FOXBOROUGH — Much-maligned this season for its porous coverage, the Patriots’ secondary was put on the spot at the start of last Sunday’s game against the Rams in London’s Wembley Stadium.
Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, seizing upon an opportunity to take his shots downfield against a secondary prone to giving up big plays, gave St. Louis a 7-0 lead when he lofted a 50-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Chris Givens.
“I think early in the season, that kills us, giving up a big play,’’ said Devin McCourty, who because of injuries to Steve Gregory and Patrick Chung was forced to make his second consecutive start at safety after starting the first six games at left cornerback. “Then we put our heads down, give up another one.
“I thought we did a good job of putting that play past us, then playing great defense after that. I think that’s what we have to focus on. Sometimes we are going to make some plays. We’ve just got to keep playing, make our own plays.’’
Though the Patriots went on to rout the Rams, 45-7, that touchdown was the 39th pass play of 20 yards or more they allowed this season. They wound up giving up two more to the Rams to finish the game with 41 — hands down the most in the NFL.
To address that problem, the Patriots made a personnel move during the bye week, acquiring talented but troubled cornerback Aqib Talib from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Thursday in exchange for a 2013 fourth-round pick.
Talib, who is likely to displace Kyle Arrington at right cornerback, will not be eligible for action until after Nov. 12, when he completes a four-game NFL suspension for the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
The Patriots hope Talib’s presence in the secondary will prevent oppponents from going on scoring drives such as the five-play, 80-yard march the Rams put together at the beginning of last Sunday’s game.
“I certainly don’t think you want to start any game, or any drive for that matter throughout the game, giving up points,’’ said defensive coordinator Matt Patricia.
Bradford completed 14 of his first 16 passes, including that 50-yarder to Givens. Backup Kellen Clemens also completed a 39-yard pass to Brian Quick in the fourth quarter, but St. Louis totaled 244 yards passing, the second-fewest the Patriots allowed this season.
The secondary’s play is something to work on during the bye week before the Patriots resume action by hosting the Bills next Sunday.
“Sure, defensively that would be a big area for us, is to limit the number of big plays,’’ said coach Bill Belichick. “That’s a whole team defensive thing. It’s not one thing. Anytime they throw the ball deep down the field, that involves pass rush, it involves pass coverage, it involves possibly scheme depending on how you’re playing it.”
As Belichick noted, the team did not wait for the bye week to address such concerns. It has been an ongoing issue.
“Let me tell you what drives Coach Belichick crazy,’’ said Tedy Bruschi, the former Patriots linebacker who is now an ESPN NFL analyst, during an interview on ESPN Radio Thursday. “What drives him crazy is when you are an ‘error repeater.’ When you make one mistake, and then you go into a week of practice and you try to fix things, and then you go out there the next week and you do the exact same thing.
“Compare the deep ball that cost them the game in Seattle and the deep ball early in the game vs. the St. Louis Rams. Did you see any similarities to that play? It was pretty much the exact same play. The safety made the same technical error and the result was the same for another big play against the Patriots. And that’s my biggest concern.
“Usually, with a Bill Belichick-coached defense, you get a problem, go back to the film room, go to the walkthrough, go to practice, rep it out throughout the week and then usually the problem is fixed. But to have that problem re-emerge in the exact same way is a problem where it’s probably not coaching.”
It falls upon cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer and safeties coach Brian Flores to shore up those issues.
“From a defensive perspective and especially in the back end, one of the things that we talk about is you have to play with patience, you can’t play with panic,’’ Boyer said. “The most important play is the next play. Whether the play that happens is good, bad, or indifferent, you need to move on and play the next play, which is, again, the key process of our whole learning process here.
“That’s why the bye week is so great. It gives us an opportunity to improve on techniques today and try to get better today and moving forward next week.”Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.