FOXBORO, Mass. — Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty has quietly improved in recent weeks after a very rough stretch in late September.
The difference, at least in a few weeks, has been a defensive game plan that has been more conducive to McCourty's strengths. In the first two weeks of the season, against Miami and San Diego, McCourty was given a lot of responsibility in man coverage, and he wasn't always afforded the luxury of having a safety at his back. Clearly, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick believed McCourty was ready to take on more responsibility after a phenomenal rookie season.
Once it appeared they gave him more responsibility than he was ready to handle, the coaching staff backed off and gave him more of a blanket in the third level.
It hasn't been a universal change, but the intentions have been evident. McCourty has played better in recent weeks — despite a couple hiccups in Pittsburgh with a softer coverage scheme that wasn't conducive to success — but he's still looking for his first interception, and he hasn't had a pass defense since Week 3.
The statistical shortages can always mean different things for cornerbacks. There have been times when McCourty hasn't played the ball as well in the air as he did last season, but there have been other occasions when he simply hasn't been thrown on as much.
With a chance to play with a safety over the top a little bit more, it should yield more opportunities for McCourty to make more plays on the ball.
"At times, you can," McCourty said. "I think with different coverages and different things on the film, each defense allows you to do something different, and usually it takes something else away. When playing defense, you can always do one thing, and one defense, not another. It's kind of switching up.
"I'm just playing, and I think that's what I've been doing, getting better and just trying to make plays."