Mon, 28 December 2015
By the eye test – my eye I mean – the Patriots’ secondary is very good. Not excellent, awesome or elite. Not top of the league. But good, much better than expected preseason. I’ve heard some rumblings, chatter about the Patriots secondary lately, some flattering stats, some middling stats. Let’s see if what the vaunted eye test – my eye, though admittedly deteriorating with age – is telling me is reflected in the statistics. I’m thinking it is, mainly based on the strength of the play of corners Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan. However, we may be seeing a dropoff with Devin McCourty out. One thing is for sure, its better than just about anybody thought it would be without Darrell Revis. Brandon Browner was never more than the right piece in the machine last year.
The Patriots secondary in the 2014 regular season, stacked with a still-elite Revis, a mean S.O.B. in Browner, and McCourty the Pro Bowler at free safety, were not an elite unit. They ranked 17th (of 32 teams) in passing yards allowed per game with 239.8, 10th in passer rating allowed at 84.0, and they picked off opponent quarterbacks 16 times, a top ten result. According to pro-football-reference.com, in yards per attempt allowed per game, the Patriots tied with 5 other teams last year in allowing 6.2 per game. The league average was 6.4.
We can conclude that this unit was good to very good. Sound reasonably accurate?
Through 14 games this season, the secondary of the Patriots has performed as follows: 230.3 passing yards per game allowed, good for 8th, clearly improved over last year; an 83.3 passer rating allowed, ranked 9th in the league; 5.7 yards per attempt allowed, good for 3rd in the league and improved by a half of a yard from 2014. Butler and co. have snatched 12 opponent attempts.
My eyes have deceived me. This 2015 unit is better than I thought. Who'd have thunk after losing that talent they would actually improve? Not I. Recall what the secondary was like prior to Revis arriving. It cheweed up cornerbacks and safeties. Weekly we would learn a new name and see a new player give up catches and yards to average quarterbacks and receivers. It made average players look elite. Ryan Tannehill looked like an All-Pro at times. Mark Sanchez could and did rip apart. The motto around the team defense was bend-don't-break. It was pretty effective at this, but man did it bend! It bent so badly at times, even Bellichick's acumen was being questioned, never mind that of Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia.
It appears those days are in the past. The performances of Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan this season have been revelatory. Butler looks like he could become a top level corner, and Ryan is progressing well as the season goes on. ESPN.go.com has Butler tied for 9th in the league with 15 passes defended, Ryan 12th with 14. These two guys compete for the play, for the ball. They are in every play. They mark their man tight, they annoy and hassle and attack the wide receivers like they owe them money. This is not the kind of coverage we saw prior to 2014. It used to so often look like the corners and safeties were giving receivers wide berths of space - and they got eaten up for it.
Let's not forget McCourty. He is having an off year and is currently injured, but he has made some key game-changing plays while covering deep center field.
This begs the questions, why? Why is this secondary playing differently than in the past. Is it conceptual? Could be. They play aggressively, moreso at least. In past years, I frankly didn't want the corners playing too aggressively, they would just get burned deep anyway. I think the difference is we have talent now. Young talent. That, and quite possibly, the coaches and players learned last year. Did Revis and Browner leave an imprint on the culture of this secondary unit? Maybe.
I don't think Bellichick or Patricia would ever admit that, if even true. But I think you see a legacy in Butler and Ryan. With these two young corners getting better every week while improving the overall secondary performance, I'm confident the bend-don't-break soft coverage days are past.
Category:Patriots -- posted at: 1:35am EDT