Last season the New England Patriots famously displayed the worst defense on a Super Bowl team ever. It was a unit filled with unknown players and injuries. The defense was a far cry from the Patriots defenses of old, which were loaded with Pro Bowlers and regularly ranked among the Top-10 in the league.
The Patriots’ defensive debacle last season proved to be a constant headache and curiosity to head coach and defensive guru, Bill Belichick.
The team finished 31st in the league in total defense, 17th against the rush, and 31st against the pass — giving up a staggering 293.9 yards per game. However, for all the woes they suffered, they still managed a respectable rank of 15th in scoring, second in interceptions, 14th in sacks, and third in turnovers with differential with +17.
The secondary was clearly the weakest link in the defense. Coming off an All-Pro rookie season where he totaled 17 pass breakups and seven interceptions, Devin McCourty suffered the sophomore-slump of all sophomore slumps. With erratic play and appearing lost in coverage, McCourty was moved to free safety for most of the postseason.
The move made an already thin cornerback corps thinner. Second-round rookie, Ras-I Dowling was lost for the season after a mere 91 snaps. That left a revolving door of unprovens – Antuwan Molden and Phillip Adams, wide receivers Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater, and undrafted rookie free-agent Sterling Moore (the savior of the AFC Championship game) to play considerable time. Third-year man Kyle Arrington proved to be the one consistent presence even if his playing wasn’t. A 14 game starter, Arrington broke up 15 passes and tied for the lead league in interceptions with seven.
With such turmoil last season in the secondary, the Patriots went out and reloaded — bringing in veteran corners Will Allen and Marquice Cole and safety Steve Gregory. They also drafted safety Tavon Wilson out of Illinois in the second-round and Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard in the seventh-round.
With such turnover in the secondary, it is hard to imagine how the unit will line up this upcoming season. But Arrington offered a little insight Tuesday. “When you’re in the slot, you have to be able to identify to go anywhere,” Arrington said. “So you’ve really got to understand where your help is on the field intensively. The discipline level has to be higher at that position. You have to see things quicker (in the slot)…I like being where the action is.”
Take it for what you will, but with Arrington moving to the slot that would mean a return to cornerback for McCourty and Dowling being healthy again. Meaning Patrick Chung, Gregory, and the versatile Allen could all vie for starting spots at safety.
But then again, you just never know where players will line up with Bill Belichick making the calls.
By Nathan Rickard