FOXBORO, Mass. — It might be time to give the New England Patriots’ secondary a catchy nickname. They’ve certainly earned one, playing at a Legion of Boom-like level over the first two weeks of the season.
It should come as no surprise the Patriots’ defensive backfield is playing at a high level through two games. All offseason, the unit was hyped based on its level of talent, experience, continuity and depth. What might come as a shock to some is that the group has no equal so far this season.
The Patriots’ defense has allowed just a 43.8 passer rating through two weeks. That leads the NFL. Quarterbacks are 45-of-86 for 418 yards with no touchdowns and five interceptions against the Patriots. New England rosters the NFL’s first-, fourth- and 13th-ranked cornerbacks and fifth- and seventh-ranked safeties, according to Pro Football Focus‘ grades.
Out of all NFL defensive backs, cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones and safeties Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung all rate in PFF’s top 26 (out of 189). Gilmore is arguably the best cornerback in the NFL. The Patriots might have got a bargain when they signed Jones to a low-market contract extension this offseason.
Only one other NFL team, the Indianapolis Colts, has five players who rate among the top 50 defensive backs. Malik Hooker, Khari Willis, Pierre Desir, Kenny Moore and Rock Ya-Sin rank 6th, 28th, 43rd, 46th and 49th, respectively.
The Patriots are just one of six teams who have five defensive backs who rank in the top 100 — the Patriots, Colts, Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers.
The Patriots’ depth is excellent, as well. Cornerback JC Jackson and safety Duron Harmon have been starters on the Patriots in the past and would be on other NFL teams.
The Patriots’ secondary is undoubtedly talented, but what really sets them apart is their chemistry.
“I mean it feels like it’s so many of the same guys year in and year out,” New York Jets head coach Adam Gase said about the Patriots’ defense Wednesday. “Any time that you can keep a pretty good core of guys together, they just learn the techniques that are being asked, the philosophy behind how they play. It just becomes ingrained in them, and I feel like these guys just do such a great job of playing as a group.”
Devin McCourty is in his 10th year on the Patriots. Jason McCourty is only in his second year in New England, but he’s Devin’s twin brother. Chung also is in his 10th year on the Patriots. Safety Nate Ebner is in his eighth year, Harmon is in his seventh, Jones is in his fourth, Gilmore is in his third and Jackson is in his second. Safety Terrence Brooks and rookie cornerback Joejuan Williams are first-year Patriots.
Continuity is hard to come by in today’s NFL, and usually, it comes at the expense of youth and value. Players like Chung and the McCourtys, all 32 years old, are considered old by the NFL’s standards. But the Patriots’ defense relies so much on communication that experience is worth the offset of cost and upside.
“Overall, our secondary communication has been great, and I think that’s allowed each guy to play their best football,” Devin McCourty said Wednesday.
That New England allowed just three points to the Pittsburgh Steelers — with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback — in Week 1 shows their shutout performance in Week 2 was not a fluke. They won’t be seriously tested by another quarterback until Week 8 when Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns come to Gillette Stadium. Before that game, the Patriots have Luke Falk, Josh Allen, Case Keenum, Daniel Jones and Sam Darnold on their schedule.
Expect many more lockdown performances this season.
Thumbnail photo via Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports Images