Each Wednesday throughout the season we'll identify one player, coach or area of the team that is most under the microscope. This week, the pass defense is the choice.
The Patriots' secondary has stepped up immensely over the past two games, holding the Jets and Bears to a combined 10 points and 287 passing yards while picking off five passes.
Assuming Aaron Rodgers can play Sunday, which is a big 'if' right now, they will get tested again by Rodgers and his top receiver, Greg Jennings. Not to mention that top CB Devin McCourty's status is unknown after he left Sunday's game with a rib injury.
As good as the Pats' pass defense has been, it has spent most of this season ranked in the bottom three, sometimes even 32nd, in passing yards allowed, and if McCourty cannot go that will be a huge problem.
CBs Kyle Arrington and Darius Butler will have to step up, with S Patrick Chung helping in the slot. Chung has struggled in coverage this season.
The Pats are just two wins away from home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, but a secondary breakdown against Rodgers and the Pack on Sunday will bring them down to earth.
What has been working is using disguises at the line and a mix of man and zone to confuse quarterbacks. McCourty's elevated play also has been a mark of improvement for the unit, as he has been able to make big plays. Now that the secondary has been making the plays when it counts and now that New England is atop the NFL, they will be expected to continue the success.
If McCourty cannot play, or at least cannot cover Jennings, the Packers can take advantage on deep post routes. While S Brandon Meriweather is known for his over-the-top coverage, if Arrington covers Jennings and Rodgers can look off Meriweather, the Packers can have some success with big plays. So Meriweather will need to be on his game, be disciplined in his center-field role and force the Packers to throw the ball short.
Assuming Rodgers is at the helm, this will be the biggest test for the Patriots' secondary until the playoffs.