The New England Patriots could use another dependable cornerback, but they proved Sunday they don’t necessarily need one.
Safeties Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty are solid in man coverage, so the Patriots deployed them in hybrid-cornerback roles in their 34-27 win over the Indianapolis Colts. Chung, McCourty, Duron Harmon, Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan are the Patriots’ best five defensive backs, and head coach Bill Belichick figured out a way to get them all on the field at the same time.
See how they all were used in this week’s film review:
— The Colts trusted their defensive backs to cover tight end Rob Gronkowski one-on-one, but when he was matched up with a linebacker, the Colts would bump him at the line of scrimmage and/or bracket him with a safety over the top. Gronkowski finally caught his first pass, a 10-yarder, early in the third quarter when he overpowered safety Dwight Lowery. Quarterback Tom Brady then hit Gronkowski for a 25-yard touchdown on the same drive when the Colts linebackers bit hard on play action, leaving the tight end wide open.
— Gronkowski wound up with just three catches for 50 yards and a touchdowns. Wide receiver Julian Edelman had six catches for 50 yards and a touchdown with two drops. He caused Brady’s first interception of the season, when he bobbled the ball into Mike Adams’ hands. Slot receiver Danny Amendola led the team with seven receptions for 105 yards. He was left wide open on two of his bigger plays.
— Running back LeGarrette Blount caught his first NFL touchdown on a scramble play by Brady. Brady showed very impressive pocket presence all game, moving up and down in the pocket as he felt pressure surrounding him. Brady only completed 63 percent of his passes, but it was another great performance from the Patriots quarterback.
— Brady was sacked twice and both Colts defenders came in unblocked. Brady held onto the ball for too long on one play, while the other was simply designed well by the Colts.
— Cameron Fleming, who played right tackle when Marcus Cannon suffered a toe injury, moving Sebastian Vollmer to left tackle, led the team with four pressures allowed.
— Rookie center David Andrews and guard Tre’ Jackson didn’t surrender pressures.
— Check out the Patriots’ pass-protection stats.
— Dion Lewis was obviously hampered by an abdominal injury, but he still showed off quickness and the ability to make defenders miss, carrying the ball just four times for 21 yards.
— Blount mostly just took what was given to him by the Patriots’ offensive line, but he did bowl back linebacker D’Qwell Jackson on a 6-yard carry late in the fourth quarter.
— Cameron Fleming struggled at times to hold his blocks and get a push. He blocked very well on LeGarrette Blount’s 38-yard carry in the second, quarter, however, making two blocks and moving to the second level with ease.
— Guard Shaq Mason also blocked well on Blount’s long run, showing off his athleticism on a pull.
— Tight end Michael Williams and guard Josh Kline and Tre’ Jackson had up-and-down moments as run blockers.
— The Patriots always try to take away the opposing team’s biggest weapon, and on the Colts, that’s wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. Chung surprisingly shadowed Hilton for most of the game, though undrafted rookie Justin Coleman also saw snaps against the speedy, shifty wideout. Chung fared exceptionally well in a tough matchup. He usually covers tight ends, but only allowed one 10-yard catch to Hilton. Chung and Hilton had help from McCourty, Harmon and rookie safety Jordan Richards on Hilton. Linebacker Jamie Collins also helped out.
— McCourty took on a number of roles in the Patriots’ defense, from playing strong safety in a Cover-1, manning up against tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener and wide receivers Griff Whalen and Philip Dorsett, and playing back deep in a Cover-2. The Patriots’ primary nickel set consisted of three safeties (McCourty, Chung and Harmon) and two cornerbacks (Butler and Ryan).
— Butler spent most of his time on wide receiver Donte Moncrief. He allowed five catches on 12 targets for 72 yards with a touchdowns and three near-interceptions. It wasn’t a perfect performance, but it was mostly impressive for the Patriots No. 1 cornerback.
— Harmon gives the Patriots a lot of flexibility because he’s a dependable option deep at free safety. Harmon clearly is one of the Patriots’ best five defensive backs, which is why they’re using three safeties rather than three cornerbacks right now.
— The Patriots switched between zone and man with Cover-1, Cover-2, Cover-3, prevent and Cover-2 man under looks. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was 8 of 14 for 123 yards with two touchdowns, two scrambles and a sack against Cover-2 man under, 12 of 23 for 104 yards with two touchdowns, two sacks and a scramble against Cover-1 man, 8 of 10 for 74 yards against Cover 2 zone, 1 of 2 for 6 yards against Cover-3 zone and 1 of 1 for 5 yards against prevent.
Here they are in the red zone in a Cover-1 shell:
— Check out the Patriots’ pass-coverage stats.
— Defensive tackle Dominique Easley played the best game of his NFL career, with eight total pressures, including .5 sack, four QB hits and three hurries. One of his QB hits caused Andrew Luck to throw the ball away on third and 5 early in the second quarter. On his .5 sack, he nearly made Colts center Khaled Holmes do the splits.
— Chandler Jones had his best game of the season with 2.5 sacks. The Patriots needed Jones to step up with linebacker Dont’a Hightower out and defensive end Jabaal Sheard banged up.
— Check out the Patriots’ pass-rush stats.
— Collins made the Patriots’ lone tackle for loss in the running game, when he blew up his blocker in the red zone and swallowed up Frank Gore for a 4-yard loss.
— Alan Branch, Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich held up well in the run game. Branch and Jones both drew holding penalties.
— Rookie Malcom Brown had his best game last week against the Dallas Cowboys, but he took a slight step back Sunday night struggling to hold his ground at the point of contact.
— Akiem Hicks single-handedly stopped Gore for a 2-yard gain. He held up his blocker early in the second quarter, disengaged and halted Gore near the line.
Thumbnail photo via Kevin Hoffman/USA TODAY Sports Images