As we slowly move towards the beginning of the 2014 NFL season, a point of emphasis among New England Patriots fans and reporters has been how good the secondary will be this year. This is largely due to the acquisition of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, who are two of the best cover corners in the league.
However an underrated aspect of the defensive backfield, is who watches over the talented corners. Devin McCourty, the fifth year safety out of Rutgers, is the glue of this secondary. McCourty doesn’t get nearly enough credit for the job he does in the back end. A lot of people just think he is an average safety, who does what is needed to get by. But in reality, McCourty is right up there with Earl Thomas, who is widely regarded as the best safety in the game. While not as physical as Thomas, McCourty is better in coverage, and more importantly, I think he is a better leader, and student of the game.
McCourty’s stats aren’t nearly as gaudy as Thomas’ are, but this is another situation where stats don’t tell the whole story. McCourty was given control of this defense back in 2012, and since then, they have improved in a big way. Before McCourty switched to safety, Bill Belichick’s defense was giving up long bombs every single week. Since then, most of the yardage they have given up has come in front of the safeties, something that McCourty is responsible for.
For this 2014 season, McCourty’s job will be even easier. Having corners like Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner in front of him will make his job a hell of a lot easier. But that doesn’t mean the Pats won’t need him to have another excellent campaign. Even guys like Revis get beat, and you need an alert safety ready to limit the damage. In addition to this, when you add two new guys to a system, there is bound to be miscommunications, and mishaps every once in a while. When you have a guy like McCourty looking over everybody, these mistakes won’t hurt the defense nearly as much as they could.
Good cornerbacks help make a secondary elite. But what really makes that unit, is the guys watching over them. As great as Darrelle Revis is, he is not leading this Patriots defensive backfield. Kyle Arrington has been in New England longer than McCourty has, but that doesn’t make him the guy in this group. If it weren’t for McCourty standing behind these guys, making sure everything goes according to plan, opposing quarterbacks would have a field day on this defense.
McCourty brings a lot of skills to the table. He is quick, smart, has good ball skills, has a great knowledge of what to do against certain offensive looks, and is actually a decent return man. However, what sets him apart from the rest, is his quiet ability to lead the team in the right direction, get them in the right spots, and take them to the next level. That is what an elite safety does.