David Butler II-US PRESSWIRE
Aqib Talib: B
Aqib Talib’s debut as a New England Patriots cornerback was certainly memorable. It became that way when Talib intercepted a pass in the middle of the field, then all the way to the right sideline and back over to the left sideline on an impressive 59-yard touchdown return.
But while Talib’s touchdown was very special and a huge play for the Patriots in establishing their first lead of the game, his coverage throughout the game was suspect.
Talib was beaten twice for touchdowns by T.Y. Hilton.
On the first play, Talib had him covered fairly well, but Andrew Luck made a perfect pass to the back of the end zone and Hilton had a half-step on Talib, enough to make a sliding catch for a 14-yard score. On the second play, however, Talib was simply burned, and even illegal contact for which he was flagged was not enough to stop Hilton from scoring a 43-yard touchdown.
Talib also had some troubles with LaVon Brazill, another wide receiver who beat Talib on numerous occasions downfield. Talib had one of the game’s biggest plays, and seven tackles as well, but the Patriots will be expecting better overall coverage out of him.
Kyle Arrington: C
Kyle Arrington started the game at cornerback across from Aqib Talib, but that quickly changed after the first drive, on which Arrington was burned by Donnie Avery on a deep post and was forced to commit a 40-yard pass interference penalty to avoid giving up a touchdown.
Arrington moved inside to play nickel cornerback after that, with Alfonzo Dennard replacing him in the starting lineup.
His struggles continued when he was called for holding in the first quarter, but he did make some much better plays in the rest of the game. Arrington had seven tackles and deflected two passes, including one late in the game that ended up in the hands of Tavon Wilson off a tip in the air for the team’s third interception.
Arrington salvaged his grade from being very low by making some very positive plays, but it was still made clear in this game that he should not be starting at cornerback.
Alfonzo Dennard: A-
Once rookie Alfonzo Dennard came into the game as the right cornerback across from Aqib Talib, the pass defense was much more solid. Dennard had a very strong performance, highlighted by an 87-yard interception return early in the third quarter that all but sealed victory.
Dennard was beaten on a number of occasions, but on two of those occasions he managed to recover by laying out for the football and getting a hand on the ball to break up the pass. While Dennard did give up a few downfield completions, there were no big plays against him and he had a solid day tackling.
His big play was a huge moment in the game, and he proved that even though he still makes his share of rookie mistakes, he is the best option to start as the Patriots’ No. 2 cornerback.
Devin McCourty: A
Devin McCourty played his fourth consecutive game at safety after moving over from cornerback, and he continued to excel, having quite possibly his best game yet. Working often on the same side of the field as Talib, he was able to provide Talib something that he never had much of when he was playing the left cornerback position: help defense.
McCourty was frequently making plays on the football on the back end, and on multiple occasions came into break up passes on plays where Talib had been beat. McCourty also showed his ability to hit in this game, forcing a drop with one of his hits, and bringing pressure to force a drop on another.
All in all, McCourty finished the game with seven tackles, and made it clear that he, not Talib, is still going to be the leader and star of the Patriots’ secondary.
Steve Gregory: C
Starting next to McCourty, Steve Gregory did not do much to impact this game. He was credited with one pass breakup, but all three of Gregory’s tackles were downfield and he did not make any big plays in pass coverage.
Gregory hasn’t been a liability in coverage, but he hasn’t been an asset or a difference-maker to this point either, and that didn’t change on Sunday.
Tavon Wilson: N/A
Rookie safety Tavon Wilson did not play much in this game, as his playing time has decreased significantly since McCourty moved to safety and Gregory returned from injury. Wilson was the beneficiary of a play late in the game, when he was able to make a play on a deflected pass on a ball tipped by Kyle Arrington up into the air, and came up with an interception.
Overall, however, the sample size was too small to grade Wilson, and his interception came in what was effectively garbage time with the Patriots already holding a 35-point lead.
Marquice Cole: C+
Marquice Cole played in the slot in this game as the dime cornerback. Effective coverage on one play forced an incompletion on a pass intended for Reggie Wayne, but he also gave up a number of completions by giving up too much cushion.
Overall, Cole didn’t make much of an impression with his showing in this game.