Devin McCourty Playing Like Top Safety in NFL and Other Observations From Patriots-Jets Film Review

Devin McCourty, Jeff CumberlandAfter losing Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo for the season and Tommy Kelly indefinitely, one would expect the Patriots’ run defense to turn into a sieve.

That was not the case on Sunday, though just by looking at the 177 yards and one touchdown the Patriots allowed, it would appear they had. It’s important to note, of course, that the Jets ran the ball 52 times (52!) on New England. The Patriots’ 3.4 yards per carry allowed was their best of the season and just the second time this year they’ve let up less than 4 yards per attempt.

The offense — and the fact the game went into overtime — are to blame for that astronomical amount of carries. Chris Jones, Joe Vellano, Dont’a Hightower and Brandon Spikes did a great job solidifying the middle of New England’s defense in Wilfork, Kelly and Mayo’s place. The entire defense did a nice job of limiting big plays in the run game. Chris Ivory‘s 17-yard carry was the longest of the game.

The Patriots are only the second team since 1988 to allow less than 3.5 yards per carry on more than 51 rushing attempts. The 2003 Raiders also accomplished that feat.

Obviously not everything went well for the Patriots. Check out how New England played in this week’s film review.

QUARTERBACK

It would be easy to look at Tom Brady‘s 24 incompletions to see the quarterback’s troubles, but he was even having a tough time on the Patriots’ 22 receptions. In the fourth quarter with 1:04 on the clock, Brady zipped the ball to Julian Edelman in the middle of the field. Brady didn’t lead Edelman enough, though, which forced the receiver to slow down a bit, letting Kyle Wilson catch up and stop the sliding Edelman immediately.

Had Brady led Edelman more, he likely could have picked up an extra 5 or 10 yards, which would have been valuable on a drive in which the Patriots were only able to tie the score with a field goal.

Brady struggled after the first quarter, tending to key in on Rob Gronkowski too much. He had two throwaways and 11 off-target incompletions.

Overall grade: 5/10

RUNNING BACKS

The Patriots’ disastrous two opening drives to open the second half had a huge affect on the rushing game. New England was no longer allowed to run out the clock with Stevan Ridley, Brandon Bolden and LeGarrette Blount, and was forced to throw the ball more than 30 times to finish out the game.

The Patriots finished with just 20 carries. Ridley looked impressive, hitting his holes hard and running through the Jets’ imposing defensive line. Ridley had an easy run to the end zone, but his quick cut on the play helped. Bolden was solid, as well. Blount received just one rushing attempt.

Overall grade: 7.5/10

WIDE RECEIVERS

Kenbrell Thompkins had a tough assignment, lined up across from Antonio Cromartie for the majority of the game. Thompkins was lucky to get separation the few times he did. Brady missed Thompkins on the three incompletions thrown toward the rookie. He had some nice yards after catch on the Patriots’ fifth offensive play of the game.

Aaron Dobson had a better time getting open against Dee Milliner, but Milliner has also struggled in his rookie season. Brady missed Dobson multiple times. The rookie has made huge strides since his Week 2 debut.

Edelman was OK, playing in the slot for much of the game. He hasn’t shown the same explosiveness after the catch he displayed in his first few years in the league for much of this season. Austin Collie got 27 reps in the offense but appeared to have trouble getting open.

Overall grade: 6/10

TIGHT ENDS

Rob Gronkowski was up and down in his season debut. He lost one end-zone target in the sun and mishandled a few others. Brady was really keyed in on him for much of the game, targeting the tight end 17 times.

Michael Hoomanawanui struggled on a couple of run blocks.

Overall grade: 6.5/10

OFFENSIVE LINE

For the most part the offensive line held up well against the Jets. Nate Solder gave up two sacks, and Ryan Wendell and Sebastian Vollmer gave up one a piece. Vollmer and Wendell gave up a few more pressures, but for the most part Brady had a lot of time in the pocket, despite playing a great defensive line. Brady’s line was not the cause for his issues.

Wendell had a tough go against both Muhammad Wilkerson and Damon Harrison. Both players treated Wendell like a rag doll while the Patriots were running the ball.

Logan Mankins had a had one of his best games of the season at left guard.

