The New England Patriots might have found their starting secondary in the third week of preseason.
Malcolm Butler is a lock to start at left cornerback, and Tarell Brown appears ready to go at right cornerback in the “regular” defense, then moving inside in nickel. Bradley Fletcher, who has had two consecutive impressive performances and earned a compliment from Bill Belichick after Friday night’s 17-16 win over the Panthers, has come a long way since training camp and looks like he could earn the No. 3 role, playing right cornerback while Brown moves to the slot.
Devin McCourty was back at free safety, as he should be, and Patrick Chung was in his normal spot at strong safety. Duron Harmon came in to play back deep with McCourty in obvious passing situations.
It’s not a secondary that will rival last year’s Patriots defensive backfield or the Legion of Boom in its prime, but it could be serviceable, especially with an improved pass rush.
Check out this week’s defensive charting stats:
Robert McClain: 3-3, 37 yards
Patrick Chung: 2-3, 28 yards
Tarell Brown: 2-4, 21 yards, two pass breakups
Nate Ebner: 1-1, 20 yards
Bradley Fletcher: 2-3, 17 yards
James Morris: 3-4, 14 yards, TD
Daxton Swanson: 1-4, 8 yards, two pass breakups
Jamie Collins: 1-3, 6 yards
Jerod Mayo: 1-1 5 yards
Rob Ninkovich: 1-1, 5 yards
Tavon Wilson: 1-1, 5 yards
Duron Harmon: 1-1, 4 yards
Malcolm Butler: 0-4, pass breakup
Devin McCourty: 0-1
Trey Flowers: 0-1
Logan Ryan: 0-1, pass breakup
— Brown (slot), Fletcher (right cornerback) and Butler (left cornerback) started against the Panthers and all played well. Butler and Brown were beaten on a screen, but the refs should have flagged the Panthers for illegal men downfield and illegal contact.
— McClain was the only cornerback who really struggled, allowing three completions. He fared better in the run game.
— Morris still needs work as a pass defender before he can be a dependable reserve linebacker on third down.
— Swanson really impressed late in the game, with two pass breakups and solid coverage, but it was against Joe Webb, who didn’t complete a single pass.
Dominique Easley: sack, QB hit
Rufus Johnson: QB hit, hurry
Chandler Jones: sack
Jabaal Sheard: QB hit
Casey Walker: QB hit
Geneo Grissom: QB hit
Jamie Collins: hurry
James Morris: hurry
— Easley and Johnson were consistently disruptive when they were on the field.
— The Patriots used a front seven on the second drive that included Jones and Sheard at defensive end and Rob Ninkovich at outside linebacker.
— The Patriots also used a NASCAR front later in the game with Rufus Johnson, Trey Flowers, Geneo Grissom and Xzavier Dickson, all edge defenders, across the defensive line.
— Overthrew Scott Chandler
— Throwaway while under pressure
— Interception after Aaron Dobson has ball wrestled from him
— Interception after Dobson doesn’t finish route, Brady doesn’t see safety
— Thrown behind Reggie Wayne, who gets a hand on the ball
— Batted at the line of scrimmage
— Thrown directly at defender
— Throw directly at defender/miscommunication with Chris Harper
— Thrown behind Dobson
— Pass breakup
— Dobson really had trouble fighting for the ball Friday night. He didn’t help Brady on either interception.
— Outside of Garoppolo’s first two incompletions, both of which he threw on his opening series, the second-year pro played very well.
— Brady was struggling until his final drive. It seems like really misses his usual targets.
Nate Solder: three hurries
David Andrews: two hurries
Sebastian Vollmer: hurry
Josh Kline: hurry
Shaq Mason: hurry
Chris Martin: hurry
— The Patriots’ offensive line held up well in the passing game for the second consecutive week.
— Solder was beat three times, but none of them were blatant. He’ll be fine.
— Andrews has issues with getting overpowered. He has high upside once he gains some additional playing strength.
Thumbnail photo via Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports Images