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Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Cornerbacks

02.07.14 at 6:00 am ET
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Aqib Talib had an impressive season with the Patriots. (AP)

Aqib Talib had an impressive season with the Patriots. (AP)

With the Patriots done for the season, we’€™ve got an end-of-the-year position-by-position breakdown of where the roster stands. We’€™ve focused on special teams, wide receivers, tight ends, running backs, quarterbacks, offensive line, defensive line and linebackers. Now, it’€™s the cornerbacks.

Roster (stats taken from coaches film review): Aqib Talib (44 tackles, 4 interceptions, 13 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble), Alfonzo Dennard (42 tackles, 1 interception, 8 passes defensed), Kyle Arrington (60 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 quarterback hits, 1 interception, 12 passes defensed), Logan Ryan (41 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 quarterback hits, 5 interceptions, 1 touchdown, 10 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble)

Overview: For the first four games of the season, Talib was a bona fide Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and while it wasn’t quite man coverage on a weekly basis as some would have you believe, he revealed himself to be the best pure corner the Patriots have had since the days of Ty Law. He was able to do a terrific job against some of the best pass catchers in the league, including Tampa’s Vincent Jackson, Buffalo’s Stevie Johnson, New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham and Atlanta’s A.J. Green. He was hobbled, missing four games in the middle of the season before coming back (maybe too quickly) and being embarrassed by Carolina’s gritty slot receiver Steve “Ice up, son” Smith. He finished strong — right up until the first half of the AFC title game, where he was knocked out in the early going when Wes Welker crashed into him coming over the middle.

As for the rest of the group, it was a good year when they were slotted into the appropriate spots. Dennard was more than competitive as the No. 2 corner, while Arrington held up well in the slot. Meanwhile, Ryan did well to kind of cover all the bases as a rookie — while none of the interceptions were especially worthy of a highlight reel, he made the plays when it counted and ended up leading the team in picks with five. The problems arose when Talib went down, and the group as a whole was forced to step up. (Dennard into the role of lead corner, Arrington out wide and Ryan wherever needed.) That was especially the case in the AFC title game, when they appeared wholly unprepared for the offensive onslaught that Peyton Manning and the Denver passing attack unleashed on them.

This will be an interesting offseason. There’€™s a question as to whether or not Talib — a free agent — will return for 2014 and beyond. Meanwhile, Arrington is set to undergo groin surgery this week, while the team hopes that Dennard and Ryan continue to progress. Regardless of what happens to Talib, the feeling here is that New England needs a little more depth at this position going forward.

Best moment: Talib provided plenty of terrific moments over the course of the year, but his best was probably against the Saints, where he worked against Graham in fundamentally man coverage for most of the afternoon and didn’t allow a catch. A close second was his pass breakup late in the win over the Falcons — as well as his pose on the bench afterward, which turned into an Internet meme.

Worst moment: Talib going down early in the AFC title game for the second consecutive season, and the inability of the rest of the corners to step up in his place.

By the numbers: 7 – The number of interceptions that Ryan and fellow rookie defensive back Duron Harmon had in 2013. (Ryan had five and Harmon had two.) The total represented the most total interceptions by rookies in the NFL. The Patriots are one of two teams (Falcons) to have two rookies with multiple interceptions.

Money quote: In a year chock full of great quotes from Talib, we’€™ll pick out our four favorites:

1: “My bad, man. I had to say hi to Gisele.” — Apologizing to WEEI’€™s Mut & Merloni on Aug. 14

2: “It’€™s fun. It’€™s the NFL. You watch Tom Brady throw bombs, [and I think,] ‘He’€™s on my team.’ Hey man, that’€™s fun!” — Speaking with reporters Aug. 7

3: “I don’€™t watch NFL Network or read the newspaper during the season. I’€™m a basketball fan. My TV pretty much stays on NBA TV. I don’€™t really read what nobody says.” — Responding to Stevie Johnson‘€™s claim the Patriots didn’t have anybody who could stop him, on Sept. 5

4: “It’€™s never personal man. It’€™s never personal. I’€™m sure, if I see Steve, it’€™ll be, ‘Hey, what’€™s up? How you doing?’ It’€™s never personal. Him and the other guy from St. Louis? That was personal. I mean, he didn’t say he was going to punch me in my face after the game. He just told me to go get in the tub. Kind of thoughtful.” — On his confrontation with Steve Smith during the loss to Carolina on Nov. 20

Read More: Alfonzo Dennard, Aqib Talib, Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan Print  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
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