Three games into the season and so far the Patriots secondary – which most feared would be combustible in 2015 – has yet to go up in flames.
Not that it’s been challenged by Marino, Montana and Unitas so far. The Patriots have gone against Ben Roethlisberger, Tyrod Taylor and Blake Bortles in the first three weeks. And this week, it’s Brandon Weeden. It’s like back-slapping a professional golfer for shooting 59 on a par-3 course.
The Patriots have held things down on the back end with an interesting week-to-week rotation of players. While 2014 was a season where the team rolled with guys in the same spots pretty consistently, this season the rotation is deep.
Asked on Tuesday about the development and rotations on the back end, Bill Belichick said, “We have some players back there that weren’t with us last year. We have quite a few players that were. There is definitely a mixture there. We’ve always been a team that’s tried to do what we feel is best to play the specific opponent that we have, and that includes different personnel groupings, sometimes different positions, sometimes different schemes. But that’s a part of what we do in varying degrees. I think that’s always been a component of it.”
The shuffling since preseason began has included safety Devin McCourty at corner, Robert McClain (since released) at outside corner and nickel, Tarell Brown and Logan Ryan inside and outside, Duron Harmon at corner and safety, Patrick Chung at safety and nickel, Bradley Fletcher on the field and on the bench.
In the Patriots most recent game against the Jaguars, it was rookie Justin Coleman out there for his first NFL action.
Belichick understands that it looks like a mish-mash.
“Some games may look a little more different to the fans or the media or even ourselves than others. Some may look kind of the same…. It’s all an attempt to try to put ourselves in the most competitive position we can,” he explained. “We ask a lot of those guys and everybody on the team to do that. They do a good job of it. They have versatility. They’ve all played multiple roles – inside, outside, man, zone, flipping over, not flipping over, matching up, not matching up – a lot of different combinations. We do that in training camp and in the spring to try to give ourselves some versatility and flexibility.”
In each of the first three games – particularly the last two – quarterback mobility was a concern. That meant a little more zone than the first game. Against the Jaguars, the downfield throwing of Bortles landed the not-so-fluid Fletcher on the bench and Peters was summoned.
“How they come up from game to game just really depends on that individual game and the game plan,” Belichick explained. “What we do this week doesn’t necessarily have a great correlation to next week, but that includes all three phases of the game – not just defense and not just the secondary. You’ll probably see that on offense and even in the kicking game too.
“Bottom line is we ask (the secondary) to do quite a bit so we have some versatility back there and then we try to do the things that we feel are best,” Belichick added. “It’s a good group to work with. They really work well together, help each other out, study together, have a lot of good camaraderie and communication, and we still have a lot of work to do. We’ll see how it all comes together this week.”