The Green Bay Packers are heading into Week 4 coming off of a big win, but it’s time for them to get their passing game going against a respectable New England Patriots secondary. However, despite the talent the Patriots have at defensive back, there’s a surprisingly weak link that Aaron Rodgers can exploit.
Rodgers is notoriously known for picking on younger, more inexperienced, or simply weaker players in opposing secondaries for big plays. Fans can remember plenty of times when an opposing cornerback left the game with an injury, only for his replacement to immediately get targeted on a big-shot play.
On paper, the Patriots' secondary doesn’t appear to have any glaring weaknesses. New England is only allowing 200 passing yards per game, the eighth-fewest yards in the league. Opposing quarterbacks have to throw against some talented veteran defensive backs, including Jonathan Jones, Jalen Mills, and Devin McCourty.
Using coverage stats from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), we’re able to see how New England’s defensive backs are doing when targeted. PFF shows that Jones is one of the best coverage corners in the league right now, posting an elite 90.4 coverage grade. He’s only been targeted nine times, allowing six catches for 91 yards with one forced incompletion and an interception for an opposing passer rating of just 60.2.
As an undrafted free agent back in 2016, Jones has developed into New England’s best cornerback in coverage, marking one of the better UDFA stories of the last decade. Fellow defensive backs Adrian Phillips and Myles Bryant have been playing at an average level, but the Patriots have two holes in their secondary right now with Devin McCourty and Jalen Mills struggling through three games.
McCourty has only been targeted four times this season, but he’s been punished in those limited opportunities, allowing three catches for 45 yards and two touchdowns for a 151.0 passer rating. That’s someone who Rodgers will try to test on Sunday, especially in the red zone if he sees McCourty in one-on-one coverage.
The more surprising player struggling has been Mills. The 28-year-old was solid in his first season with the Patriots but has taken plenty of punishment through three weeks of 2022. Along with a brutal PFF pass coverage grade of 29.0, Mills has been targeted a team-high 17 times for 11 catches, 173 yards and a touchdown while coming away with one interception.
These defensive backs will have their hands full on Sunday, mostly because of the different skill sets that the Packers receivers bring. Allen is a physical possession receiver capable of moving the chains, Randall Cobb is showing some elusiveness in the slot, and even rookie Romeo Doubs is carving out a solid role for himself.
If healthy, Christian Watson will bring the biggest challenge to New England’s secondary. While he has yet to do much in the box score, Watson’s incredible top-end speed forces opposing defenses to respect him, taking some of the pressure off of his teammates.
If the Patriots don’t respect Watson’s speed at all times, and he can get behind the defense, then Aaron Rodgers could look his way again for a shot at redemption on a deep touchdown pass.
Even if the Packers are only averaging 16 points per game through three weeks, the next four games present a golden opportunity for Rodgers and the passing game to finally find their identity and start hitting their stride.