According to one source, The New England Patriots are planning on moving Devin McCourty to safety on a permanent basis as they prepare to bring Aqib Talib into the fold. There has been talk of the move ever since last week's trade, and while absolutely nothing is official, it certainly raises more questions as to what the Patriots plan to do to fix their
garbage defense struggling secondary. Is McCourty at safety the answer? Or is it just another band aid on what has become a perennially open and constantly gushing wound?
Why it's a good move: As the insane amount of big plays the Patriots have given up this season shows, New England is struggling mightily at safety right now with both Steve Gregory and Pat Chung out with injuries. Rookie Tavon Wilson is coming along nicely, but he is still a rookie, and after him the team has to turn to rugby badass turned special teamer Nate Ebner on the depth chart. McCourty provides some stability back there and is a veteran presence at a weak position. Putting McCourty at safety will also eliminate a lot of fan frustration over his sudden and inexplicable ability to turn his head when defending a receiver and drawing a PI call as a result; safeties almost always play with their heads turned towards the quarterback and move more laterally as opposed to up and down the field, which in theory should mean less bowel-clenching flags and fewer opportunities for my neighbor to explain to his 6 year-old daughter why the fat man across the street keeps yelling out the word "craptard." Furthermore, McCourty has the speed and the hands to be a solid cover saftety, which in turn will allow Chung to assume his more natural role of in-the-box safety that helps stop the run and eliminates middle of the field crossing routes. While a fair amount of the criticism Chung has received as of late is warranted, he has never been a good coverage safety and was more forced into the role via deficiencies elsewhere. McCourty may help to eliminate that deficiency, and thus he and Chung may represent the strongest safety duo the Patriots can field in 2012.
Why it's a bad move: While McCourty and Chung may be the strongest safety duo the team can field, I'm not sure having DMC back there will allow the Patriots to field the strongest possible overall defense. You can make a pretty good case for a secondary consisting of Chung and McCourty at safety, Talib and Dennard at outside DB, and a combination of Arrington/Cole in the slot as the strongest possible defensive lineup, and I wouldn't necessarily disagree with you. However, I personally think that DMC can be of best service to the team as a corner. Contrary to popular opinion, McCourty has been having a pretty good season at cornerback thus far, and having him and Talib as the right and left outside DB allows for a lot of flexibility in terms of who plays the slot and allows for a very physical, aggressive secondary that can make a lot of tackles and cause a lot of punishment. Of course, I'm operating under the assumption that Gregory will return and will be able to split reps with Wilson as the coverage safety, the way they did earlier on in the season. But should Gregory return, I think it makes much more sense to keep McCourty at DB, funnel receivers into the middle, and see how they like being the salami in a Spikes/Chung sandwich.
My take: While I do think that McCourty will see some more significant reps at safety as the season goes on, by no means do I think that it's a permanent move. We haven't even seen Talib play a single snap in a Patriots uniform yet, and so forgive me for reserving judgment until I see what kind of corner he becomes within this system. In a defense as game-plan specific as the Patriots, to call any move permanent would be a bit short-sighted. What is more likely to happen is that we'll see McCourty at safety during games where there is a particularly dangerous player to account for, such Andre Johnson or Reggie Wayne. Other weeks, he's likely to shift back to DB where he can play press man coverage and provide run support, which is one of the areas where he excels. In theory, it's a good problem to have, but as usual, theories mean diddly squat on the field. Color me, as usual when it comes to making moves with this defense, cautiously optimistic yet steeled for disappointment.