You can call him the Vice-President, or even the Secretary of Defense, but regardless of his official title, Talib has proven himself to be the most important player on the Patriots not named Tom Brady.
It's understandable if you've forgotten that the Patriots defense was an impressive unit early on in the season—allowing just 16 points per game over their first six contests—because it seems like it was a lifetime ago.
Talib was the backbone of the defense early in the season, having an All-Pro year shutting down each and every player that he was lined up against. In consecutive weeks, Talib held Julio Jones, A.J. Green and Jimmy Graham to a combined six catches for 62 yards.
Talib was so dominant he apparently got his own island and a movie deal, as seen in the video below.
So what has gone wrong with the Patriots defense since then? For starters, there have been a litany of injuries to a number of key players—none bigger than when Talib injured his hip on Oct. 13.
He has missed three games with a hip flexor injury and even when he tried to play through it, he simply wasn't the same player.
The defense has taken a huge step back as well, allowing 27 points per game since his Week 6 injury.
However, as Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald points out, Talib may be getting back to where he was at the start of the season.
“Definitely, I’m getting that bounce back,” Talib told Howe on Thursday. “I came back right after and was still playing out there limping a little bit. I definitely think that limp is gone now. I think I’m getting closer to all the way back.”
According to Howe, Talib was matched up with five different players during Week 15's matchup with the Miami Dolphins. During this time, he was targeted just three times and allowed two catches for 22 yards. Howe goes in depth on Talib's full game:
He opened the game on tight end, offensive catalyst Charles Clay, who wasn’t targeted during the corner’s eight man assignments. He then split his reps between wide receiver Rishard Matthews (no targets on six pass routes against Talib), tight end Michael Egnew (one catch, 8 yards, three matchups) and running back Lamar Miller (no targets, two matchups). Talib played the majority of the fourth quarter on Miami’s leading receiver Brian Hartline, who caught one of the two passes thrown his way for 8 yards over 11 matchups.
If the Patriots are going to make a run in the playoffs, they are going to need to turn their defense around. A healthy Talib can be the guy that drives that effort and gets them close to where they were at the start of the season.
This is why Talib, more than anyone else, is such an important player.
Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Shane Vereen are all important pieces to the Patriots offense, but they are all pieces of Tom Brady's puzzle.
Brady has shown throughout the year that the offense can still be effective despite missing key pieces to it.
The defense on the other hand, has been one of the worst units in the league without Talib being at full health.
Being able to take the opposing team's best player out of the game cannot be understated when talking about a defense's effort.
Everyone's jobs become easier and the defense as a whole becomes more dynamic and can be more aggressive in other areas.
Whether or not Talib can overcome his hip injury and turn back into the guy we saw early in the season is still yet to be determined. If he can, he will once again show why he is the team's most important player that doesn't play quarterback.