Big Decision: How should Pats use Talib?

January, 19, 2013
1/19/13
2:47
PM ET
Torrey SmithAP Photo/Charlie RiedelTorrey Smith has five catches and 129 yards and two touchdowns in two playoff games this month.
The day before each game this season, this space features one big decision facing New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and his staff, in terms of the game plan.

PatriotsRavensThis week's decision: Should the Patriots use cornerback Aqib Talib to shadow Baltimore Ravens receiver Torrey Smith?

Last week against the Houston Texans, Talib stuck like glue to receiver Andre Johnson, bucking the Patriots' trend of keeping their cornerbacks on a designated side of the defensive formation. Johnson still finished with eight catches for 95 yards, but Talib arguably kept Johnson from putting up even bigger numbers.

At 6-foot-1, Talib is New England's biggest cornerback, and matched up the best against Johnson, who is 6-3.

But with the Ravens coming to town this weekend with the AFC Championship at stake, things get trickier. Baltimore possesses one of the NFL's most dangerous deep passing games, but the smallest of their top four receivers, Smith, is 6-1 and 205 pounds.

Receivers Anquan Boldin (6-1, 220 pounds), Tandon Doss (6- 2), and Jacoby Jones (6-3) are all bigger than Smith, but it's Smith who has burned the Patriots in the past. In last season's AFC Championship Game, he had a 42-yard catch and another 29-yard touchdown reception, while he hauled in 38- and 32-yard passes from Flacco in Week 3's win over the Patriots, along with a 25-yard touchdown grab.

The Patriots could match up Talib, their top cornerback, against Smith the whole game, in hopes of mitigating his effect in the passing game. Or, they could use Talib's size to match Jones when he is on the field. Jones had a 41-yard catch against the Patriots in September, while he also snagged the 70-yard pass from Flacco that sent last week's Ravens-Broncos tilt into overtime.

What do you think? Should the Patriots assign Talib to a single Ravens receiver, like they did against the Texans? Should they keep him on Torrey Smith unless Jacoby Jones is on the field? Or should they keep Talib and fellow cornerback Alfonzo Dennard each to one side of the field?

Your turn: Vote in the poll and join the discussion in the comments section below.

Mike Rodak

ESPN Buffalo Bills reporter

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