Patriots

Arrington turns the corner for Patriots

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Arrington turns the corner for Patriots

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO -- Try to find someone who predicted New England to be 11-2 through fourteen weeks. Won't be easy.

Perceived weakness in the secondary was just one reason why external expectations weren't high for this Patriots team. Hell, it wasn't speculation, it was written in the player biographies. Youth. Inexperience. Not seasoned enough to hold that last line of defense.

Especially when 29-year old Leigh Bodden hit the season-ending IR list in late August and it looked as if sophomore Darius Butler would start at corner across from freshman Devin McCourty. Next on the depth chart came a pair of third-year players, Jonathan Wilhite and Terrence Wheatley.

What about Kyle Arrington?

Arrington wasn't any older than most of his secondary partners -- this is his third year in the NFL -- but he was even more unseasoned. An undrafted free agent, he bounced from the Eagles' practice squad to the Bucs' practice squad to the Patriots' practice squad and got into nine games, total, in 2008 and '09. He was seen as a special teamer, at best.

My, how things have changed.

Butler fell off the map. Wilhite's body refused tocooperate with his or the team's wishes and, just Wednesday, he was placed on IR. Wheatley (or what's left of him) is in Jacksonville.

Arrington? He's first on the depth chart at left corner for those 11-2 New England Patriots.

And it's not a case of any old port in a storm. He's busted his tail to earn the job.

"He's a great athlete,'' teammate Rob Ninkovich said before practice on Wednesday. "He's got great skills as a corner. He just needed a chance. Sometimes, being a free agent, it takes a while for you to get that chance. But he's made the best of his opportunities.''

Coach Bill Belichick said the same about Arrington seizing the moment.

"Kyle works hard," said Belichick. "He did a good job for us last year on special teams; lead in tackles. He has been very productive. He's got good speed, he's tough, he tackles well, he's aggressive. He's gotten an opportunity and he's done a good job taking advantage of it."

He had to. Arrington knows he wasn't supposed to be a starter. The progression of afterthought to first-string has involved extreme discipline and commitment from Arrington, and he's given his all.

"I've had more dedication off the field, especially in the film room and being at home," he said. "Just paying more attention to details, a higher concentration level during practice. This is a tremendous opportunity that not everybody gets and I'm just trying to take more advantage of it.''

There's that word again: Opportunity. People use it when talking about the 24-year old almost as much as he says it himself. One thing, though: Don't confuse it for luck. When a person delivers after being given a chance, it's not because Fate is a Patriots fan or has a soft spot for Hofstra alumni like Arrington.

It's because of things like Bullet Squats.

Imagine this, his leg exercise of choice: The 5-foot-10 (a generous listing), 196-pounder stands on a bench with one foot. He holds dumbbells in each hand. Does 10 reps. Arrington was working with 40 pounds in each hand last week, 60 pounds in each hand during the offseason.

It's punishing, but it's the reason he has 2.9 percent body fat. It's why Belichick points specifically to the undersized Arrington's strength. And it's also why the guy is breaking up passes to 6-foot-3 Braylon Edwards on Monday Night Football instead of getting pushed around.

"He's very strong for his size, he's a strong guy,'' Ninkovich said. "He can rush -- he's been rushing for us. He's got a great center of gravity where he can bend the corner."

There have been results. New England ranks 27th in defense this season, but that number hides a few important others. The secondary is still making plays out there. Opponent passing yardage is improved significantly this season since Week 10:

NET PASSING YARDS
QB RATINGat Steelers
38797.9vs. Colts
39696.3at Lions
28565.9vs. Jets
14927.8at Bears
13832.9

New England's 20 interceptions are second-best in the NFL and is the best total for a Patriots defense since 2007 (19). Arrington has zero, but when quarterbacks have chosen to throw to the other side McCourty has nabbed 6. And tackles? Arrington's 48 are the fourth highest tally on the team.

No surprise McCourty is the one getting big press. His tremendous play week-in and week-out has thrust him into the national spotlight in the Defensive Rookie of the Year conversation. The attention given to Arrington is a pittance by contrast.

It doesn't bother him, though. He's just happy for the playing time.

"He's kind of a quiet guy,'' Ninkovich said. "He's not going to say too much but he's very competitive on the field. A quiet personality but he's aggressive in a sense of, when he's on the field, he's a different person."

When told that his teammate went on to call him "quietly" competitive, Arrington smiled.

