While watching the New England Patriots roll over the Carolina Panthers on Friday night, you might’ve noticed something unusual. In the first half, when both teams’ starters were on the field, the Patriots forced several coverage sacks. The Darrelle Revis-infused secondary gave the pass rush an extra second to reach Cam Newton — this could be a preview of things to come in September.
In 2013, the Patriots struggled to delay opposing quarterbacks’ reads. This was especially evident on third downs, as the Patriots ranked 26th in third down conversion percentage allowed. Third and longs were even more of an issue — the secondary had difficulty covering receivers down the field, giving quarterbacks options in what normally would be very hard scenarios to convert.
However, after three preseason games, there is reason to believe that things are changing this year. The addition of Revis has bolstered the entire secondary, allowing promising but not truly No. 1 cornerbacks Alfonzo Dennard and Logan Ryan to lock-in on teams’ lesser pass catchers.
Devin McCourty has exceled in the back end this preseason, and figures to be a top-five safety in the NFL this season. And you can depend on Brandon Browner giving the entire unit a boost when he returns from a four-game suspension in October.
The elevated pass defense has given Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich opportunities to wreak havoc in the trenches. Jones racked up two sacks on Friday, and Ninkovich added another — all three sacks came about as a result of the defensive backs’ suffocating coverage.
This isn’t to say that the Pats’ defense doesn’t have room to improve, but it’s clear that the offseason improvements in the secondary are already paying off in the form of these coverage sacks.
If this fad of coverage sacks grows from a preseason occurrence into a regular season trend, expect both Jones and Ninkovich to produce double-digit sack numbers in 2014. A bumper crop in sacks because of Revis blanketing receivers is just as valuable as a Revis interception.