Patriots’ Versatility In Shorthanded Secondary Will Come In Handy Vs. Jets

The New England Patriots are lucky they’re playing against one of the worst receiver corps ever constructed (no offense). If the Patriots weren’t playing the New York Jets this weekend, their cornerback situation would warrant serious concern.

New England will be without its No. 1 and 3 cornerbacks in Stephon Gilmore (concussion) and Eric Rowe (groin). Rowe was ruled out Friday, and Gilmore surprisingly was declared inactive Saturday after he didn’t make the trip with his teammates to New Jersey because of a head injury.

That leaves the Patriots with Malcolm Butler and Jonathan Jones as their starting cornerbacks. Special-teamer Johnson Bademosi, who has yet to take a defensive snap for New England this season, is the only other healthy cornerback on the Patriots’ roster. The team didn’t sign a corner off the practice squad by Saturday’s 4 p.m. deadline.

The most likely scenario is that Patriots safeties Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty will play near the line of scrimmage in pseudo-cornerback roles. That’s the benefit of having two safeties with versatility: Although the Patriots were a bind after Gilmore’s concussion symptoms appeared, they didn’t have to make a rash roster decision.

Chung essentially served as New England’s slot cornerback in Week 5 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, anyway, covering receiver Adam Humphries. Chung had his best game of the season, allowing four catches on eight targets for 40 yards with a touchdown but recording three pass breakups. Chung regularly plays cornerback for the Patriots and even covered Indianapolis Colts top wideout T.Y. Hilton two years ago. McCourty began his Patriots career at cornerback.

Chung likely will cover Jets wide receiver Jeremy Kerley, who works from the slot on 74.7 percent of his passing snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. That would leave Butler and Jones to take on Jermaine Kearse and Robby Anderson. Either McCourty or a linebacker would cover tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

Obviously, New England would rather have Gilmore and Rowe in its defense against the Jets. But those two players have been in the middle of most of the team’s communication issues on defense. Butler, Jones, Chung, McCourty and free safety Duron Harmon all have two seasons of experience playing on the Patriots’ defense. While Gilmore and Rowe are better cornerbacks than Jones, Chung or McCourty, New England’s defense will have non-verbal communication on its side.

The Jets would be smart to force the Patriots into their dime defense, which would mean putting Bademosi or Jordan Richards on the field. Using four receivers means taking a running back or tight end off the field, however, which would make their offense more predictable. The Jets’ No. 4 receiver this season has been rookie ArDarius Stewart.

The Jets will be without top running back Bilal Powell, so even before Gilmore was ruled out, New York likely was going to go pass-heavy regardless against the Patriots.

New England’s secondary has left a lot to be desired so far this season. Now, it has added an extra layer of difficulty to covering the pass.

Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images

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