re saying there’s a chance???”
Hopefully that chance isn’t as slim as him actually landing Mary at the end of Dumb and Dumber, but one in a million actually sounds a lot better than what we’re seeing every Sunday.
At one point in the second half against the Seahawks last week, the Patriots had three rookie defensive backs out there. This is usually the recipe for disaster, and such was the case. It wasn’t pretty watching Russell Wilson throw for 293 yards (a new career high by the rookie), but those lumps out west should go a long way into teaching the young secondary a thing or two.
They should benefit from the return of seven-year veteran safety Steve Gregory, who has been sidelined the last two weeks with a hip injury. While Gregory is no Ed Reed, his veteran leadership went a long way over the first four weeks, and the Patriots' inexperience at safety (and inconsistent play from Patrick Chung) has really hurt come the fourth quarter.
The defense has allowed 33 plays of 20 or more yards so far this season, with 13 of those going for 30 or more yards. Not included in those are the four pass interference penalties they’ve been whistled for (five total, but one was declined) because the secondary simply doesn’t know how to turn around. With better awareness of where the ball is, the Patriots' secondary could cut down on those big plays.
While it sounds simple, there is no simple fix for what is currently going on in the secondary. Bill Belichick should sit them down, and play on video all those big plays, penalties, and just anything else that has irked him in regard to their poor play. They should play on a continuous loop one day at practice. If nothing else, it will embarrass them into improvement.
It’s gotten to that point with the secondary. Then again, there’s nowhere to go but up, right?
The old saying is that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. By that definition, you'd have to be truly insane to expect significant improvement out of the Patriots' defensive backfield.
Since they last won a Super Bowl more than seven seasons ago, here's a complete list of top-level defensive backs to play for the Patriots: Rodney Harrison, Asante Samuel. The list of capable defensive backs might include another three or four players. The list of incompetent defensive backs would not fit on this page.
Why is that all of a sudden going to change?
I'm not going to prematurely bury the careers of all the defensive backs drafted in the past two years, but Ras-I Dowling does appear to be on the Terrence Wheatley track to success.
Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington are phenomenal against the run and screen passes, but the unfortunate part is that those responsibilities represent about 20 percent of their job. When it comes to covering receivers and breaking up passes, they look like Patrick Chung out there.
These guys are on a very good team with a phenomenal offense and a defensive front-seven that looks as good as it has in a very long time, so the Patriots can still win plenty of football games with the guys they have in the defensive backfield. But I expect you'll see a lot of teams take the Seahawks' approach to beating the Patriots: launch as many deep bombs as possible throughout a game. It's either going to be completed, or there's going to be pass interference. Those types of problems don't just magically get better.