Patriots

Patriots

FOXBORO -- The Patriots secondary has seen a real shift over the course of the last month. J.C. Jackson has become, for all intents and purposes, the team's No. 2 corner.

It's not as though Jason McCourty needed to see his workload diminished on the outside. But that's the way it's worked out in recent weeks. 

In tracking Jackson and McCourty's snap counts, Jackson's promotion and McCourty's dialed-back workload may have been the byproduct of one specific matchup in Week 13.

That was when the Patriots took on the Vikings, who have two clear-cut No. 1 receiving options in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. The Patriots had struggled at the "star" spot defensively so they bumped McCourty inside to check Adam Thielen, who primarily works the middle of the field. That meant Jackson took the boundary corner spot opposite Stephon Gilmore.

With an expanded level of playing time -- Jackson played 21 snaps in Week 12 and 54 in Week 13 -- the undrafted rookie played well that day. He was targeted seven times, allowing just four catches for 23 yards, and he broke up a pass that was picked by Duron Harmon.

Since then the Patriots have put more and more on his plate and he's responded well. He's missed just 18 snaps of 173 snaps over the last three games, and against Buffalo last week Jackson made his third interception of the season.

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"Steady," Belichick said of Jackson on Wednesday. "Steady grinder. One day at a time, just trying to get better. If he makes mistakes, try to correct it. He works at it, usually shows some improvement in that area, go on to something else. 

 

"But, his durability, his consistency and just being out there every day practicing, doing things, getting corrected, getting better, working on them the next day. I mean, that’s really how you improve. So, practicing and being durable and being consistent, it goes a long way."

Jackson is now, according to Pro Football Focus, allowing a quarterback rating of 34.6, which is the best in football among corners who've played at least 25 percent of their team's snaps.

McCourty has the ability to play the "star" but is new to that position this year, and his fit there is dependent on a given week's matchup. Regardless of where he plays, he's still among the highest-graded corners in football, according to PFF. 

McCourty was essentially an every-down player beginning in Week 3, but he saw his snaps dip to 31 (of 48) in Miami. He didn't miss a snap in Pittsburgh, but then he played 33 snaps of a possible 61 plays against the Bills, causing a pair of turnovers and helping to secure what was his first divisional championship.

A versatile player, one who is going to approach his gig similarly regardless of his role against a certain opponent, McCourty has won himself a fan in Bill Belichick.

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"Jason’s been great," Belichick said. "He, again, missed the spring, went to training camp, and then at the end of training camp, really when we were a little light there at safety. You know, Pat [Chung] missed a couple weeks, Jordan [Richards] was gone, Nate [Ebner] was working through some stuff – so he ended up playing safety. 

"So, he’s played outside, he’s played safety, he’s played inside in the nickel spot, as well as playing multiple roles in the kicking game. So, we’ve added a lot to his responsibilities. He’s very, very professional, well-prepared, dependable, mature, takes every part of his job very seriously – run force, pass coverage, zone, safety, corner, special teams, whatever it is.  I think his leadership, his communication, his professionalism has been outstanding. Been great to work with. Couldn’t ask for any more."

And now with Jackson's emergence, the Patriots have a good problem on their hands in trying to determine how to divvy up playing time every week. 

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