The New England Patriots' pass defense has been improving lately, and one of the reasons can be traced to the presence of cornerback Aqib Talib, who was acquired in a trade from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Nov. 1.
Talib's personal numbers aren't eye-opening (just one interception and two pass breakups in the team's last eight contests), but the defense's statistics have been much better. After surrendering an average of 285.3 yards, a 66.1 completion percentage and 19 touchdowns in the first nine games, the Patriots have trimmed those numbers to a 253.4 average, a 57.3 percentage and 10 scores.
"One of the things you can see immediately is, he's a very, very skilled and talented performer," Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said after Thursday's practice. "He runs extremely well, he's a very confident player, he's challenged the best in the league. He'll line up on them, he'll cover them all over the field."
Wide receiver Torrey Smith might see a lot of Talib after Smith torched the Denver Broncos for 98 yards and two touchdowns on just three catches in Saturday's 38-35 double-overtime win against the Denver Broncos in the AFC Divisional round. Even though he's never played against Talib, Smith said the cornerback's reputation precedes him.
"He is a great corner. He is a playmaker," Smith said. "He is more of a man-coverage guy, but they kind of do more zone stuff up there. I'm sure he is versatile and can do a little bit of both. It will be a nice challenge for us."
Caldwell did note that Talib is an aggressive defender, calling him "a riverboat gambler" who will "take a chance here or there." But Caldwell said that wouldn't influence him or quarterback Joe Flacco to target Talib.
“We go into every ball game kind of looking at the things we do best,” Caldwell said. “That’s the thing we’re concerned with probably more so than anything else. There are a lot of good players out there, a lot of guys that will challenge you, and he’s one of those guys. But he’s not the only one on that team. They have a formidable front, an outstanding linebacking corps, and even the rest of the secondary are good, quality men. So we’ve got a lot of folks to deal with.”