The Resurgence of Patrick Chung


Patriots safety Patrick Chung has quickly become a valuable asset since his return to the Patriots in 2014. The statistics back up Chung’s massive improvement from a role player to an underrated top strong safety.

New England Patriots strong safety Patrick Chung is an excellent example of making the most of a second chance. The defensive back was drafted as the 34th pick by New England in 2009, but Chung was cast away as soon as he became a free agent. Chung followed his first stint in New England by heading to the Philadelphia Eagles for one short, forgettable season.

Chung only started 10 games with the Eagles, but following a season of disappointment and failed expectations, he was released after the first year of his three-year, $10 million contract. Chung played in just 59.9% of Philadelphia’s defensive snaps, and he only contributed to 814 total snaps (defense + special teams), only 118th best for defensive backs. Many questioned whether he would ever start in an NFL game again.

After failing to be a starting-caliber free safety with Philadelphia, Chung returned to New England and claimed a starting spot as the strong safety across from second-team All-Pro free safety Devin McCourty. Chung excelled in this role, providing valuable support to the run defense, positioning himself in the box as the “third linebacker,” and blanketing big-bodied tight ends.

Chung produced with the Patriots immediately. He recorded 1,023 total snaps in 2014 and saw his playing time with the defense rise to 77 percent of the defensive snaps. His amount of opportunities continued to grow in 2015: Chung was on the field for 1,123 total snaps – second-most on the team and 25th best for defensive backs – and 81 percent of New England’s defensive plays.

Chung’s serviceability in Philadelphia versus New England can also be seen through his appearance in different lineups and formations. In 2013, with the Eagles, Chung was only included in 131 of Philadelphia’s 198 unique defensive lineups throughout the regular season, just 66.2 percent. On the other hand, in 2015, Chung was extremely useful, as he was incorporated into 334 of New England’s 440 unique defensive lineups, 75.9 percent.

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While the dramatic increase in playing time for Chung provides support for the claim that Chung has revitalized his career, the amount of snaps alone doesn’t separate Chung from any average starting strong safety. The film speaks for itself in support of Chung’s career change, but it’s important to quantify his advancement as a player. In terms of regular box scores, it’s hard to portray the success of a safety, as the position is not glamorous statistically, and, like a shutdown cornerback, great safeties often don’t see the ball. One statistic that defends Chung’s growth is NFL Game Statistics Information System’s “Net Yards over Average.”

“Net Yards over Average,” or NYoA, is defined by NFL GSIS as: “net yardage gained by the team while the player was on the field over a rolling six year League average factoring in field position, down, and distance.” For example, if the average yards gained on a third-and-two from the opponent’s 30 yard line was three yards, and the offense gained four yards, then the defenders would earn -1.00 NYoA and the offensive players would earn +1.00 NYoA.

Chung rose from mediocrity to a quality starter after returning to the Patriots. He became an essential part of a revamped Patriots defense that was known for being the Achilles heel of the team in years past. The Patriots defense that had ranked 26th in yards against in 2013 dramatically improved to 13th in 2014 and ninth in 2015, and some credit may be given to Chung. As Chung’s role has increased, more and more chances for Chung to shine appeared, such as limiting Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce to a mere six catches and 23 yards in an AFC Divisional playoff game.

2013Net Yards over AverageRushing NYoA per rushRushing DifferentialPassing NYoA per passPassing Differential
Patrick Chung-76.37 NYoA (51st out of 76 FS)0.41 NYoA-0.07-0.37 NYoA-0.43
Rahim Moore-83.60 NYoA (53rd out of 76 FS)0.76 NYoA0.15-0.48 NYoA-0.54
2015Net Yards over AverageRushing NYoA per rushRushing DifferentialPassing NYoA per passPassing Differential
Patrick Chung413.21 NYoA (6th best for SS)0.45 NYoA-0.010.64 NYoA0.31
Kam Chancellor400.44 NYoA (7th best for SS)0.68 NYoA0.230.81 NYoA0.08

From first glance, the rankings and comparisons in the chart bring attention. When Chung was a free safety in Philadelphia, his NYoA was way below average, but after the career switch, he is competing with the top strong safeties in the NFL. Just take one look at the comparisons; it’s not tough to say that Kam Chancellor is far more valuable than Rahim Moore, and Chung has fought to have the right to be compared to the likes of Chancellor and others.

Simply put, the numbers back up Chung’s massive resurgence. His 0.31 passing differential ranks sixth for strong safeties with at least 300 passing NYoA, and while Chung is most noted for his presence against the run, his 1.01 yard increase in passing NYoA per pass from 2014 to 2015 is better than Chancellor, George Iloka, T.J. Ward, and others.

Although NYoA may rather speak to a defensive or offensive unit as a whole (the top five defenders ranked from 2015 played for DEN), it is still an important statistic to note a unit’s performance while a certain player is on the field. For instance, Philadelphia’s defense in 2013 was just under the league average in yards given up per play, yet Chung still recorded a horrendous -76.37 NYoA for the entire season.

In addition, passing and rushing differentials help value certain players. These differentials offer statistics that detail the success of the unit when the player is on the field compared to when he is off. As you could’ve guessed, a positive passing or rushing differential shows that the unit is more successful in that area when the player is on the field. This area of NYoA statistics from NFL GSIS focuses specifically on a certain player’s impact on an offensive or defensive unit.

As seen in the chart, Chung’s passing and rushing differentials have both increased from his time in Philadelphia, Surprisingly, Chung’s rushing differential for 2015 is negative, but that could be due to a multitude of factors as he was forced to play with starting linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins absent. However, his improvement in differentials leave no doubt that he has become a threat in many aspects as he has proved himself as a devastating hitter and more than capable in coverage.

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Chung’s resurgence following his below average play in his first stint with New England and his disastrous play in Philadelphia should not be taken lightly. The Patriots’ starting strong safety has overcome obstacles and is now one of the best players at his position. While he is often overlooked by football fans, his production is not underappreciated by the Patriots.