All-22: What the Eagles Would Get In McCourty
On the fourth play from scrimmage in the divisional round matchup between the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens, Joe Flacco dropped back and found Torrey Smith downfield for a 22-yard completion.
Smith ran an over route, starting on Flacco’s right side before gradually crossing the middle of the field. Devin McCourty was set up at free safety on the play. He saw the ball was going to Smith, accelerated forward and delivered a big hit, but the wide receiver held on.
Late in the third quarter, with the game tied at 28, the Ravens decided to go to the same play once again.
But this time, McCourty knew what was coming.
Look at how early McCourty breaks on the ball. He basically ran the end of Smith’s route for him and came down with the interception.
Bill Belichick broke down this very sequence on the Patriots’ Web site.
“One of the things you love about Devin McCourty is not making the same mistake twice or recognizing the play the second time around,” he said. “…A great job of recognition, anticipation, seeing the play and making it.”
The Patriots surprised some earlier this week when they opted not to use the franchise tag on McCourty, who is scheduled to become a free agent at 4 p.m. Tuesday. He will be considered the top safety on the market, and because of McCourty’s skill set, he makes plenty of sense as an Eagles target.
The 27-year-old Rutgers product entered the league as a cornerback. He started 16 games as a rookie, had seven interceptions and made the Pro Bowl. But McCourty didn’t play as well in his sophomore campaign, and the Patriots found themselves in need of safety help. So towards the end of the season, McCourty started to see some snaps at safety and has been there ever since.
The message at the time from Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio is one we’ve heard often around these parts from Chip Kelly.
“Devin’s value is that he can do multiple things,” Caserio said back in 2012, per ESPN Boston. “Not everybody can do it, but if you have a guy that can, it can give you some flexibility with what you’re doing defensively, especially on the back half.”
Added Belichick, per The Boston Globe:
“I think he has a good understanding of overall defense. If you understand the whole concept, then that helps you know where you’re more needed or less needed, where the matchups are, where we’re vulnerable against certain calls, against certain formations or players that match up there. He has a good understanding of our entire defense.
“Not that he could play outside linebacker or play defensive tackle, but he knows what they’re doing and understands when they’re involved in certain things. Again, it’s just a good awareness and understanding of the total concept. I’d say not a lot of guys have that as comprehensively as he does.”
McCourty is at his best when he’s playing center field and using his terrific range.
On this play in Week 2 against the Vikings, he’s playing single high and leaning towards the outside vertical. But he reverses course and comes back towards the middle of the field, showing great range on the interception.
The play recognition and smarts show up constantly on film. Here against the Dolphins, McCourty recognizes the screen, attacks downhill and lays a big hit on Mike Wallace to limit the gain.
At 5-11, 197, McCourty has missed just three games in five seasons. He has 17 interceptions over that span, which is tied for fourth-most among active players.
From a scheme standpoint, McCourty would check all the boxes for the Eagles. He can play single-high and has great range and instincts. McCourty consistently takes great angles to the ball and is a sound tackler. He often found himself in the open field against running backs and had no trouble bringing them down to avoid monster gains.
Kelly has emphasized that Eagles safeties have to be able to play man coverage. Like Malcolm Jenkins, McCourty has a corner background.
Here’s a play from last year where he matched up with tight end Antonio Gates and broke up a pass.
There aren’t a lot of red flags with McCourty. When it comes to measurables, scheme fit, production and durability, he checks all the boxes.
And his #culture rating will likely make Kelly giddy.
Wrote Ben Volin in today’s Boston Globe:
Another player who has everyone’s attention in the locker room is free safety Devin McCourty. In five seasons with the Patriots, he has emerged as a team captain, a vocal leader, an elite performer, and a shining example of how to conduct yourself on and off the field. It was McCourty, not any of the other veterans in the secondary, who gave the motivational speech and broke down the huddle before the Super Bowl.
Said Belichick in that same article:
“He studies, he’s smart. He knows what we’re facing, how the teams are, what their tendencies are, how the quarterbacks play, and he knows what we’re doing.
“And he’s a good communicator. He works well with whoever he’s had back there. He’s played with a lot of different guys since he’s been here, but he’s always communicated well and worked well with those guys.”
Because of all these things, McCourty will be one of the most highly sought-after free agents on the market, and he could even end up back with the Patriots. But a Jenkins-McCourty combination would give the Eagles one of their best safety pairings in a long time.
Like every other team, the Eagles will have to prioritize needs. Theoretically speaking, finding quality safety help is more difficult than finding quality corner help. Perhaps they’ll decide that shelling out big money for McCourty is the way to go, even if it means losing out on a big-name corner like Byron Maxwell.
Every offseason, it seems, the question around here is about what the Birds can do to solidify the safety spot. This year, there finally could be a legitimate answer.