New England Patriots: Secondary's Futility Keeping Patriots from Next Level

Jimmy KelleyCorrespondent IOctober 16, 2012

ORCHARD PARK, NY - SEPTEMBER 30:  Devin McCourty #32 of the New England Patriots runs against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium on September 30, 2012 in Orchard Park, New York.New England won 52-28.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

At this point, every New England Patriots fan knows that the secondary coaches are Josh Boyer and Brian Flores. They also know that since 2008—when Flores joined the staff—the Patriots have had one of the most anemic secondaries in professional football.

Now standing at 3-3, the Patriots are in that weird NFL purgatory where nobody is quite sure what to make of them. They have looked particularly good in their wins, but the losses have revealed deficiencies that get lost in the fanfare of 300-yard passing games and wins over Peyton Manning.

Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 350 yards against the Patriots, but that fact was overlooked because the Patriots looked so dominant on offense. Just like in basketball, it is amazing what effective offense can do to shroud defensive lapses.

However, on Sunday, the Seattle Seahawks and their 5'10" quarterback eviscerated the Patriots secondary that, by the end of the game, looked no better than something you would find in the lower half of the SEC or Big Ten.

Nate Ebner, Alfonso Denard, Tavon Wilson and Devin McCourty were the base four late in the fourth quarter thanks to injuries (Patrick Chung) and ineffectiveness (Kyle Arrington). I mentioned the coaches at the beginning of this because one has to wonder why these players aren't getting better.

McCourty, while he has recovered a bit this year, was in the midst of a regression from Pro Bowler to liability, and the lack of development of players like Arrington and Ras-I Dowling is worrisome.

Comcast's postgame show features former All-Pro cornerback Ty Law, who said he cannot figure out what technique these players are being taught because there is no consistency in how they play. Sometimes they play up in bump and run, sometimes they hang back in a soft coverage, but for the most part, they do something in between—and that results in plays like Sidney Rice's game-winning touchdown on Sunday.

The other well-documented issue in the secondary is that it seems to have an aversion to turning and finding the ball. If the players are being taught to play the man so as not to get caught up in trying to pick off every ball, that is one thing, but it is rare to see any of these guys have an opportunity at a ball, and a majority of their pass deflections come from blind luck.

The last time the Patriots won the Super Bowl, Eric Mangini was the defensive backs coach. That is the quality of coaching they were getting there, and it's why players like Terrell Buckley and even Troy Brown were able to play effectively in that spot.

The Patriots have a top-tier offense and an above-average front seven, but if they cannot figure out something to do about those last four, things will continue to spiral downward for head coach Bill Belichick and this team.