New England Patriots' secondary a massive question

Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork brings down Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb in a game...

Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork brings down Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb in a game earlier this year. New England's defence has allowed 43 plays of 20 yards or longer this season. (REUTERS)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:26 PM ET

So just how good are the New England Patriots?

Good enough to beat the Buffalo Bills on Sunday to start off their second half in style, we suspect, but what about the rest of the way in an AFC that seems wide open?

Already this season, the Patriots have lost at home to the Arizona Cardinals, on the road to Seattle, and needed overtime to sneak out a win against the New York Jets.

Then again, their three losses have been by a combined four points.

They may still have Tom Brady doing his thing at quarterback but on defence, particularly the secondary, they have been extremely vulnerable at times. Even the woeful Bills offence had seven plays of 20 yards or longer in their previous meeting this season.

Then again, the Bills defence didn’t show up for that one and gave up 52 points in a lopsided loss.

But if there is as question with the perennial AFC contenders, it most certainly is on defence. It wasn’t just Ryan Fitzpatrick, who torched the Patriots secondary, after all. Through eight games, the Patriots have allowed 43 plays of 20 or longer, a big reason they struggled to a 3-3 start.

“If we don’t give up big plays, the defence can be very, very good,” New England defensive tackle Vince Wilfork told Buffalobills.com this week. “That’s one of the things we have to get better at — stop giving up big plays and stop hurting ourselves.”

The Patriots made a move to address the situation with the acquisition of cornerback Aqib Talib from Tampa Bay in what appeared to some as a token swap on trade deadline day. But by now we should know that Patriots coach Bill Belichick rarely makes a minor deal and once he serves the remaining game of a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, Talib is bound to help.

As for surrendering large chunks of yardage on so many plays, Fox Sports analyst and former Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick says it’s a stat he likes to track and values almost as significantly as turnover ratio. With the Pats giving up 43 plays of 20 or more and getting just 36, it adds up to a potential liability.

“You can’t just get good plays, you can’t give them up,” Billick told Boston radio station WEEI-FM. “That’s the same as a turnover and that’s got to change.

“The good thing is that it can. It may come at a cost — maybe teams will start running at you — but if you want to solve it you can do it.”

SEASON STARTS NOW?

Fresh off their bye, the Patriots could well be poised for their latest second-half run of brilliance. With dates against the Bills, Colts, Jets and Dolphins — all games in which they will be significant favourites — Brady & Co. could be 9-3 before we know it.

The Texans and 49ers are up after that to provide a true gauge at how good they are, but know this: The past two seasons, the Patriots have run the table in their final eight games and last year kept it going all the way to the Super Bowl.

“We’re at the point now where the good teams start to separate themselves from some of the other teams,” Patriots receiver Deion Branch said. “It’s a sense of urgency and the level of commitment that the players take and heed from what (Belichick) has given us.”

Though the Patriots trailed 21-7 at one point in their first meeting with the Bills, they rolled to a 52-28 victory and now lead the NFL with 262 points. They have never lost to the Bills at Gillette Stadium, a perfect 10-0 and have won their past 11 games in Foxboro.

FITZ AND STARTS

While Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has had some big plays against the Patriots, his lack of consistency is seriously restricting the Buffalo offence.

Fitzpatrick knows it and acknowledges his chance of a lifetime to be a franchise quarterback could be frittering away.

“For me, it’s not like I get a shot at this and if doesn’t work out I can go somewhere else and do the same thing,” Fitzpatrick told reporters. “This is my shot. This is everything that I’ve worked for. And I know that it’s either going to work here or that’s going to be it in terms of being able to be the guy.”

QUICK HITS

The Vikings strong start is looking further and further in the rear-view as the offence struggles and the prospects for improvement have taken a blow at practice this week with word that receiver Percy Harvin is doubtful for Sunday’s game with the Detroit Lions because of an ankle injury. Also on Thursday, Vikes running back Adrian Peterson missed practice due to illness ... When the NFL schedule was originally released, Sunday’s Cowboys-Eagles matchup sounded like a big one. It still is, in a car-crash kind of way, but according to ESPN, it’s the first time since 1990 that both divisional rivals have had a losing record ... The Bills could be without veteran defensive end Chris Kelsay on Sunday. Kelsay left practice Thursday with an apparent neck injury.

JOHNSON PLAYING IT SAFE

Maybe Bills receiver Stevie Johnson is learning it’s best not to fire up the New England Patriots.

He of the bold touchdown celebrations, Johnson pretended he was one of the Minutemen dudes who fire a musket after a Patriots touchdown following a score last season.

But when asked by a New England reporter whether the Houston Texans, who defeated the Bills 21-9 last week, or the Patriots are the AFC team to beat, Johnson didn’t take the bait.

“I’m just going to have to say the Patriots because the first quarter (against the Texans) I was feeling pretty good about it from my perspective,” Johnson said. “I was feeling pretty good about it and then I ended up getting the thigh injury and I really couldn’t do too much.

“I played the game against the Patriots with pretty much no injury and they still put a whooping on us. So I am going to give the nod to the New England Patriots.”


Videos

Photos