The New England Patriots restructured the contract of SS Patrick Chung to allow him to make more money in 2017. The additional money is related to the Patriots effectively repeating their 2016 successes, but this was a win-win scenario for both teams.
Pro Football Focus analyzed Chung’s contributions to the Patriots in 2016 and shared some interesting facts about the team’s utilization of the safety.
“Last season Chung had a down year, as his overall grade dipped to 56.5 after putting up impressive 84.4 and 84.7 graded seasons in 2014 and 2015 respectively,” PFF analyst Cyrus Geller writes. “Chung spends most of his playing time within eight yards of the line of scrimmage, as 74.4% of his snaps came there, which was sixth most among 50 qualified safeties.”
Chung also ranked fifth in pass rush productively for safeties, showing his upside when defensive coordinator Matt Patricia can get creative. Keeping Chung by the line of scrimmage allows him to rush the quarterback, cover tight ends in the flat, and serve as effectively another linebacker while remaining in the nickel.
Still, after ranking as a top 10 safety in both 2014 and 2015, Chung plummeted down to 83rd out of 90 safeties in 2016. The Patriots are banking on Chung returning to his previous form, or at least playing closer to league-average.
Head coach Bill Belichick believes that Chung still offers a lot to the team and remains a perfect complement to safeties Devin McCourty and Harmon.
“They work together well,” Belichick said of the safeties last season. “They study and communicate off the field well on how to, as you said, play off each other or work in combination or work on disguises and things like that. They're really pretty interchangeable, and yeah, they do a very good job of not only talking on the field. I mean that's somewhat of a given, but they do a great job off the field in the classroom, in the walkthroughs, just in general of having an idea of ‘Hey, on this play I'll do this. On that play I can do that. How about you do this?'
“And again, Duron [Harmon] is a big part of that, too. So all of those guys really have a very good - you know when Duron is in there he's usually in the safety position with Devin [McCourty] and [Patrick] Chung's in some other position for the most part. There's a lot of that same conversation and communication working with each other; all three of those guys. Again, I don't want to - Patrick and Devin do a great job, I'm not taking anything away from them - but Duron, he's a big part of that, too.”
When all three safeties are on the field, Harmon is the deep safety, while Chung serves as effectively a coverage linebacker and McCourty can flex to multiple depths and match-ups depending on need and opposing personnel.
Chung has been a valuable contributor to the Patriots defense as more and more tight ends move into the slot to serve as receivers. While he struggles to cover these players deep down the field- and more teams exposed that weakness in 2016- hopefully he can regain his prior lockdown form in 2017.