There are few things more satisfying than watching A-Rod serve hungry Boston fans Wahlburgers because he lost a bet. Watching a hyper-focused and well-oiled Patriots secondary shutting down a passing attack is one of those things.
While the New England Patriots were preparing their game plans for the Houston Texans, I’m sure they approached it as another game. Prepare, watch video, practice, evaluate and repeat over and over again. Don’t leave anything to chance and allow for the unexpected. More unexpected than the entire Boston Globe sports staff choosing the Houston Texans to win? Smack my head.
What We Learned
In the end the end the preparations were over-preparing. A healthy Deshaun Watson came into Foxborough and accounted for almost 350 total yards and two TDs. Coming within an epic Brady comeback drive and a Cooks toe-tapping touchdown of winning the contest. Riding a wave of feel-good emotions would do the sophomore quarterback some good as he returned to the site of battle. Those positives vibes were for naught. He rushed for nearly the same yards but accounted for over 125 less air yards. Watching the game unfold I was stuck with one thought, “This secondary looks damn good!”
What We Know
Let’s look at the differences from the unit that allowed Foles to throw three TDs and 373 yards en route to a Super Bowl MVB (Most Valuable Backup) in February. Starters Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe were still the same. Malcolm Butler of Super Bowls past was in Belichick’s doghouse and played one snap prior to leaving in free agency for Nashville to join the Elvis Patriots. Devin McCourty was the same defensive mainstay that he has been for a number of years. Jason joined the crew in the offseason too.
And here are the important things: Jordan Richards – Gone, Johnson Bademosi – Gone. Both of them gave up key catches that sustained drives when the team needed just one stop. In their place, Jon Jones was becoming a quality slot corner and backup. A bevy of late round draft picks that forced out 2nd round pick Cyrus Jones. An improved pass rush and new defensive play caller, Brian Flores, would help apply pressure that helps the coverage guys immensely.
What is the best way to use a group as talented as this? The coaching staff of the Patriots will put them in the best position to succeed. And based upon experience, scheme and physical attributes it may go something like this. Stephon Gilmore is the classic man coverage, shutdown corner. A long and lean six foot one inch and just over 200 pound. Quick, and instinctual he has shown to be worth every penny of his massive free agent contract. Eric Rowe is just as tall as Gilmore but a little heavier and not quite as explosive. He does bring some big slot coverage that is nice for his versatility. JC Jackson is your next big cornerback. He’s a little lighter, but just as exciting and will grow into his role. A good special teamers, he brings a lot for an undrafted free agent.
The next tier are the shorter, lighter cornerbacks. Jonathan Jones seems to be the third option at cornerback and is primarily used inside. The Super Bowl drama would have been reduced if Jones did not suffer the season ending injury against Jacksonville. Keion Cross is a rookie this season and was an inactive on Sunday and barring injuries this will probably he his role all season.
The unique thing about the Patriots secondary is the role of the safeties. The McCourty twins are converted corners. When the defense’s backs get pushed against the wall, Devin’s job changes to primarily covering a receiver. Duron Harmon plays a lot of deep and cover 2 safeties. Jason McCourty is still learning his new position and offers some depth for the corners. Patrick Chung is the only true strong safety and does well with covering pass catchers near the line of scrimmage.
Super Bowl Bound
What does all that mean? Bill Belichick can play chess while much of the league is playing checkers. When you want to change your game plan from week to week in order to exploit an opponent’s weakness, you need versatility and layers. This years cornerback crew offers that. Big outside wide receivers, shifty slot guys, and speedsters up the fieldall need a different plan. The defensive backs that are on the team offer a blueprint for success that ends with hoisting a trophy in Atlanta!
All photos courtesy of Getty images unless noted otherwise.
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