Philosophy of Law 2014
Ty Law will be inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame on August 1st of this year. It is a well-deserved honor for one of best players in Patriots history. Ty was a fan favorite and I will never forget his huge game against the Colts during the 2003 playoffs. He caught as many passes (3) from Peyton Manning as the Colts #1 wide receiver Marvin Harrison did that day, and for more yards.
The timing for his induction couldn’t be any better. Law’s ceremonial return to Gillette this offseason coincides with a philosophical return to his glory days on the field. Just months prior, Bill Belichick signed cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner to join the New England secondary. Bill had been slowly wading back into the man coverage waters in recent years, but this time he cannon-balled in while yelling “Let’s party” mid-air. He made very clear what style of coverage the NE cornerbacks will play this season.
“We pride ourselves on being physical… we like that type of party.” -Ty Law
I imagine Law will be smiling when he watches these guys play in 2014. Expect to see the Patriots CBs playing close to the line and hitting the opposing receivers as early and often as they can.
Browner, at 6’4”, 221lbs, is built for press coverage. Alfonzo Dennard, at 5’10”, 190lbs, actually plays with a style that resembles Browner more than guys his own size. He’s less enforcer and more pest, but still at his best when in the opposing player’s face. Both guys will often need help over the top, but that shouldn’t be an issue with Revis on the other side. Revis, who is from the same town as Law, Aliquippa, PA, excels at everything, but is most comfortable when jamming at the line. Add in Logan Ryan, who I’ll expand on down below, and there’s solid depth that should ensure that Kyle Arrington stays in the slot. While Arrington has played only 44% of his snaps outside over the last two seasons, a “statistic” that I just made up estimates that’s where 96% of his bad plays occurred.
While the CBs’ style will bring back memories of the championship years, the safety spot will reflect the current NFL era. The big hitters that are questionable in coverage are rare in today’s NFL, and even rarer on the Pats roster. These guys can tackle, and Harmon can provide a few big hits, but they’re not going to intimidate the opposition with force like Rodney Harrison and Lawyer Milloy once did. I’m fine with that. In fact, I love it. Big hits are great, but winning is paramount.
When playing press man in recent years, Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia have had Devin McCourty line up in the deep third of the field. It was necessary because none of the New England CBs could be counted on to jam at the line without risking getting beat deep. D-Mac had to cover for mistakes on both sides of the field. While this helped minimize any big plays, it also made McCourty cover a lot more ground than most safeties do. This often resulted in him being step or two away from making a big play. The acquisition of Revis should allow McCourty, who is already one of the league’s best safeties, to be a much bigger playmaker. He’ll be in the best situation of his career and one very similar to that of the league’s current premier safety, Earl Thomas.
The spot opposite of McCourty is currently up for grabs. Duron Harmon is the favorite currently. He played well in limited action last year. He definitely made rookie mistakes as well, but at least he made them as a rookie. *Cough* Tavon *cough* Chung. Jemea Thomas is a dark horse and don’t be surprised if we hear from him before the season ends. He’s another one of the CB/S hybrids that Bill has been stocking up on.
Logan Ryan is the wildcard for the secondary. He’s a CB that many expect could make a smooth transition to safety. My guess is that he’ll start the year at CB and shift to a hybrid role, or full-time safety, at some point after Browner returns from his four game suspension. There’ also a chance that he grabs the #2 CB job and never lets go of it. Ryan showed excellent awareness as rookie and regularly made plays on the ball in the air. While many of my fellow Pats fans assume that defensive backs coach Josh Boyer will coach him to disregard the ball while it goes right past him for a big play, like the other DBs have done so well here, I have faith that Ryan can keep up his strong work.
Ryan isn’t the only moving part available for the defense. McCourty, linebacker Jamie Collins, Revis, Browner, Harmon and Dennard can also cover multiple positions. All of this versatility allows the coaches to get creative, which was once a trademark of Belichick’s game plans. Ill be watching for more disguised coverages and more blitzing, especially from the LBs, in 2014.
Imagine Revis covering the #2 WR with zero help, Browner or Dennard jamming the #1 at the line with Harmon helping over the top, Arrington in the slot, Collins taking the TE with Mayo watching the RB and/or helping the slot. This could be a pretty solid coverage alone, and I haven’t even mentioned McCourty roaming free. Switch it up at any time and send Revis at their #1 with either a single high safety or two deep, or send Harmon up to cover the TE and send two LBs after the QB. I could go on and on with all the moving parts available.
Of course, even the best secondaries can’t do it on their own. They need help up front from the linebackers and defensive line. The starting LBs should be the best group they’ve had in years with Collins, Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower, but depth is a serious concern. Brandon Spikes broke free to Buffalo, leaving James Anderson, Steve Beauharnais, Ja’Gared Davis, core special-teamer Chris White and rookie UDFA Cameron Gordon to compete for a couple roster spots.
At defensive end, veteran Will Smith was signed to compete for depth with Michael Buchanan, Jake Bequette and rookie Zach Moore behind starters Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich. No big upgrades or losses here, but the added depth should help. Both Jones and Nink were visibly worn down by the end of the season after each played more than 1,100 snaps, more than any other DE in the league.
Veterans Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly and rookie 1st round pick Dominique Easley are all coming back from injuries at the defensive tackle spot. Sealver Siliga, who was great over the final six weeks last season, provides quality depth. Chris Jones and Joe Vellano fill out the position. The fact that those guys are likely our #5 and #6 DTs is huge. In 2013 Jones and Vellano logged 792 and 672 snaps, respectively. No other Patriot DT had more than 223. In other words, this group should be miles above what it was in 2013, even if a couple guys go down to injury. I won’t even go into how much of a stud Easley is going to be by the time the playoffs start, we’ll just consider that a bonus when it happens.
Overall the front loses Brandon Spikes and Dane Fletcher but “adds” Wilfork, Kelly, Easley, Smith, and Mayo. While it’s clearly not the same front that Law got to play with, it should be the best the team has had in awhile and miles above what they had last year. A more talented secondary with a better front to support them? Yes please.
The strategic options available with our current personnel are near limitless, so let’s see what Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia can do to bring another old friend back to Foxboro this season, the Lombardi Trophy.