Blame for Patriots Secondary Struggles Start at the Top

Patriots Secondary


NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko

This will be my one and only article on this topic, at least for awhile. After watching another meltdown in the 4th quarter, compounded by the inability of the defensive backs to make routine plays in pass coverage.

I have had enough.

I have had enough of watching an opposing Quarterback launch a Hail Mary pass from their own 30 yard line knowing that there is more than a 50% chance that their receiver will come down with the ball or at the very least the opposing defensive back will interfere in the process. I have had enough.

So who’s to blame and what is going on back there?

When I have so many thoughts racing through my head on one topic, I find I can organize them best when I make a list. There is no rhyme or reason to the order of things on this list, but these are observations and thoughts I have on why the Patriots secondary has become the laughing stock of the NFL.

1) The Patriots need to develop talent.

Since the 2008 NFL Draft the Patriots have used six, six, SIX first or second round selections on defensive backs. I’ll just go down the list CB Terrence Wheatley (2nd/2008), S Patrick Chung (2nd/2009), CB Darius Butler (2nd/2009), CB Devin McCourty (1st/2010), CB Ras-I Dowling (2nd/2011), S Tavon Wilson (2nd/2012).

That is an absurd amount of draft capital to spend on the secondary in the span or four year. You figure just playing the percentages that you would hit on a couple of those guys. But, not one outside of maybe Devin McCourty, who has turned into a reliable starter in the Patriots secondary, and we all known McCourty has his flaws.

Many players have stepped right in to the Patriots system and excelled immediately. In 2009, Darius Butler looked like a legitimate building block at CB (anyone remember the pick six in Houston?). The following year Devin McCourty came in as a rookie and became an All-Pro corner, leading the team with seven interceptions. Hell, even Terrence Wheatley looked pretty good his rookie year, until injury sidelined him. Last year Ras-I Dowling showed flashes of legitimate talent. Despite missing all of training camp he started week one in Miami and did an impressive job and looked good the next week vs. San Diego until he got hurt.

Despite those early successes none has developed or built on that early success. Darius Butler came into the 2010 season with high expectations and had an atrocious season. He was released the following training camp. Devin McCourty was being mentioned in the same breath of some of the top corners in the league only to have a disastrous campaign, that saw him get beat time and time again. It ultimately led to him being moved to safety late in the season.

Ras-I Dowling took 1st team and sub-package reps throughout the preseason and started the Titans game, only to barely see the field since. There is a definite trend here and the question has to be asked, why the regression from year one to year two? Do the Patriots try to tinker with players technique too much? In McCourty’s case they made a very good zone cornerback try to play man over and over. He looks uncomfortable and unnatural. But, why else? It has to be a coaching point or scheme issue to answer the question why these defensive backs who look like NFL caliber corners regress in the Patriots system.

2) When I look at the Patriots secondary right now I see a bunch of mismatched pieces.

There are a bunch of players playing in a scheme in which they don’t belong. Let’s go player by player.

Devin McCourty has already proven to be a decent zone cornerback. When he keeps the ball in front of him, he is very good going forward and can make plays on the ball. He is one of the best tacklers at the position as well. But, he can’t play man to man defense. He struggles too much to locate the ball and struggles to turn and run with receivers espeically after he gets a jam on them. He looks uncomfortable and can tell he has no confidence when put on an island. Devin McCourty is built well for a cover 2 scheme.

As has been talked about a lot of the last two days Patrick Chung is being asked to play FS in a cover 2 scheme right now and he’s struggling. Last season when he was allowed to come down into the box, play run support and cover the tight end he was pretty good. To play cover-2 safety you have to have great instincts, play disciplined and you have to have the ability to break from the hash marks to the sideline in a split second and close the gaps that will be left in the defense. Pat Chung lacks the instincts and can be seen on film a split second late time and time again.

When I think of Tavon Wilson who was playing cover-2 safety yesterday, I definitely don’t see a player who fits that scheme. Wilson is a thick player who has looked good when asked to cover tight ends in man coverage or play in the 5-15 yard range. He has struggled in space and in zone coverage. He has made some undisciplined mistakes that have cost the team big time.

Ras-I Dowling is a big physical player, who should be put in a position to play man coverage or at the very least press coverage, but he’s not.

Kyle Arrington is built well for a slot cornerback and looks decent in the 10-15 yard range. But, he’s not playing there on a full time basis.

