Analyzing The New England Patriots' Defense Following Free Agency
Well Patriots fans, I hope you like soft zone coverage and 42-28 wins, because that is what is headed your way. Goodbye Darrelle Revis, welcome Bradley Fletcher. Goodbye Brandon Browner, welcome Robert McClain. Yes, just as the third and twenty-one conversions by opposing offenses seemed to be a distant memory, the only two legitimate talents at the cornerback position New England has had since 2007 were not re-signed.
Darrelle Revis is such a special player because he can essentially take away half of the field from the opposing offense. His presence gave Bill Belichick the confidence to allow his corners to match up man to man against any receiving corps. The strength of man to man coverage is that every player is accounted for with help from a free safety over the top. It also allows defensive coordinators to draw up more creative schemes. The only drawback to this is that the man coverage better be good, and in the 2014-15 season, it certainly was. Revis and Browner are exceptionally good at jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage and keeping up with almost any pass-catcher in the game. Without these two, Bill Belichick will have to completely change his defensive scheme.
The Patriots will likely be forced to return to a cover two system in which strong armed quarterbacks such as Andrew Luck, Joe Flacco, and Ben Roethlisberger -- whom the Patriots will see next season, can expose easily. It is important to mention that securing Devin McCourty was crucial for New England, as there are few free safeties that play the game at his level. Although this gives New England more versatility from a scheme perspective, it's hard to ignore the current pool of mediocrity at the cornerback position.
The signings of Bradley Fletcher and Robert McClain provide the Patriots with depth. That's a nice way of saying that they are just two mediocre cornerbacks that will likely fail to make an impact. Expect to see second-year cornerback Malcolm Butler take a step in the right direction and improve his play -- and no, not just because he made that pretty important interception. Butler had been showing promise all season and will be expected to take on a bigger role next year. What’s scary is that Malcolm Butler may be the best option at the cornerback position, considering the remaining corners on the depth chart are Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan, and Alfonzo Dennard.
There are some positives that have come out of the 2015 offseason for the Patriots defense. The signing of Jabaal Sheard can be hugely impactful should the influence of Bill Belichick and the winning culture of the Patriots organization rub off on him. Plagued by injury and inconsistency, Sheard will hope to hit peak form to help improve the New England pass-rush, which they will need in order to compensate for the lack of quality coverage players.
Let's make this clear -- the sky isn't falling in New England by any means. The Patriots will still win the AFC East regardless of the fact that the competition within the division has significantly improved. They are still the defending Super Bowl Champions, and will continue to benefit from having the greatest defensive mind in the history of the game in Bill Belichick. The loss of Darrelle Revis does indeed change things, and will surely create multiple unnecessary headaches, but Patriots fans have seen this movie before. Someone will step up and prove their worth... right? Who knows, maybe Sterling Moore could answer that question.