The New England Patriots defense ended the 2018 season on the highest of notes when it surrendered only three points to the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl 53. The 2019 campaign started in similar fashion: not only did the unit hold the Pittsburgh Steelers to just a single field goal, it also shut out the Miami Dolphins en route to a 43-0 victory that saw two defensive scores and a dominant performance from start to finish.
Miami never stood a chance against a defense that was stout against the run and again playing near perfect coverage in the backend. No matter what the Dolphins and offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea — who spent the last ten seasons as an assistant coach in New England — tried, the Patriots were ready for it. As a result, they registered four turnovers and held Miami to only 38 yards of offense through three quarters.
What is the secret behind the Patriots’ recent streak of defensive success? After last week’s game, safety Devin McCourty named sticking to the game plan, adapting when necessary and communicating well as three key ingredients. After the game in Miami during which he registered an interception, the veteran defender also added consistency to the mix as he noted during his postgame press conference.
“I think it’s about consistency. I think through the years, we have always put up good games, but we’ve been challenging each other to make it a week-in thing,” said the 31-year-old when assessing the standout performance his unit delivered against the Dolphins’ offense on Sunday. “Every week we prepare, fill it up, go over the same things, do the same work, and then come out here and execute each week.”
“I thought this was a good job of — early in the season, not much film on Miami — of just trying to go over everything, go over some of our offense through the years and do a bunch of different things and be prepared,” added McCourty before also pointing out another important aspect: “I think everyone’s playing very selfless, just helping each other out, being where they are supposed to be and then showing up.”
Helping other players out took on a special meaning for McCourty on Sunday: during the second half of the blowout victory, the team captain wore the communication device in his helmet reserved for the player who is calling the on-field signals. Usually, the Patriots trust their linebackers with this job but it seems as if they are expanding and also giving one of their most experienced players an opportunity to call the shots.
This certainly presents a challenge, but for McCourty being able to challenge oneself is important for the Patriots’ defense in order to keep its hot streak of outstanding football alive: “We have to continue to do those things and challenge each other no matter what, being ready to go each week,” he said. At least the last two weeks going all the way back to the 2018 playoffs, the unit certainly looked like it was ready to go each week.
And if it can continue building on performances like the last two, the NFL better watch out.