"That's perfect. I'm not the obviously most vocal person and everyone knows that. So, quietly competitive . . . that's a good way to put that.''

He paused for a moment. Then he found his focus and smiled again.

"But I will compete."

Mary Paoletti can be reached at mpaoletti@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

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QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

3:00 Why has Bill Belichick been so surprisingly positive of his team’s performance in tight wins?

6:30 Phil Perry breaks down what grades he gave the Patriots on his report card following the win over the Jets

15:00 Reaction to the Austin-Seferian Jenkins overturned touchdown, and what changes need to be made in the NFL replay system. 

23:00 Why was Patriots offensive line much more effective against Jets?

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

25:00 Patriots-Falcons preview, how did Falcons blow a 17 point lead to the Dolphins?

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

FOXBORO - We’re not quite at the point of fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, or 40 years of darkness, or even dogs and cats living together, but this Patriots season isn’t headed down the right path, despite a 4-2 record and the top spot in the AFC East. 

There are several elements that appear missing at this juncture - chief among them a defense that actually has a clue. Please don’t celebrate holding the Jets to 17 points - I’m looking at you, Dont’a Hightower. Josh McCown threw for just 194 yards against the Cleveland freakin’ Browns for goodness sake, but he got you for 354 and two scores?! Even the 2009 Patriots defense is offended by that.

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We’d be foolish to think the Pats can’t get this leaky unit fixed for reasons so obvious I won’t state them in this space so as not to waste my time or yours. We also know - long before Bill Belichick’s 6 1/2-minute explanation on the Monday conference call - that it's not supposed to be perfect right now. Actually, it’ll never be perfect. That’s not how this game works. 

Yet week after week, we see uncommon breakdowns and one defender looking at the next as if to say, “I thought you had him?” or more to the point, “what the hell were you doing?” It started Sunday at MetLife on the third play of the game. Malcolm Butler, playing 10 yards off Robby Anderson, looking as if he’s never played the position before, inexplicably turning his back on Anderson even though the wide receiver makes no real move to the post. That results in just about the easiest completion of McCown’s life, a 23-yarder on third-and-10. 

On the same series, on another third-and-long, the Pats rushed four and dropped seven into coverage. Defensive end Cassius Marsh continued his season-long trend of rushing so far upfield he ended up in Hoboken. With Deatrich Wise ridden outside on the opposite edge, McCown wisely stepped up and found prime real estate with New York City views. He wanted to throw and could have when the Pats fouled up a crossing route from the backside of the play. But with that much room to roam, McCown took off, scooting for a quick 16 yards and another first down.

Fittingly, that drive ended with a Jets touchdown on yet another dumb play, this one courtesy of Mr. Hit or Miss, Elandon Roberts. Channeling his inner Brandon Spikes, the second-year pro blew off his key and responsibility on third-and-goal from the 1, charging hard to the line. This, despite one of the most feeble play-action fakes you’ll see. In fact, I’m not even sure it was a real play-action fake. Anyway, score it as a touchdown to Austin Seferian-Jenkins and an indictment on David Harris, who apparently can’t vault past the erratic Roberts on the depth chart.

Similar to the week prior in Tampa, the Pats found better footing after that. They forced three straight three-and-outs in the second quarter and then helped turn the game when Butler intercepted an ill-advised throw by McCown just prior to the half. They got another turnover to start the third, with Butler coming off the edge on fourth-and-1 and forcing McCown into panic mode. The veteran QB fired an off-target throw to - get this - a wide open receiver who went uncovered on a drag route and Devin McCourty was gifted an interception.

But this group frowns on prosperity. It took a little-seen rule to prevent a Seferian-Jenkins touchdown in the fourth, and on the game’s final drive, the Pats allowed a 32-yard completion on fourth-and-12. Then, on what turned out to be the Jets final play, the Pats let Tavaris Cadet leak out of the backfield and run unchecked 20 yards down the field. Had McCown not soiled himself again, Gang Green would have had a first down and at least one crack at the end zone. Then, who knows what the heck happens?

It was just a season ago that the Patriots led the entire NFL in scoring defense. If you’ll recall, we spent a better part of the year wondering if that defense was championship quality. Turns out they were. Right now, we’re wondering once again if this defense is of that ilk, but through an entirely different prism. It’s on the players and staff to change the current outlook, or those cats and dogs will have to figure out their shared space.