New England Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan had an excellent 2015 season as a starter. He was a perfect complement to Malcolm Butler, taking on the larger receivers and using technically sound defense to prevent plays to some of the best receivers in the league.
That Ryan was nowhere to be found in 2016 as he was on pace to allow more receptions than any other cornerback in the past decade before he was benched. The Patriots acquired Eric Rowe from the Eagles and Rowe took over the starting job, leaving Ryan to find a place in the defense.
Ryan has adjusted and he has been pretty successful out of the slot over the past few weeks, allowing 4 receptions on 11 targets for 30 yards and 4 pass break-ups over the past two weeks, per NESN’s Doug Kyed, against some pretty good receivers in Jeremy Kerley and Quincy Enunwa.
“I think Logan’s really helped us playing in there,” head coach Bill Belichick said. “We were kind of in a little bit of a transition earlier in the year with the secondary and Logan in particular, outside, inside. I think the last couple of weeks he’s really given us a good level of communication, of run force. He’s made several tackles in the running game, plays off of the edge, but again the overall communication and consistency in there has been good. We’ll try to build on that. So I think that’s been a positive for us here over the past couple of weeks.”
The Patriots have been seeking some semblance of consistency on defense this year, with shake-ups at defensive end, linebacker, and cornerback seemingly every week. Over the past few weeks, it seems like the team has found a combination that works.
Kyle Van Noy and Shea McClellin are splitting time next to Dont’a Hightower at linebacker, while Trey Flowers, Rob Ninkovich, Chris Long, and Jabaal Sheard appear set to divide edge defender snaps evenly for the rest of the year.
Eric Rowe has started opposite of Butler for the past two weeks and has allowed 3 receptions on 10 targets for 39 yards and a pass break-up. If Butler can prove last week’s disaster against the Jets was a fluke, the New England secondary might be hitting its stride at the right time.
Ryan was considered a possible option to transition to safety if he failed to work out at cornerback, so the slot position is an interesting switch. Patrick Chung often covered in the slot this year, but Chung has struggled in coverage at times this year. Ryan allows the secondary to communicate at a high level and it allows Ryan to use his advanced film work to help against the run.
Belichick expects this line-up to last at least for a few more weeks.
“I’m not saying it couldn’t go back to a different situation but we sort of saw this coming over the bye, kind of looking ahead at the next few games and the next part of our schedule,” Belichick said. “Defensively where we are is kind of where we want it to be here through this period. I think [Ryan’s] really done a good job in there of playing not only the slot position but again the communication, the decision making, some of the adjustments that come from that inside spot that have to relate to linebackers, sometimes the end, certainly the safeties that there are a lot of moving parts in there that a good experienced player at that position – it doesn’t show up on the stat sheet.
“It doesn’t show up necessarily on film but in terms of the overall operation, the overall communication and smoothness of the defensive play and help everybody else play better. It’s definitely there and he’s done a good job of that. He and Duron [Harmon] and Patrick [Chung] and Devin [McCourty] – however that goes with those guys inside. They’re all pretty experienced guys that have all played together, some of them all the way back to college, that have a lot of confidence, and trust and communication with each other [and] with High [Dont’a Hightower] in there. I think that’s really been something that’s become more of a strength for us defensively. Again, not that it shows up in the stat sheet but just in terms of the overall defensive group that’s become a real strength for us here in the last couple of weeks and he’s done a good job with it.”
Perhaps Ryan’s play in the slow has allowed Rowe to flourish on the outside, with Ryan and his 4 years of Patriots experience helping to ensure that Rowe, with just three months on the team, executes the right play.
The Patriots will have another good challenge against the Rams talented skill group on Sunday. If Ryan and company can put forth another solid effort, then the Patriots might finally have a defensive grouping that can execute at a high level for the rest of the year.