Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has used a host of combinations at safety this season, so there's no guarantee that McCourty's positional transition will stick. However, his move to the position makes sense because he's got the size, speed, vision and playmaking ability to succeed at safety, and some of that was on display during the Patriots' 49-21 victory against the Bills.
McCourty's down year at cornerback has been well-documented. Though he had turned it around in recent weeks, he wasn't getting close to his All-Pro form from a season ago.
Still, while lined up at safety, he had an interception (off a dropped pass) and five tackles. McCourty, who had some time at safety during lower levels of competition, appeared to get more comfortable with his reads as Sunday's game wore on. At first, he was having some trouble falling too deep into the zone and losing some assignments in crossing patterns due to the different level of spacing over the middle.
Those are things that can be corrected with film study and experience, but considering McCourty only practiced at safety for a week, he wasn't too bad Sunday.
"I loved it," safety Patrick Chung said. "He got an interception, a bunch of tackles and a bunch of big hits. … He's a good player. He can get the ball. He can tackle. He can hit, and that's what you need in a safety."
McCourty admitted that he started to get more of a feel for the position Sunday. He actually started at cornerback in the Patriots' base 4-3 set, but he moved to safety when they played in the nickel with a combination of Kyle Arrington, Antwaun Molden, Nate Jones and Julian Edelman at cornerback.
"When you're on the edge, you have a different angle to see the offense," McCourty said. "You're looking outside in, but when you're in the middle, you can see the whole picture just standing right there."
The decision going forward will have plenty of layers, perhaps most importantly surrounding how much Belichick wants to tinker with the defense at this stage of the season, even with the bye week ahead. The main (or simplest) question: Is the combination of McCourty at safety and Molden at corner better than the one of McCourty at corner and James Ihedigbo at safety?
Belichick and his staff have two weeks to figure that out before the divisional round at Gillette Stadium.
"We're just trying to improve our team," Belichick said. "We worked with [McCourty] and [Chung] back there all week and thought it looked good this week in practice, so we went with it during the game. I'm sure it could be better, but I thought they gave us some things back there."
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