Holding the Green Bay Packers and a healthy Aaron Rodgers to 17 points is no insignificant feat. It takes an abundance of defensive contributions paired with smart and unpredictable game planning to stifle Rodgers and Co., such as the Patriots did Sunday evening in a 31-17 victory at Gillette Stadium.
New England is fortunate to be anchored by a trio of safeties capable of enacting direction received in the film room while drawing upon their overflowing experience banks to cannily react to surprises in real time.
Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, and Duron Harmon have played 24 of their combined 25 professional seasons in New England (Chung suited up for the Eagles in 2013). Harmon has missed just one game in six years and McCourty five games in nine years. The only time Chung was sidelined for a significant stretch was in 2011 when he played eight games.
They are stability personified, and their veteran status helped cool the sizzling green and yellow timbers Sunday.
“It’s hard against Rodgers,’’ coach Bill Belichick said on a conference call Monday. “No matter what you do — whether you blitz or don’t blitz or play zone or play man — he’s seen it all and he can certainly handle it all.’’
So the Patriots, as their modus operandi, began thinking outside the box. Belichick explained Monday that the key to disguising certain blitz or faux blitz packages is assuring each defender has enough time to recover to his assignment after attempting to cause confusion upfront.
“That comes with experience from Devin and Duron and Pat,’’ said Belichick. “Knowing where they need to be, what they need to do, how much risk or how far away they can be from that responsibility and make it look like they’re doing something else than what they’d normally do.’’
Safeties coach Steve Belichick and linebackers coach Brian Flores spend sizable amounts of time working on deception within their positional groupings. But against a cerebral slinger such as Rodgers and considering the lightning quick pace of football in 2018, it takes more than solid preparation to fool a team like the Packers.
Acting swiftly upon one’s instincts in an effective manner can take years.
“Once [the offense] aligns, the variables on disguise change quite a bit,’’ said Belichick. “Experienced safeties like we’re fortunate to have who can work together and complement each other as far as disguise, that’s a good thing, too.
“It’s a fine line. It’s a very individualized thing between the players and formation and situation and the people we’re playing against and what they do. It takes some understanding and experience.’’
New England exhibited plenty of understanding and experience Sunday.
The Patriots held Green Bay to 5.7 yards per pass and logged six quarterback hits along with a crucial sack. In addition to the strong play of the safeties, cornerback Stephon Gilmore helped limit Packers’ star receiver Davante Adams to six catches for 40 yards. Naturally, it was a team effort as Gilmore was aided by occasional double teams and zone coverage schemes.
McCourty was on the field for every defensive snap and Chung sat out a mere two plays.
If all that wasn’t enough, New England agreed to terms with safety Obi Melifonwu on Monday, adding the 24-year-old Grafton native to an already formidable and battle-tested defensive backfield.