FOXBORO, Mass. — For the first nine weeks of the season, when the Patriots’ defensive backs were healthy, New England mostly stayed in man coverage.
Then, as injuries started to mount, the Patriots came out of the bye week flashing more zone looks against the Panthers, Broncos and Texans. Carolina and Denver were able to find some holes in New England’s zone in Weeks 11 and 12, but Houston was really able to exploit the switch in scheme.
Andre Johnson was able to get free on numerous occasions and the Patriots went back to mostly man in the second half. Case Keenum completed 9-of-15 passes in the first half and 6-of-15 in the second half. It’s not as black and white as zone coverage versus man coverage, but the switch in scheme certainly appeared to help New England’s defense.
Here’s how the Patriots’ cornerbacks have stacked up in coverage this season:
Kyle Arrington: 31-59, 464 yards, four TDs, INT, one holding penalty, 52.5 %, 7.9 ypa, 94.2 quarterback rating
Alfonzo Dennard: 29-59, 439 yards, two TDs, INT, 49.2%, 7.4 ypa, 78.3 quarterback rating
Aqib Talib: 20-46, 281 yards, four INTs, one TD, pass interference penalty, two holding penalties, 43.5 %, 6.1 ypa, 34.8 quarterback rating
Logan Ryan: 17-36, 206 yards, three TDs, three INTs, 47.2%, 5.7 ypa, 58.3 quarterback rating
Marquice Cole: 8-14, 94 yards, one TD, one INT, 57.1%, 6.7 ypa, 71.7 quarterback rating
On the whole, New England has given up 2,688 yards on 243 completions and 437 attempts with 18 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, a 55.6-percent completion percentage, 6.7 yards per attempt and a 74.4 quarterback rating.
The Patriots’ cornerbacks have given up 1,484 of those yards on 105 completions and 214 attempts with 11 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, a 49.1-percent completion percentage, 6.9 yards per attempt and a 69.5 quarterback rating.
The fact that the cornerbacks are allowing less than half of the opposition’s attempts to go for completions means, well, they’re winning more than half of their one-on-one matchups. Being one off in the touchdown-to-interception ratio isn’t half bad either.
With this group, it makes sense to stay in man while everyone is healthy. Talib and Dennard have proven to be better man corners, Arrington can play either man or zone and Ryan has made his biggest plays when matched up one-on-one this year.
It’s pretty amazing how big of an impact Ryan has made this season with so many injuries. While Talib has missed time with his hip, Dennard with the knee and Arrington with his groin, Ryan has been the constant among the cornerbacks. Ranking second in interceptions and completion percentage and first in yards per attempt is no small feat among this group of players.
Ryan was expected to be a safe pick out of Rutgers. He wasn’t supposed to be this dominant, though. His best game was Week 12 against Denver when he shut down Eric Decker. Ryan allowed one catch on four targets for four yards, but it was when he was matched up on Wes Welker, not the big outside receiver.
For years, the Patriots stuck with zone coverages for the most part, with two safeties back deep because their cornerbacks couldn’t stick down the field in man and they didn’t have a safety who could play center field.
Now with Talib and Dennard on the edges and Devin McCourty back deep, this team should be able to play any coverage they want. And if the corners keep winning their one-on-one battles, they might as well stay in man.