There were more than a few groans when Brandon Meriweather earned his second consecutive spot on the AFC Pro Bowl roster last season. While his 2009 campaign surely warranted All-Star consideration, a reduced role and on-field struggles in 2010 likely did not.
In fact, Meriweather's decline last season might have ultimately sealed his fate Saturday when he was released by the New England Patriots as part of the team's final roster cutdown.
On the surface, Meriweather's numbers weren't awful. He finished with 48 tackles, three interceptions, and six passes defended. But dig deeper and the drop-off in production is far more pronounced. The folks at Pro Football Focus track individual player data and their numbers on Meriweather are far more condemning. For instance, during Meriweather's 2009 season, opposing quarterbacks boasted a QB rating of 64.7 on passes throw in his direction; In 2010, that number skyrocketed to 100.7. Here's a comparison of the past three years for Meriweather with PFF numbers (including playoff games) that highlight the Pro Bowl-caliber 2009 season and last year's dip:
2008: 42 targets, 26 receptions, 330 yards, 145 YAC, 5 TD, 4 INT, 86.4 QB rating
2009: 30 targets, 18 receptions, 296 yards, 132 YAC, 1 TD, 5 INT, 64.7 QB rating
2010: 30 targets, 20 receptions, 355 yards, 116 YAC, 3 TD, 3 INT, 100.7 QB rating
As a means of comparison, Baltimore's Ed Reed and Green Bay's Nick Collins were the two Pro Bowl starting free safeties last year. A glimpse at their 2010 PFF numbers:
Reed: 30 targets, 14 receptions, 220 yards, 50 YAC, 4 TD, 8 INT, 71.5 QB rating
Collins: 41 targets, 17 receptions, 347 yards, 134 YAC, 2 TD, 5 INT, 48.6 QB rating
Maybe most condemning is PFF's overall rating, which assigns plus/minus grades based on a player's ratings in four categories (run defense, pass rush, pass coverage, and penalty). If 0 suggests a league-average player -- one that neither hurts nor helps his team -- Meriweather graded out at -10.1 during the regular season, tied for 79th among the 85 safeties that played at least 25 percent of their teams snaps last season. By comparison, Reed was +9.9, while Collins was +5.5, both among the top 13 safeties in the league. (For those wondering where fellow Patriots safety castoff James Sanders landed, he was ranked 67th at -5.3, though it was his run support that hurt his rating the most, while pass defense killed Meriweather).
With the safety position, numbers can't quantify everything (even the subjective ones offered here by PFF). Meriweather simply didn't pass the eyeball test at times, either. A safety needs to be in the right position at the right times and Meriweather seemed to struggle mightily in that aspect, just a step behind the action at times, and often taking poor angles. On more than one occasion Meriweather wiped out his own man trying to make a stop on an opponent.
The Patriots overhauled their defense this season with a focus on beefing up the defensive line. That should lead to extra pressure on the quarterback, but it only matters if the team has confidence in the secondary to produce solid coverage. It appears the team lost that confidence in Meriweather last year and simply decided it was time to move on.