By Tom E. Curran
In a seven-year NFL career, Matt Bowen played strong safety for four teams - the Rams, Packers, Redskins and Bills. In his post-football NFL life, the 35-year-old works as an Xs and Os expert for the National Football Post and a number of other outlets.
His specialty is, not surprisingly, secondary play. So who better to explain what in Sam Hill is going on with the back end of the Patriots defense.
I asked Bowen to look at two games - the win over the Bills and Sunday's loss to the Seahawks - and give me his impressions of what's going on out there.
Here's a collection of his observations when we went over his breakdown.
"I wasnt that imp with Patrick Chung," said Bowen, referring to his play in both games. "I'm not trying to come down on the guybut it seems like he's guessing a lot, his eyes are in the wrong place. A couple of times he leftthe deep middle of the field in the Seattlegame. Anytime a safety leaves the middle of the field on a trick play or a deep pass, thatsdiscipline. Thats looking in the wrong place and not looking in the rightplace with his eyes."
Bowen says that Chung's aggressiveness is a liability. Or was in each of the games he watched. Bowen said that, while Kyle Arrington's overall play got him benched, the touchdown Arrington gave up to Doug Baldwin was a shared one.
"On the touchdown pass down the seam, Chung left the middle of the field, lefthis buddy out to dry," Bowen explained. "Arrington was playing outside leverage on Cover-1 (he was shaded to the outside shoulder of Baldwin, sending him to the middle of the field) wheres the safety?He's too overaggressive as a safety. Russell Wilson (Seattle's quarterback) did an extremely good job of looking offthe safety, then Wilson would pull the ball down and Chung said 'Im going,' and that's how he beat him."
Chung also picked up a pass interference when he got out of position on a reverse pass, said Bowen.
"It's cover 2, youre not gonna make the play on the reverse," Bowen insisted."But (Chung) takes OFF. He sees something and he believes it, hes gonna get it. Now some safeties can do that. Nobody gambles more than Troy Polamalu (in Pittsburgh) but he has Ryan Clark next to him and Ryan Clark never makes mistakes. Ever."
Aside from the deep beat Tavon Wilson took for the game-winner, Bowen really liked the way the rookie safety played the position against Seattle.
"Wilson's got more range, he lankier, but he does not want to get his nosedirty in the run game. He will make the reluctant tackle, or be the JOP (jump on the pile) guy. It's understandable somewhat because he's a rookie and might be hesitant to trust what he sees."
Bowen said Wilson's breakdown on the late touchdown pass to Sidney Rice was attributable to "poor eyes."
Bowen said that, as a safety, there are hard simple rules to follow.
"In Cover-2 (two deep safeties, each covering half the field), the first thing you look at is the No. 1 receiver,the outside receiver (meaning the receiver closest to the sideline). If he releases outside (toward the sideline) he can only run two routes, the fade orthe comeback. If he blocks the guy in front of him its a run. If he releases inside (it will likely be a throw heading to the middle of the field. "The problem on that play was, at the snap (Wilson was) looking inthe backfield, thinks run, stops his feet and then realizes, 'Oh (shoot)!' and has to play the pass. If he didn't read run and dropped where he was supposed to, Rice would have run right to him. It was only a two-man route, Wilson would have probably had to throw the ball away. The thing is, a Cover-2 safety does not have to make a play near the line of scrimmage in the running game. He doesn't need to be up there.
Bowen did like the third quarter pass breakup by Wilson but he added, "Go make that pick. He did a great job in breaking up the pass, hell get a plus on that in the film room, but he should feel that ball is his. It's gonna be a tough forthat kid this week. He let up a play to lose the game but he has the skills. Compared to Chung, I would want Wilson in middle and Chung in the box."
Bowen had fewer issues with the corner play. He noted that when Alfonzo Dennard came in, Seattle "threw the ball at him every time" but added that Dennard "did OK."
As for Devin McCourty, Bowen agreed when I said I thought he should be better than he is.
"He should make more plays. I agree 100 percent," said Bowen. "If peopletarget him he should make more plays. But in the two games I watched, he was their bestcorner. Maybe he's not as fluid in the hips. He is long and not as quick to recover, but he's their best corner."
Bowen expressed surprise with the Patriots personnel at the back of the defense.
"They have a lotof issues in the secondary - so many young guys and not having a real leader andveteran out there hurts," he said. "It's going to get to a situation where Bill (Belichick) has to blitz alot and you dont want to get into that. They did show zone pressure, Cover 1, Cover 3 and Cover 2. But mostly it was base football. The way I looked at (the Seattle game), they said, 'Weregonna make (Russell Wilson) beat us. The problem was, their technique was terrible the entire game."
Bowen did leave a glimmer of hope for any Patriots supporters who may be downtrodden by his assessment.
"It mighta been just a bad day," he said. "I've been on defenses when they hadbad days with really good players. It happens."