Logan Ryan yearns to be key game-changer for Patriots
Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan was irritated Saturday after he undercut DeAndre Hopkins’ route to break up a third-down pass for the second time in the game.
Ryan went low for Brock Osweiler’s throw, wound up on the turf and was immediately congratulated by safety Patrick Chung, but the corner rolled his eyes because he expected more out of himself on the play.
“I felt like I could have picked it,” Ryan said. “Some people see it as a good play. I felt like I could have picked it.”
Ryan has been rolling for a couple of months, and he is barreling toward Sunday’s AFC Championship Game against the Steelers after playing the game of his life against the Texans with two third-down breakups, an interception and a sack. He has broken up a team-high 10 passes, including three picks, since Week 11. To put that in perspective, cornerback Malcolm Butler has six breakups (three picks) during that span, and no other Patriot has 10 breakups all season.
Playing at this level, Ryan might be the Patriots’ best weapon in the secondary because of his ball skills. There’s a reason for his proficiency. He catches about 100 passes on the Jugs machine after every practice to get his hands ready for the opportunities when the ball heads in his direction.
“I spend time doing different catches,” Ryan said. “I feel like it loosens up your hands, strengthens your hands, so when the ball comes to you during a game, you’re not shocked at the moment because you’re used to catching them. I see these receivers catch tons (on the Jugs machine), but I’m going for the same balls they’re going for so I feel like I need to catch as many.
“I try to catch the ball normal, catching the ball turning my head and trying to pick up the ball late, high balls, low balls, trying to move around the ball. So it’s stuff like that, practicing those catches because you never know what you’re going to get.”
That’s why, even though it looked like Ryan had no chance of intercepting that low pass, he felt like he had put in enough work to make the play.
Ryan’s greatest emphasis revolves around his penchant for takeaways.
More than that, he wants to be around the ball in general. He led the Patriots with 92 tackles and 74 solo stops during the regular season, a statistical oddity for a cornerback, and he leads their defensive backfield with seven quarterback disruptions (two sacks, two hits, three pressures) through 17 games.
“It’s just effort, man,” Ryan said. “It’s tackling, being a football player. I never consider myself just a corner. I feel like I’m a defensive back. I’ve played all over here. I played all over in college. No one controls your effort to get to the ball. If you do that, you end up with a bunch of tackles after the game. I’m trying to do whatever it takes to win, and it fills the stat sheet in different ways. Just being a guy who can try to give my all in different areas. I feel like the better I tackle, the better I cover. And the better I cover, the better I play the ball. And the harder I’m playing, usually the better I’m playing.”
Ryan, a free agent after this season, has been dominant since the Patriots scrapped their midseason rotation at cornerback. With Butler as the mainstay, they had a stretch when every corner got a chance, which lightened Ryan’s workload.
Since Week 11, quarterbacks targeting Ryan are 17-of-40 (42.5 percent) for 138 yards (17.3 yards per game), no touchdowns, three picks and a 20.6 passer rating. He is providing lockdown coverage to go along with the takeaways, which is important because it’s not a boom-or-bust proposition.
Ryan’s fourth-quarter pick against the Texans essentially sealed the win. And again, it was about preparation, as safety Devin McCourty read the play before the snap and alerted Ryan, thinking one of them could get their hands on the ball. Ryan did, and Dion Lewis scored two plays later to extend the lead to 31-16.
Ryan works tirelessly to set himself up for these chances, and he has become a big difference maker as the Pats get ready for the Steelers.
“You study for hours to maybe get one play that you feel comfortable enough with the look to take a chance to jump it,” Ryan said. “To me, it’s poker. A lot of times, I might know (the offensive play call), but I want to play it safe based on the situation. There are some situations where I feel like we need (a turnover) so I’ll go for it. It just comes with experience. It comes with playing with a good group that can protect me with things like that, and feeling comfortable enough to not be afraid to go make a play if I feel it.
They help you win games, and that’s what I’m worried about.”
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