Patriots

Patriots

FOXBORO -- Blake Bortles is not afraid.

After watching the Jaguars 23-20 win over the Dolphins last weekend, that is one thing that Patriots defensive backs have learned about Jacksonville's second-year quarterback. Of the 273 yards passing Bortles accumulated in the victory, 155 of those yards went to receiver Allen Robinson, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound second-year wideout out of Penn State, who trained under former Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien. 

Thanks to Robinson's size, body control and exceptional leaping ability -- he recorded a 39-inch vertical jump at the NFL Scouting Combine last year -- Bortles had the courage to loft passes in his direction against Miami even when he was covered. 

The result? Completions of 36, 52 and 46 yards, all in the first half. 

Patriots safety Devin McCourty knows that it will be important for him and his fellow defensive backs to be aware of Bortles' willingness to chuck it, even when they think they have their assignments locked down.

"I think it's another week where it's key for us," McCourty said. "They're gonna throw the ball down there. I think this week sticks out more as similar to Week 1 [against the Steelers and receiver Antonio Brown]. They don't care if Robinson's covered or not. They're going to give him a chance to go up there and make a play. I think that adds a little bit more when you see teams like that and you see that being there is not enough. Bortles is going to give him a chance to go up there and make plays."

 

McCourty noted that Jaguars receivers Allen Hurns and Marquise Lee, as well as tight end Mercedes Lewis, are all viable threats to be on the receiving end of a Bortles prayer. But it's Robinson who appears to be the biggest threat. 

Here's a quick look at the connection Bortles and Robinson showed against the Dolphins. 

On their seventh play of the game, offensive coordinator Greg Olson drew up a play that gave the pair an option to hook up deep down the middle of the field. In the image above, Robinson is shadowed by Dolphins corner Brent Grimes, and Grimes has help inside from the team's safety playing in the deep middle portion of the field. 

Despite the apparent two-on-one, Bortles hung one up for Robinson anyway. 

It was a well-played gamble as the Miami safety was late to help, and Grimes -- one of the game's best leapers at his position -- was beaten to the ball by Robinson. The post pattern produced a gain of 32 yards and helped set up an eventual three-yard touchdown pass to Robinson later in the drive. 

About six minutes later, Bortles tried Robinson long again. Again, Robinson was covered. But again, he delivered.

You can see in the above image that Robinson doesn't have a step on his defender, but he's one-on-one, and Bortles has his mind made up. 

Robinson's well-timed jump allowed him to come down with a 52-yard gain that later helped set up a field goal. 

The faith Bortles has in Robinson didn't always pay off, however. Near the end of the half, Bortles attempts to squeeze a pass between Grimes -- who in the image above is circled behind Robinson -- and the Dolphins linebacker (also circled) in front of Robinson. It's a near impossible throw, but Bortles gives it a shot. 

 

Grimes under-cut it, and nearly picked it off, but it bounced off of his hands and fell incomplete. 

For McCourty and his teammates, the trust Bortles has in Robinson may result in opportunities for turnovers, but limiting explosive plays on those types of heaves is their No. 1 concern.

"I think when you start to see that, you just see a relationship building between a receiver and a quarterback where sometimes a quarterback says it's gonna either be a catch or he's gonna make sure that nobody on their team brings it down [for an interception]," McCourty explained. "That's when you start to get guys that are dangerous out there.

"They are willing to take more chances and try to create a play by throwing it up there one-on-one or if a safety's coming open late, it's more dangerous. Especially if they trust each other enough to do it. You can say it's kind of crazy, but if they're making plays off of it, it doesn't really matter."

Indeed, Olson said this week that he's OK with his quarterback giving his athletic receivers a chance to make plays. Even if the risk is giving away possession.

"Blake has to trust that if I throw you the ball up to you, you’re certainly going to break up any type of interception opportunity that may happen," Olson said. "If that happens, there’s certainly more trust involved in that. Those guys have done that for Blake. There’s certainly a lot more trust in making those types of throws. They’ve made some tremendous catches throughout training camp and we’ve seen that from them. The more and more confidence that they get in that, the more and more you’ll see those types of plays."

The Patriots are expecting it. Through two weeks, their secondary has helped its team go 2-0 by intercepting four passes, but it has also allowed 8.7 yards per pass attempt to its opponents, which is 28th in the league in that category.

"I think the key is we got a lot of room to improve," McCourty said. "I think it's been a good start, obviously. We started off 2-0, but I think the key for us, we've watched some film and we can see the things we can improve on. I think it's actually getting those things done each week. Not just kind of getting it done and then adding more things. It's knocking things off one by one as we go throughout the week.

"I thought we did a good job last week, but we didn't finish. Each week we're gonna have more things we need to work on, but I think we gotta focus on making sure week to week we start improving in certain areas so we can move on and get better as a unit."

It's a unit that came under significant scrutiny this offseason and through training camp as the Patriots coped with the departures of corners Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington. Though it hasn't been perfect, McCourty said, he believes the secondary that is in house will only get better, and he's confident that it can contribute to the team's overall success this season.

 

"I still feel we have a group that has a chance," McCourty said. "Obviously we don't have as many big names as last year or anything like that, but I feel the same way I felt back in the spring. We have a chance to go out there and compete and win football games. I still feel the same way now."