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Bye-Week Breakdown: Defensive backs

10.24.11 at 10:56 am ET
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With the Patriots off this week, we’€™ve got our Bye-Week Breakdown, a position-by-position look at the Patriots at the six-week mark. We’€™ve already examined every one of the offensive positions so far, as well as the defensive line and linebackers. Now, we take a look at the defensive backs.

Depth chart: Devin McCourty, Leigh Bodden, Kyle Arrington, Antuwan Molden, Ras-I Dowling, Patrick Chung, James Ihedigbo, Josh Barrett, Sergio Brown. (In addition, Phillip Adams and Ross Ventrone have been on and off the roster from the practice squad.)

Overview: The secondary has had lots of movement since the start of camp — notables like Darius Butler, James Sanders and Brandon Meriweather are gone, and as the new faces have played together there have been plenty of rough patches. However, it appears that the Patriots have played more zone coverage the last couple of weeks, which may be the reason we’€™ve seen more improvement in the secondary.

After a stellar rookie season, McCourty has been targeted a lot through the first six weeks of his second season (check out the stats below) and while he has been physical and competitive on most occasions, he’€™s clearly not ready to take that next step into elite status just yet. While Bodden and Dowling have been hampered by injury and Molden remains a part-time player, the real find this season has been Arrington. The Hofstra product had always been a quality nickel corner with good physical skills, but he’€™s made a big leap forward this year, so much so he was leading the league in picks through six weeks with four.

At safety, Chung remains a stable and reliable presence. However, the Patriots are still seeking consistency opposite him. Barrett and Brown have struggled, but Ihedigbo has played well the last two weeks. Against the Jets and Cowboys, Ihedigbo has been slotted next to Chung (the UMass product has missed only five snaps the last two games) and appeared to mostly hold his own. It remains a question as to whether or not he’€™s a long-term answer at the spot, but he appears to be the safest bet at the position in the coming weeks.

Best moment: Arrington had a pair of picks in the loss to Buffalo, probably the finest moment of the season for an occasionally group of beleaguered defensive backs.

Worst moment: Down the stretch in the loss to the Bills, a late 38-yard reception by Fred Jackson put the Bills into position for what would turn out to be a game-winning field goal. On the play, several New England defenders (including Barrett) had a chance to bring down the running back, but no one was able to make the tackle.

By the numbers, according to Pro Football Focus: McCourty has been targeted 51 times through six games (second in the league to Detroit’€™s Chris Houston) and has yielded 35 catches (tops in the league).

Money quote: ‘€œI don’€™t know what’€™s changed. … I’€™m just trying to practice hard [and] keep studying film of what I’€™ve been doing and taking the confidence I’€™m getting in practice and trying to take it over to the field and helping this team any way I can. So I think just like last year as a player, I’€™m just trying to improve each week. That’€™s my biggest focus right now. Keep improving and helping this team out.’€ – Devin McCourty

Read More: Antuwan Molden, Brandon Meriweather, bye week breakdown, Chris Houston
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