Do you remember the last time the New England Patriots gave up a touchdown? It was the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship Game against the Kansas City Chiefs, a contest New England ultimately won in overtime. Since then, the team’s defense has played eight quarters of football against some of the best competition in the NFL — the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl 53, the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night.
Along the way, the unit surrendered a grand total of two field goals. Needless to say that it has been playing some pretty good football lately, with the 33-3 blowout win against the Steelers just more proof that it can be named among the best defenses in all of football. The reasons for that as they relate to Sunday’s victory are rather easily explained, though, at least according to Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty.
“I think we just did a good job. Every time we play a good defensive performance, it’s because we kind of stuck to the game plan. I would say that’s what we did [on Sunday],” he said during his postgame press conference. “I talked about during the week just being able to adjust, and they gave us a lot of different things. Whether it was a two-back situation, if it was four-wide, five-wide, they did a bunch of different things.”
“I think our ability to adjust and communicate out there helped us out a lot on defense, and that’s something that we just have to continue to work on and get better because teams are going to do different things,” he continued. “I think it helps. We’ve got a lot of guys that could start on a lot of teams in the NFL, and guys are very selfless. Come out here, prepare when their number’s called and go out there and play, and I think we’ve just got to keep that mentality all throughout.”
McCourty’s recipe for success — following the game plan and being able to adjust on the fly — sounds relatively simple, but is actually not that easy to pull off. After all, players need to be on top of whichever situation comes up and simultaneously also be able to trust their teammates to do the same. Luckily for the Patriots, they have a mix of talent and experience few other defenses in the NFL possess. This, in turn, also impacts the unit’s communication.
“We just did a good job of getting on the same page on every play,” said McCourty. “A lot of that comes from just being able to talk on the sideline. You’ll see sometimes, the whole coaching staff is still meeting, talking about the last series and we’re over there, [Jason McCourty] is holding the [Microsoft] Surface and we’re going over it on our own because we’ve got a lot of guys that have played here for a long time.”
“I thought that showed up throughout the game, us just continuing to talk and try to get things on the same page,” the 32-year-old added. New England’s defense certainly appeared to be on that same page McCourty mentions on Sunday — and the numbers reflect this: Pittsburgh did gain 308 yards, yes, but went only 3-of-12 on third down while also turning the football over three times; twice on downs and once thanks to a McCourty interception.
The most important number, however, was the one on the scoreboard: 3. The Patriots executing the game plan, adapting when necessary and communicating well all contributed to achieving this — just like it did back against the Rams in February.