Could This Be the Best Secondary in Patriot History?


It's safe to say that the secondary hasn't always been a strength for the New England Patriots over the years.  For each Ty Law, Darrelle Revis and Rodney Harrison, they've had two guys like Earthwind Moreland, Artrell Hawkins and Ras-I Dowling.  However, this year - on paper at least - it feels different.

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports
The Patriots are bringing back every relevant member of a defensive backfield that was part of one of the most dominant performances in team, and Super Bowl history this past February.  Which begs the question, is this the most talented Patriots secondary in team history?  It's difficult to make that claim yet, but it certainly has the necessary parts to be something special.  It very well may be the deepest.

They have a certified, number 1, lockdown corner in Stephon Gilmore.  A rightful first team All-Pro last year, Gilmore has played like a top 10, maybe even top 5 corner for the majority of his two seasons in New England.  He’s also elevated his game in the postseason; making game-sealing plays in last season’s Super Bowl, as well as in the AFC Championship game in the year prior. 

It’s difficult to gauge a corner’s impact based on statistics.  There are a few metrics to look at, but it really boils down to the eye test.  Ironically, a lack of eye-popping numbers is actually a positive, as it usually means that the quarterback avoids throwing the ball your way.  Gilmore can take away an entire side of the field with his coverage skills, making things much easier for the rest of the Patriot defense. 

There’s Jason McCourty who, after a troubling preseason, turned into one of New England’s most reliable corners, and made the play of the game in last year’s Super Bowl.  A 10-year vet, McCourty brings valuable, leadership, intelligence and experience both on and off the field, and can be a great example for the younger guys.  He can be your number 2, 3 or 4 corner.

How about J.C. Jackson?  He reminded me a lot of Malcolm Butler in his rookie season.  Scrappy, physical and unafraid.  He got right up into the face of opposing receivers, and never gave up on a play, even if it seemed like he was beat. 

While he may match Butler in terms of fight, I think Jackson has more natural ability.  I bet you didn't know that he ranked first in the league in terms of passer rating allowed.  Jackson allowed 22 catches on 42 targets for a total of 262 yards to go with zero touchdowns and three interceptions.  Zero touchdowns!  Not bad for an undrafted rookie.

Don't forget about Jonathan Jones.  Jones was a special teamer initially and has turned into a solid slot corner.  He was third on the team in passes defended last year, and tied for second in interceptions.  He also led the team in tackles in last year's Super Bowl.

Then the safeties.  Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon may not be the best tandem in the league, but they are very reliable.  Their on-field position is exactly how I would describe their playing style, safe.  They are not ultra aggressive, or risk takers.  Everything they do is very calculated.

The majority of their interceptions are opportunistic, or being in the right place at the right time.  Tipped passes, overthrown passes; you don’t see many instances of them making an aggressive break on the ball, unless they know they can get a hand on it.

They’d prefer to allow a 15 yard completion, come up and secure a tackle, rather than gambling on an interception, or a big hit, and turning a 15 yard completion into 50.  It may be a frustrating style to watch, but as the field shrinks, they become more effective.  They very rarely get beaten deep, which is exactly what you want out of your safeties.

Patrick Chung is like a swiss army knife.  He can come up to the line of scrimmage and play the run, or drop back into coverage against opposing tight ends; despite the fact that he's usually conceding several inches.  He's also very dependable.  Though it feels like he gets injured every game, he's missed just two games in the last five seasons.

Then there’s the unknowns.  The Patriots used second round picks in consecutive drafts; on Duke Dawson last year, and Joejuan Williams this year.  Williams is a true rookie, and Dawson will be a Ben Simmons-style rookie as an injury prevented him from seeing the field last year.  Though they are both second round picks, the comparisons stop there. 

They couldn’t be more different in terms of build and style of play.  At 5'10" and under 200 pounds, Dawson projects as a slot corner.  He'll be battling with Jones all preseason for playing time.  Williams, on the other hand, is five inches taller than Dawson and at least ten pounds heavier. He'll likely line up against bigger, more physical receivers and tight ends.  That's something that the Pats really haven't had since Brandon Browner.

Tight ends, and taller receivers have given the Patriots trouble in the past.  As well as Chung has played, he's at a height disadvantage against most tight ends.  No matter how tight the coverage, quarterbacks can throw to receivers open against smaller defenders.  With Williams, that won't be as easy.

I haven't been this excited about a Patriot secondary since the year they brought in Revis and Browner.  On paper, it looks as if the defensive backfield has the versatility to match up with any type of receiver, and offense.  However, things on paper don’t always turn out as expected; just ask the Boston Celtics.  While much of the offseason has been dedicated to Rob Gronkowski's retirement, I suspect there will be a lot of buzz generated by this secondary and the positional battles in camp this Summer.

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Boston Sports Syndicate: Could This Be the Best Secondary in Patriot History?
Could This Be the Best Secondary in Patriot History?
Boston Sports Syndicate
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