Can Aqib Talib keep it going against Julio Jones and the Falcons?
|09.26.13 at 9:23 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Ask most experts and the reason for the vast improvement in the Patriots secondary to start the 2013 season is the play of Aqib Talib. The Patriots rank sixth in the NFL in pass defense, allowing just 188 yards per game. They have intercepted the opposing quarterback four times in the first three games, and three of them have come from the man acquired just before the 2012 trade deadline.
The quarterbacks he’s faced may not have been the “elite” of elite signal callers in the league but he has drawn the best receivers the opposition has had to offer. In Week 1, it was Stevie Johnson, the man who said the Patriots didn’t have anyone who could cover him.
In Week 2, he had the assignment of handling the underrated and unheralded Stephen Hill. And last week, there was a lot of talk about how Vincent Jackson could burn the Patriots deep. Jackson, with Talib on him, caught just three balls on six targets for 34 yards before a rib injury took him out of the game.
In all three cases, Talib not only took the No. 1 receiver out of the game, he’s picked off the quarterback three times.
This week, the stakes are raised dramatically as he is asked to cover the NFL’s leading receiver in yards through three weeks, Julio Jones. The Falcons receiver has 27 catches for 373 yards and two touchdowns, including an 81-yard score.
“Very good,” Talib said. “Explosive, breaks a ton of tackles after the catch, leads the league in receiving yards so he’s very explosive.
“Bigger guy, taller guy. He’s one of those big, tall, fast receivers. He’s one of those total package receivers. We definitely have our hands full with Julio. When he first game into the league, it was still kind of the Roddy White show over there. Now, Julio has kind of taken the reins as the No. 1 receiver. Don’t get me wrong, Roddy White is still in there and does his part but Julio is kind of their go-to guy right now.”
Does Talib think he can handle Jones by himself?
“I hope I can, if I have to,” Talib said. “I don’t know what the plan it. Whatever the plan is, the plan is.”
Adding to the advantage Talib has is that he has faced Matt Ryan and the Falcons many times since coming into the league with Ryan in 2008. Talib’s Buccaneers were just 2-5 against him in seven games as Talib had two interceptions.
“I’ve played against them before,” Talib said. “They changed some things up, people have different roles. It’s the same but at the same time it’s a little bit different. They’ve been running that offense for a while,” Talib said. “They’ve been doing what they do for a while now so they’re good at it. They’re definitely one of the top in the league.”
In the eyes of Talib, Ryan has gone from good to great in the matter of five seasons.
“He improved a bunch, too,” Talib said Thursday. “He came into the league good already. He came into the league and they went to the playoffs. He came into the league and has been successful since he’s been here. You can definitely see the maturity with less interceptions and control of the offense.”