Overall grade: 7.5/10

DEFENSIVE LINE

Overall, I was impressed by both Jones and Vellano. Each got pushed out a few times, and neither is very adept at holding his ground against double teams, but they both did a nice job of shedding blocks and getting into the backfield in the run game. Jones and Vellano were disruptive in the middle of the defense and played a big role in limiting New York to 3.4 yards per carry.

Jones had two sacks and a couple of pressures. Vellano had three total pressures in the passing game. Jones’ most impressive (and funniest) sack came on a barrel role. Shockingly, it looked like Jones went to the ground to bring down Geno Smith by design. Check it out below.

sack

Chandler Jones was also disruptive in the passing game. He had two sacks and five pressures. Rob Ninkovich wasn’t overly productive in the passing game, but he also had to watch for Geno Smith‘s scrambles. Both Ninkovich and Chandler Jones had good games setting the edge in the run game.

The defensive line’s worst plays came on two scrambles by Smith in the third quarter. On the first, the Jets were in a third-and-14 situation. Smith ran the ball 14 yards after Michael Buchanan over-pursued, Marquice Cole didn’t have his eyes on the quarterback, then couldn’t stop Smith before he reached over the first-down line.

On the second, an 8-yard touchdown, Ninkovich over-pursued, Hightower turned his head after Smith started his scramble, and Cole got his ankles broken by a less-than-impressive juke by the Jets quarterback.

Marcus Forston looked better than Andre Neblett as reserves. Forston took up space as the nose tackle in the Patriots’ big 3-4 alignment.

To check out the defensive line’s pass rush stats, click here.

Overall grade: 8/10

LINEBACKERS

Hightower’s weakest plays of the game were the above Smith touchdown and three times when the linebacker had a tough time keeping up with his receiver. Two were when he was covering tight end Jeff Cumberland and another was on athletic freak receiver Stephen Hill. Outside of those three plays in coverage (where Jerod Mayo may have had trouble as well), Hightower did a great job of doing a Mayo impression.

Hightower stuffed the run well next to Brandon Spikes, got after Smith a couple of times and did a nice job dropping into his zones in coverage. Hightower was all over the field, just as he needed to be. Dane Fletcher was a quality fill-in when Hightower had to come off the field.

Spikes had another good game against the run. He continues to be the Patriots’ most explosive linebacker against the run, blowing up play after play. He also tends to get a bit excited at times, though. He missed his gap on one running play and over-pursued on a couple more. Spikes continues to struggle a bit in coverage, though he was not targeted.

Jamie Collins was impressive in the first quarter, especially coming off the edge in the pass game. As the Jets began to run the ball more, though, Chandler Jones was taken off the line and moved to outside linebacker. Collins should see more snaps as a pass rusher in the future.

To check out the linebackers’ coverage and pass rush stats.

Overall grade: 7/10

CORNERBACKS

Alfonzo Dennard had another dominant game. He allowed just two receptions for 23 yards. He also had a beautiful pass breakup over Hill. Dennard isn’t playing much worse than Aqib Talib.

Kyle Arrington appeared to get benched midway through the second quarter. He was having a tough time keeping up with Jeremy Kerley, though the slot receiver was fairly dominant all game. It seemed like Belichick pulled the trigger in taking Arrington out a too quickly. Arrington was having trouble following Kerley’s cuts.

Logan Ryan played well in Talib’s place. He got beat by David Nelson a couple of times but also had the Patriots’ play of the day when he jumped Nelson’s route for a 79-yard pick-six.

Cole played well in coverage but struggled on Smith’s two scrambles.

To check out the cornerbacks’ coverage stats, click here.

Overall grade: 7.5/10

SAFETIES

Devin McCourty had one of his best games as a Patriot. He’s really coming into his own as a safety and may be the best at his position in the NFL right now. He’s a solid tackler, drew a big pass interference penalty in the end zone and had an incredibly athletic pass breakup in the end zone.

Steve Gregory also played well in the run and pass games, save for one costly pass interference penalty when he failed to turn his head on a target to Cumberland. Duron Harmon also played well, despite taking one bad angle that was less glaring because Smith’s pass resulted in an incompletion. Harmon had a great pass breakup near the end of the first half.

To check out the safeties’ coverage stats, click here.

Overall grade: 9/10

Offensive MVP: Stevan Ridley

Defensive MVP: Devin McCourty

Have a question for Doug Kyed? Send it to him via Twitter at @DougKyedNESN or send it here.

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