The New England Patriots were able to seal their victory over the Houston Texans when CB Logan Ryan intercepted a pass at WR DeAndre Hopkins and returned it to the 6-yard line. Two runs by RB Dion Lewis later and the Patriots held a 31-16 lead.
Ryan credited FS Devin McCourty with setting up the interception.
“Devin literally called the play,” Ryan said after the game. “He said, ‘Hey, if he runs the in-cut, get underneath him.’ So I was fortunate to get underneath Hopkins and the ball was a little high and Devin was right there. It was a tip and I was able to be where the ball was. We actually talked about the play before it happened which was crazy. But, that’s something that with film study and preparation we’re able to talk about and able to do. They ran exactly what we thought they would and we were able to capitalize.”
McCourty apparently told Ryan to cut underneath Hopkins if the receiver ran towards the middle of the field (more on that later), and was able to tip the ball to the cornerback. McCourty, in turn, credited the defensive line for generating the pressure that led to the sack (again, more on that later).
“A lot of people have said how bad we are rushing the passer, so I guess they’ll evaluate this and they’ll probably still say we’re bad at it,” McCourty said after the game, “but we know what we can do up front, and I think it’s the back end talking to the front end, the front end talking to us, and we just keep everybody going. When they’re able to get after the quarterback and we feel that, we’re getting after it and trying to make good plays in the back end.
“Really, my interception was a ball that was behind, Logan’s was a high ball. That comes from the front. That’s the front causing pressure, making sure the quarterback’s not just back there and feeling comfortable, that’s them. That’s always – when you’re playing good in the secondary and getting interceptions, that’s usually because those front four, the front seven are doing a good job. Complementary football – that’s the way we’ve been winning and we’ve got to continue to do that.”
So let’s go to the tape to see how the defensive line pressured Texans QB Brock Osweiler, Ryan undercut Hopkins, and McCourty was able to tip the ball for an interception.
Q4 1-10-HST 11 (13:00) B.Osweiler pass deep middle intended for D.Hopkins INTERCEPTED by L.Ryan at HST 29.
Hopkins is lined up on the nearside of the field across from Ryan. Ryan is responsible for the shallow zone in the cover two defense, which is why Hopkins gains separation. McCourty flashes his brilliant closing speed to contact the receiver before he can bring down the ball and Ryan is able to scurry over to collect the ricochet.
The Texans actually ran a really good coverage beater, with the tight end running up the seam, drawing away the linebacker that was supposed to inhabit the zone Hopkins was about to enter across the middle, while also knowing that McCourty was responsible for stepping up to cover Hopkins.
Fortunately, the Patriots defensive line was able to pressure Osweiler and force him to throw the ball before the play could develop:
...oh. Wait. The Patriots “rushed” defensive tackles Alan Branch and Malcom Brown, while Trey Flowers spied Osweiler to make sure he didn’t scramble. Osweiler had hours in the pocket and just straight up overthrew Hopkins. McCourty and Ryan did well to capitalize on the mistake, but, man. Osweiler missed a relatively easy throw and ended up giving the Patriots great field position.
McCourty is usually right to credit the pressure by the defensive line whenever the secondary makes a play on the ball. Usually. This is not one of those times.