The positive reinforcement will continue until morale improves!
Ok, ok, maybe this isn’t quite as effective as that Rhode Island Little League World Series coach telling the Cumbahland team they had the whole state jumpin’, but in a league where there’s probably at least half a dozen guys now that could shatter Peyton Manning’s 55-touchdown record, a good secondary is hard to come by and even harder to keep together. Just ask the Legion of Boom. Doubly so for an elite one, which, based on Pro Football Focus’s assessment, is precisely what the 2019 Patriots corners and safeties qualify as in spades.
Fire up PFF’s countdown of the NFL’s best-graded secondaries from best to worst that came out this week, and the cover photo tells you all you need to know:
Yup, that’d be your hometown team that allowed less than one passing touchdown per game on average in 2019 taking home top honors...much like Stephon Gilmore did when he was named PFWA’s Defensive Player of the Year on Tuesday.
Here’s what PFF had to say about the New England secondary’s dominance in 2019:
The Patriots earned a team coverage grade of 92.7 throughout the regular season — the highest grade among NFL outfits — despite playing the highest volume of Cover-0 (67 snaps) of any team in the league. They often left cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones in single-man coverage without the help of a safety over the middle of the field. This high-risk, high-reward approach to pass coverage helped the Patriots haul in a league-leading 25 interceptions and allow the lowest passer rating in the NFL (67.3). Through 16 regular-season games, the Patriots also allowed the fewest pass completions (303), and they were the only team to collect more interceptions than touchdown passes allowed (13).
Normally, that high-risk high-reward Cover-0 blitz approach they’re referring to is just an invitation to get absolutely roasted over the top, except when your starting 4 cornerbacks are adept enough at locking up receivers that both Belichicks running the defense figure “sure, they’ll be fine, send it”.
It’s also kind of interesting that they didn’t include any props for second-year stud JC Jackson in there, given that JC’s been a regular darling on PFF this season and regularly crashes the party on their Team of the Week features. Maybe they just figured JC’s excellence was a given if you’re reading PFF every week anyway?
And since I’m only actually right about 3 or 4 times a year on this here blog, it is worth noting that Belichick’s been working towards building a small army of top-notch cornerbacks for years now, and it’s finally paying off in a secondary that’s borderline impossible to score against. Having a game-wrecker like Aaron Donald on your defensive line is great. This is also 2019....er, 2020, and all the Von Millers in the world won’t save you if your corners are getting barbecued while the pass rush has to get through a wall of 300-lb dudes trying extremely hard to pancake them.
Seriously though, PFF’s also looked at whether a pass rush or a team’s pass coverage affects the outcome of a game more, and came to the mind-blowing conclusion that as much as we all love sacks, “in terms of moving the needle defensively, it’s important to be able to cover well”. Once again, Bill’s got the Patriots ahead of the game in that department.
As we all know, though, Bill Belichick’s not an analytics guy. He just wants guys to tackle better, that’s all there is to it.