Two games into the 2014 NFL season and there are numerous questions about the New England Patriots on offense and defense:
- Is Tom Brady still able to be an elite quarterback?
- Will a receiver emerge other than Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski?
- Can the Patriots’ front seven stop a power running team?
- and can the Patriots mount a consistent pass rush?
However, one question has already been answered after just two games: Is Darrelle Revis still a shut-down cornerback and have the ability to turn the Patriots’ defense into the type of defense able to take the next step in the playoffs? So far the answer is a resounding Y-E-S.
The addition of cornerback Darrelle Revis in place of departed free agent Aqib Talib is a major upgrade at defense. ProFootballFocus.com rated Revis, coming back from a knee injury that robbed most of the 2012 season and often put in a position where he was not maximizing his talents, was the top rated cornerback with an overall rating of +18.2 (per ProFootballFocus.com). Revis spent most of the season playing in a zone defense despite being one of the best man-to-man coverage cornerbacks in the NFL. However, he still excelled and had a strong season in coverage and run support.
In 2014 to date he has shown he has returned to his 2008 to 2012 until his injury form as the top shutdown cornerback in the NFL. Already Revis has allowed the Patriots to maximize their defensive schemes and play more aggressively and blitz their linebackers more regularly while locking up the wide receivers
The Patriots have yet to even play with his opposite cornerback–fellow free agent pickup from the Seattle Seahawks, Brandon Browner–and Revis has made an impact already. Revis allows the Patriots to game plan around a single player for the first time in a decade. While Devin McCourty, Aqib Talib Asante Samuel, and Leigh Bodden have had some solid stretches in the defensive backfield, none of them had the swagger, coverage skills, and lock-down talent that New England has lacked since Ty Law anchored the secondary.
Utilizing Revis properly will have a dramatic effect on the defense. When Talib was at his best in 2013 for the first six games of the season the Patriots defense only allowed 12.25 points per game. Now, they have Revis and if they keep using him as a lock-up cornerback on the opponent’s best receiver he should allow the defense to be back to performing at that level for the rest of this season.
Expect to see New England head coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia give opposing offenses multiple looks with their improved pass coverage. Revis will likely be moved around as Talib was last year and how he was used in week two as he locked-down wide receiver Greg Jennings of the Vikings. In week one against Miami he played some man-to-man, some press coverage, and even some zone schemes. The Patriots suffered when they moved Revis off top Miami receiver Mike Wallace as the Patriots allowed Miami to dictate the matchups.
In week one against the Dolphins Revis allowed two receptions on five passes thrown into his coverage (per ProFootballFocus.com). He spent a majority of the game covering Mike Wallace and was only clearly beaten once in coverage. Wallace beat him deep once, but the pass was out of bounds. On the touchdown reception Revis allowed to Wallace he was in a perfect defensive position to defend the pass, swatted the ball down out of Wallace’s hands only to have the ball strike the receiver’s leg and make a fluke bounce back into his arms. In coverage of other receivers, the Dolphins did not test Revis.
Against the Vikings in week two Revis was even better. This was the first appearance of “Revis Island” as the game plan had him following former Green Bay Packers star Greg Jennings wherever he lined-up on the field. Revis also covered back-up receiver Adam Thielen with Jennings on the sideline for a breather. With five passes thrown his way, Revis intercepted one and allowed just one reception for four yards (per ProFootballFocus.com). It was a dominating performance by the star cornerback in a dominant defensive performance.
Expect to see Belichick reaching back into his bag of tricks more often than in a decade now that his defensive genius is paired with a shutdown cornerback like Revis in the defensive backfield.