So we've already looked at how opposing coaches have figured out which routes can beat Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty on a consistent basis. One of the more obvious routes in some variation of a sticks depth In route. By "sticks depth" I mean that the wide receiver will run to the first down marker before running his route. By "In" I mean that the receiver will run in towards the center of the field.
The Redskins beat McCourty on a Sticks In route.
It happened in the 2nd quarter with 8:41 left on the clock. It was a moment where I just had to laugh. It happened again. McCourty was lined up against Donte Stallworth and the rest is history. Here's the breakdown:
This screenshot is just to show the position of the safety in support of Devin McCourty. He's positioned around 10 yards behind McCourty, which is fine. The Redskins are motioning a player over to the far side, so safety help is perfectly okay. He's 15 yards off the ball. I've included the route that Stallworth ran. It's technically not an In route since he's running at a slant, but that's more because he rounded off his route instead of running a crisp angle. Still, McCourty is still beaten on the same principle: Throw to the inside, behind the linebackers and in front of the safety.
So the arrow points at Nate Jones who is playing safety in place of Matthew Slater. McCourty is circled in orange and the green represents his coverage route. Stallworth's route is in blue.
After the motion is complete, it's clear that Jerod Mayo is watching the motion man in case he breaks out as a receiver in the flat. Tracy White is focusing on Roy Helu as his job is to stop Helu if he runs the ball, and also to cover him if he becomes an outlet receiver.
By loading both linebackers on one side, and by giving them a coverage assignment, the Redskins have forced the Patriots linebackers to stand close to the line of scrimmage. Of course, that means that Stallworth can run a deep enough route where Rex Grossman can drop the ball behind the linebackers.
This is where everything goes wrong for the defense.
1. McCourty is clearly turning his hips and is showing that he's ready to prevent the pass deep down the field. However, there's not a single player in position to prevent Stallworth if he wants to run to the inside.
2. White and Mayo are at the line of scrimmage and there's a huge pocket behind them as they both bite down on the potential play to Helu. Even Ihedigbo jumps.
3. Ihedigbo is quite literally in no man's land. There was no player for him to cover at the snap, once the player was motioned to the other side of the field.
As a result, McCourty has conceded the inside lane to Stallworth, who makes a quick cut into the open field. There is no linebacker in position to interfere with the passing lane. There's no safety in the area to make a play. It's McCourty one-on-one and he's already shown the receiver how he plans on defending him.
Wait- what? Why is Nate Jones at the 45 yard line, with momentum? It's as if he's running from the 50 yard line to make a tackle on Stallworth. The safety that was supposed to be helping over the top dropped 30 yards deep and left the entire middle of the field wide open (especially because Ihedigbo wasn't covering the shallow part of the middle of the field). Never mind doing their job, neither safety did a job.
Jones dropped far too deep and didn't react to how the play was developing. Ihedigbo didn't do anything. At all.
Whoever the Patriots play as their deep safety needs to learn how to react to a developing play. Far too often, the deep safety doesn't make a play until it's been completed. At least Sterling Moore moved towards the ball when he played safety. Bill Belichick wants an Ed Reed at safety and he hasn't even tried to hide that desire. It's clear that none of these safeties are Ed Reeds waiting to happen.
This play represents how Devin McCourty continues to be beaten on almost the same route week-in and week-out. However, this issue goes far beyond McCourty and his coverage ability. Yes, he needs to stop turning his hips before the play develops. Yes, he needs to read the receiver. No, these completions are not entirely his fault.
The safeties are not helping anyone in this play. If McCourty is playing soft coverage, what use is a safety playing even softer coverage? The linebackers were on a different page than the secondary. These completions are a team issue and they need to be fixed as a team.
It's easy to point at McCourty and say that he gave up the completion. Fact is, there's a lot more than what initially meets the eye.