Robert Kraft is the greatest owner in NFL History. He purchased the New England Patriots 25 years ago, this month. As many reasons as there are for his greatness, none may be as important as the trust he puts in his head coach and general manager Bill Belichick. The seven-time Super Bowl champion is a defensive mastermind. Like Kraft, Belichick also trusts his assistants, as he does not call plays. Those duties belong to Brian Flores.
The ‘next man up’ strategy yet again worked well for the Patriots this year, as they had to fill Matt Patricia’s role when he took the top job in Detroit. It worked out so well that Belichick will have to find another defensive play caller due to the likelihood of Flores filling the head coach opening in Miami.
The Patriots have a 2-0 record against this years top scoring offense and MVP favorite, including shutting them out in the first half on the road in the AFC Championship.
A big part of that AFC Championship win was shutting down Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill. Hill was double-teamed by S Devin McCourty over the top and either CB Jonathan Jones or Keion Crossen underneath. Hill was held to one catch on just three targets and most importantly: zero touchdowns.
In the divisional round, Keenan Allen, who drew a lot of attention from CB Stephon Gilmore, had just two catches, one of which was the touchdown that seemed to be a fluke in the defense that hopefully McVay can’t figure out, and Gilmore forced four incompletions on passes thrown Allen’s way.
Brian Flores started the year off just like every recent Patriots team has by treating September as sort of a “preseason extension.” The Pats then fused into the “bend-don’t-break” defense they are known for being by making Aaron Rodgers and Kirk Cousins look like they literally have nothing to work with, thus holding both teams to under 20 points. Since week 8 of the regular season, excluding the “Miami Miracle,” Flores has held all of his opponents under 20 points, which is a tremendous accomplishment, and obviously a big reason that Miami has interest in wanting him to take over their team.
Obviously without Tom Brady, this team would be nothing, but all quarterbacks have help, and that help isn’t just the guys Brady is throwing to, but the guys preventing the opposing QB’s from having success. According to Pro Football Focus, Gilmore is 6th among qualified corners allowing just 0.72 yards per coverage snap and was the highest graded corner in the league in the regular season with a 90.7 rating. First year Patriot Jason McCourty proved to be a great signing as he added a veteran presence to the secondary and helped Gilmore hold down the fort. Pro Football Focus has him ranked 11th in the NFL on their coverage grade list for the 2018 regular season.
A big part of the first half last week as we all saw was getting to Mahomes and dropping him for losses, many of those sacks were coverage sacks as Kyle Van Noy, Trey Flowers, and company took advantage of the Pats secondary locking down Mahomes’ weapons who meshed together to be the number one scoring offense in the regular season.
Look for Gilmore, the McCourty twins, Jones, Jackson, and the rest of the secondary to have a similar strategy against the Rams this Sunday as they face some talented receivers including Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods. It will help if the offense wins the time of possession battle and if the pass rush forces Jared Goff to get rid of the rock earlier than he wishes. Belichick and Flores have a tough task at hand but certainly should have some hope as this secondary is playing the right football at the right time.
-Johnny Maffei is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @JohnnyBSBL4