It’s not a stretch to say that Alfonzo Dennard has looked like the most natural cover cornerback up to this point in the season. At least he finds the ball. The bottom line is this, when you look at the Patriots secondary there are a bunch of pieces that don’t fit together and are being put in a position where it’s tough for them to succeed.

3) In game play calling especially at the end of games is atrocious.

When the Patriots have a lead in the fourth quarter they play too conservative on defense. They play not to give up the big play, but that is obviously not working. The Seahawks were able to orchestrate two scoring drives with ease in the fourth quarter, both of over 55 yards and both with big pass plays being the difference. Sidney Rice, yes I know the WR was able to get a pass interference called on Devin McCourty (surprise) by throwing up a prayer and getting bailed out because he couldn’t find the ball.

I haven’t watched the game rewind yet, so I am not sure what coverage they were in, but I am guessing it was a soft cover two. Then on the final drive Tavon Wilson, who admitted he was in a cover 2 took the double move and allowed the receiver to get behind him for the winning touchdown.

This is nothing new.

Let’s go back to last year and the Colts game where the Patriots were up 31-3 and had to hold on for dear life to win the game. Or the AFC Championship game where they allowed the Ravens to march right down the field making big play after big play. They should have lost the game if not for Sterling Moore getting incredibly lucky and Billy Cundiff.

Then the Super Bowl where they were in a cover 2 scheme and Patrick Chung was late getting to the sideline to break up the pass to Mario Manningham.

The Ravens game in 2012 was more of them same. Marched right down the field, one big play after another. Aided by yet again a pass interference call by Devin McCourty. The Broncos game the Patriots had to hang on for dear life and if not for a turnover inside the 15 yard line who knows what happens.

One thing is certain the scheme and aggressiveness of which the Patriots call plays at the end of games has got to change. It’s one thing if the other team was making difficult play after difficult play, but these drives are just easy. The Patriots are offering little resistance and just hoping the clock runs out or that they can force a turnover.

Somebody needs to be held accountable. Is Matt Patricia or Josh Boyer the one making the calls at the end of games? I doubt it, but if so that has to change. If it’s Bill Belichick making the calls, time for someone else to come up with the play and personnel design, because whatever they are doing isn’t working.

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15 Responses to “Blame for Patriots Secondary Struggles Start at the Top”

  1. Lundahl says:

    I don’t see how our secondary is bad. I mean, it seems like everyone has forgotten that the Patriots offense did play a secondary. And honestly, usually the Pats roll in the red zone, and that Seahawks defense was disgsuting. Welker was embarrassing them, Brady was sitting in the pocket, no sacks. They were pathetic. Just like the Texans and the 49ers were at home, finally facing some real offenses, and which proves they are frauds.

  2. james says:

    I think the pats could use 1 more pass rusher with speed who can help close out games. Like when the play is extended can chase down the qb and fly around the field… Theyre DL and front 7 r strong so far but there big, not fast. Too many times against russel wilson the DL would get pressure but it wasnt serious because they had no real chance of catching wilson… Not to mention making him throw on the run was almost to his advantage.

    Speed on the DL will help close out games defensively i think…

  3. qwerty says:

    Patriots are VERY STRONG in the trenches. No complaints.
    No complaints on receivers either.

    Most of the secondary played well. No need for more draft picks.

    The NFL Vice President of officiating said there should have been a Offensive Pass Interference call on the Dennard TD.

    Dennard and McCourty played very well overall. There are passes that even the best CB’s can’t defend. No complaints.

    Arrington is weakest CB so he will get picked on the most. Arrington’s strength is from short to maybe medium range at most. Arrington needs a safety net behind him to help him out.

    Why coaches not using Dowling much is still a mystery.

    Chung doesn’t seem like his old self and lot of injuries to starters. Putting two rookies to backstop defense was a coaching decision. Tavon just made rookie mistake. On hindsight, Dowling should have been at CB and McCourty at Safety. Tavon doesn’t have the burning speed to catch up once behind otherwise Tavon has played well. I have no doubt that Chung could have defended that straight down the field pass.

    Injuries, not so stellar Chung play and coaching decisions have been behind the bad secondary performance. SEA game plan was to pick on Arrington and then the backstop of the secondary especially more when Chung left.

    I have no doubt the secondary will keep improving. They were horrible last year but tightened up down the stretch. I have no doubt this is the best secondary talent the Patriots have had in a long while.

    Patriots on the whole have a lot of talented secondary irregardless of what the stats say.

    The achilles heel of the Patriots is their safety position. That’s it. Every thing else is strong.

