Devin McCourty says Denver Broncos TE Julius Thomas presents ‘every type of matchup problem’
|01.15.14 at 9:40 pm ET|
FOXBORO — On Nov. 24 at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots didn’t have to worry about tight end Julius Thomas.
Thomas missed the game with and the following one with a knee injury.
The Patriots didn’t have to account for the size (6-foot-5, 250 pounds) and catch radius of one of the best young receiving tight ends in the NFL.
Thomas finished with 65 catches for 788 yards for a 12.1 yards per catch average and 12 touchdowns in the regular season. He matched that average last week with six catches and 76 yards in the 24-17 win over the Chargers.
What have the Patriots seen on the film from Julius Thomas and what type of matchup problems might he present this time after not playing in the first game?
“Every type of matchup problem,” Devin McCourty said. “Going into the first game we didn’t know if he would be playing or wouldn’t be playing so we studied him a lot for that game too. He is a bigger, taller tight end but he is very explosive. I think he creates a tough matchup. They use him to make sure they get him against safeties, get him against linebackers and even get him against corners sometimes.
“I think it will be similar to when we played Jimmy Graham on the Saints. He’ll be out wide, he’ll be backside sometimes, he’ll be in the tight end position, so we’ll just have to know where he’s at and different guys will be on him. You just have to play tough and try to match him but he’s a very good player and he knows what he’s doing out there depending on the matchup he has.”
The Patriots won’t have to just disguise coverages for Peyton Manning. A tight end like Thomas will necessitate different looks from the defense.
“I think this is one of those games where you have to understand that each guy is going to have to take different matchups and you have to perform,” McCourty said Wednesday. “It is going to be the toughest game of the year and it is the biggest game of the year and there are going to be times where, across the board all four of those guys are going to be man-to-man coverage with somebody on our team and you are going to have to try and win the matchup.
“I think defensively you do different things against them and you try to do one thing, do another thing. In these big games usually it comes down to one man versus another man and whoever comes up with the play.”
Here’s the rest of Devin McCourty‘s press conference from Wednesday:
Q: In that first game in Week 12 you almost never came out of your Cover-2 shell, almost like inviting them to run. Even down 24-0 you really never changed your approach. Were you surprised that you never changed your approach? Does running the ball make them less effective?
DM: I guess first, like I said, it is just sticking to our game plan. For us it wasn’t a panic situation. It wasn’t like, ‘We don’t have any time left, there is nothing else for us to do, let’s get everyone in the box and play with no safety help and just play man.’ It wasn’t anything like that. For us it was, we were down but there is still a lot of time left in the game so it was stick to the game plan. Let’s try to get some three-and-outs. Let’s get some turnovers. Let’s do what we can do along those lines and see what happens. For the running game, we’re just going to have to do a better job. We can’t let them run for 230 yards and think that we’re going to come out with a win again. So defensively that is something we are focused on this week. We have to play good against the run and we know when we play good against the run that they can throw the ball too. So it is going to be a tough matchup. I think that is what makes them such a good offense and why they have been so productive throughout the year because if you try and take away one thing by overloading or doing a lot to do it then Peyton [Manning] just takes advantage of something else.
Q: Can you speak to the importance of Wednesday’s practice, maybe setting the tone for the rest of the week. Is it more difficult for players to miss a Wednesday practice opposed to other days of the week? Is it more challenging to make up a Wednesday?
DM: I think Wednesday is key for us because it gets us off to a good start. It is the first day we go out there and practice and we get ready to go. I think any day you miss a practice, depending on the player, you might feel a little off but this time of the year you’ve repped a lot of plays over and over again. You’ve done a lot of those things so I think practice is very important but when we get down toward the end of the season it is less plays on the field just because your body has been through so much, so a lot goes into film study. What you can learn, how many reps you can get mentally from watching the film and going about it that way. I think it is putting both of those things together, the reps we get on the practice field and then the reps we get off field in meetings and then on your own watching and then what we watch as a group just as the players and stuff like that. I think all that combines into having a good week of preparation.
Q: With regards to your rushing defense, since that first matchup with Denver Sealver Siliga has become more of a presence on the defensive interior. One, how has he become an asset to this team or how much does he help you? Two, Don’ta Hightower and Jamie Collins and their emergence and maturation, they seem a little more explosive in defending against the run.
DM: I think after that game there was no way we could go forward in our season and say, ‘We can do this again.’ I think after that game, as a defense we said, ‘We can’t let a team come and just run the ball down our throat the whole game.’ Sealver’s done a great job along with Jamie and Hightower. What they have done so far is crucial and been a key to why we’ve been able to be successful and win games. Like always it is going to come down to how we play Sunday. Sealver’s been playing good, Jamie, Hightower ‘ but we have to play good on Sunday. Not just them three but as group. It is going to be key for the front seven and then when the safeties and corners are involved, to play good in the run game and it is going to be key for us to help each other out in the pass game. Get some rush, jam receivers, cover them up, and do those things. It is important to see what we’ve done and build off that but at the end of the day for the AFC Championship it is going to come down to how we play Sunday.
Q: You see a lot, especially in big games, where a defensive back will go down with an injury and everyone kind of has to shift roles a little bit. This guy might go here, this guy might go there. Now obviously do your job and the next man up is a big mantra but specifically how does that affect the secondary when one player goes down? Is there a sense that everyone has to do a different job on the spot and does that take some getting used to as it happens?
DM: I think sometimes there are situations where that can happen, where something happens and maybe a guy that is playing one position moves to another position. This season for us being unique to any other season, if that happened on Sunday I don’t think that would be a problem because we have already had a bunch of guys in playing a bunch of different positions. So if something like that happened, I think we’ve done it enough in practice, we’ve done it in games so it would just be, ‘Hey, remember in Week 7 when this happened? We’re back to doing that for the rest of the game.’ So I think we’d be able to move on and just go from there.
Q: Rob Ninkovich, what does his versatility and endurance do for this team?
DM: I think Rob has done a great job. What he and Chan [Chandler Jones] do on the ends, they’ve been able to play a bunch of snaps. They have played every snap in a lot of games. I think his knowledge of what’s going on on the field. My rookie year he played linebacker and now he is at defensive end. So having a guy that understands pass concepts and things like that playing on the D-line, he’s able to do a lot of things because reaction will do a lot. There are times where he’s standing up and he has to drop. There are times where he’s rushing. I think his versatility allows us to match teams that have like a Julius Thomas and do different things with our ends because they have that type of versatility.
Q: As a team do talk about the altitude at all? Is it a concern? Have you played there? Has it ever affected you?
DM: No, we don’t even talk about it. Especially talking about this game, one game, go out there, four quarters and think everyone is focused on going out there and just playing. We are not going to let the altitude affect us and wear us down. I think that is key. What we talked about all year, mental toughness. For us, if it is running a couple of extra sprints at practice; doing whatever you feel like you might need to do to make sure that you are ready. We’re going to do that but once you get out there Sunday it is going to be all out, 100 percent to the last play.
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