    Every loss this year has been to teams that I strongly think the Patriots will win if they are played again. The key this year is to win the division. Do that and these losses are moot.

  4. Catman316 says:

    Totally agree!!!! why we are keeping players that are getting burned in a daily basis when we have players with more upside in the sidelines? How come players like gregory that do a decent job in SD and here they cant cover a deep ball? This is come down to bad drafting, bad coaching and bad play calling!!

  5. qazmlpgh says:

    What worries me, as you pointed out Mike, is that all these guys have done well in their rookie years then regressed dramatically. Is the coaching staff to blame?

  6. ANB says:

    The next draft should go something like this:

    CB, S, S, WR, DT, CB

    It’s at the point now where we’re surprised if the secondary does something productive.

  7. Phil says:

    My idea? I personally think they should drop this “4-2-5 hybrid” scheme they are running and they should revert back to a 3-4. It’s working for Houston isn’t it? Devin McCourty excelled in a 3-4, did he not? They should then play a 2-gap up front, therefore each lineman and linebacker is responsible for only 1 gap. Therefore, they won’t need to bring a safety to help defend the run up in the box. With some more safety help over the top. It will greatly benefit the CB’s. It’s working pretty well for Alabama ain’t it?

    • Jamaal says:

      I agree on going back to the 3-4 zone defense.. Bill has this defense all out of position with the 34 d i think it allows brandon spikes to be even better he should never be asked to play man to man thats not his game. And he is able to shoot gape much easier. sterling moore and kyle arrington shouldnt be asked to play on the outside they are slot corners and i believe they can be very good slot corners. dowling/dennard on the other side .dowling should always be used when having to play tall receivers like he did against marshall when he was with miami. to me its more scheme then players but they need to learn how to turn around

    • james says:

      umm… 3-4 is a base defense. Pats are in there base 40 % of the time. The rest of the time there in a nickel or dime. The 4-2-5 defense isnt something thats been adopted its a totally necessary sub defense that every team has been running over the last 5 years to match up with spread offenses. There are multiple versions of the nickel and dime defenses that teams mix in. Idk where youv got this idea from…

      And the point on Houstons defense running the 3-4.. its a base defense. There in sub defense over half the time just like the pats.

      Also the patriots play 2 deep safeties basically all game every game this year and allow the front 7 to stop the run without bringing down a safety like chung.

      Devin mccourty wouldnt be effect by the scheme ran up front he still has to be able to execute the coverage called for the secondary.

      I thinkk your a little confused on defensive scheming…

  8. Mike I says:

    It’s definitely the coaching. You can add in Brandon Meriweather, James Sanders, Mike Richardson, Jonathan Wilhite as Patriot draft picks over the years that didn’t make it.

    No one seems to turn for the ball, I don’t understand it. All you have to do is play the game like it is Madden on the Sega Genesis and you can torch the Pats with either a long bomb or pass interference and just about any QB can accomplish this.

    You can legitimately say that the lack of a competent secondary has cost this team three more Super Bowls. 2006 AFC Title game and Super Bowls XLII and XLVI. On all three of those drives, touchdowns were scored. You could throw in that Lee Evans had a TD if he corralled the ball properly as well. You can only expect the offense to do so much and we shouldn’t have to think as fans that when we punt to the other team with the lead, the game is lost. Belichick has known this for years, and this is why he went for it on the 4th-and-2 play in Indy.

    This team signs 20 tight ends when they already have two of the best in the game, but does not really bring in a veteran presence in the secondary. Steve Gregory is a veteran, but he only has 31 NFL starts at age 29, which is less than Chung and McCourty. Why Bill hasn’t brought in a true veteran presence to ease the troops when times get rough back there is beyond me.

  9. jibri says:

    We need 2 draft CB & S that look for the freaking ball

    • Mike Loyko says:

      Dennard has shown the ability to find the ball.. I have honestly been impressed with what I saw.. techinique,etc. need work but he has skills..It’s time to try something new thats for sure

    • Derek says:

      We need to put our players we have now in positions to be successful. There is talent there they coaches just aren’t using it correctly. Everyone is saying that we need a stronger pass rush, well our pass rush isn’t amazing but no pass rush gets to the quarterback in less than 3 seconds EVERY play. We can get to the QB, what we need is coverage that can do their jobs and be in position to make throws so we can hold the QB’s in the pocker longer. If the coaches start using the secondary to schemes they are comfortable in and the secondary improves the pats d will be a scary one with how they are run defending right now.

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