Marte Mapu made his much-anticipated NFL debut last Friday night against the Titans. Despite wearing a red non-contact jersey for most of the summer, Mapu flashed versatility, closing speed, and big-hitting ability throughout the offseason program. He finally shed the red jersey when New England traveled to Green Bay for joint practices in the second week of preseason.
This is interesting.
Marte Mapu is charting Steve Belichick’s calls on the sideline. You usually see backup QB’s do this for the offensive coordinator.
The rookie loves to learn and this is a great way to do it while nursing that pec injury.
— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) August 11, 2023
Though Mapu didn’t play against the Packers, he was spotted charting plays for linebackers coach and defensive play-caller Steve Belichick, which was especially notable given how often veteran defenders have noted the rookie’s intelligence.
Mapu finally took the field during the Patriots’ preseason finale in Tennessee, making three tackles and allowing no catches on two targets while lining up all over the field and executing multiple assignments. Here’s a breakdown of how the safety/linebacker was used and the tape behind his stats.
Though Mapu is listed as a linebacker on the Patriots’ roster, he spent the majority of snaps at safety, typically lining up to the right side of the field beside Joshuah Bledsoe. Most of these reps came at free safety from single-high and Cover 2 looks.
Though Mapu missed a pair of tackles while patrolling the post, one where a receiver slipping from his grasp and another due to a poor angle, his range and explosive tackling stood out. The mistakes make sense given Mapu’s lack of experience as a deep safety and should be ironed out with time but his athleticism is what New England needs with Devin McCourty in retirement and Kyle Dugger being best in the box.
Each of Mapu’s targets came while playing a strong safety near the line of scrimmage, where he covered underneath zones and played man coverage against tight ends.
On the first target, the Patriots started out in a two-deep shell before having Mapu rotate into the box to cover the flat. He quickly diagnoses the checkdown, flies downhill, and wraps up Tyjae Spears for what would’ve been a quick stop had the back caught the pass.
Mapu’s second target came on 3rd down with Tennessee threatening to score in the low Red Zone, He lines up over fellow rookie Josh Whyle and, knowing he’s got Joshuah Bledsoe helping inside, does a nice job sticking to his leverage against a corner route. An inaccurate pass prevented a more competitive play with Whyle getting late separation with a push-off, but still a good rep from Mapu reachig and sticking to the tight end’s hip.
Mapu also assisted in a tackle for a short gain on the game’s second play. After seeing tackle Andre Dillard pull on power, Mapu slips under center Aaron Brewer’s block attempt helps Mack Wilson bring down the ball-carrier.
The Patriots’ veteran safety group is full of box specialists, so it’s unlikely we see much of Mapu in this role during the season. But his coverage ability and quick trigger should make him a perfect fit when called upon.
The Patriots used Mapu as a true linebacker on 3rd downs where the offense had to gain five or more yards. He even “mugged” the line of scrimmage at times to threaten blitz, though he never actually rushed the passer.
His best rep came with the defense playing a Cover 2 variation known as “Tampa,” where he played the key role of middle hole defender. This is a responsinility often assigned to Dugger, and Mapu looked fluid carrying the #3 receiver vertically before passing him off to cover a backside sit route.
While Mapu was sound in coverage throughout his opportunities, he did appear to have a coverage lapse before the end of the half that resulted in an explosive gain.
The Patriots are playing Cover 1 with Mapu over Julius Chestnut, which was his primary job in his snaps at linebacker. Chestnut initially scans for a blitzer before leaking into the flat but Mapu drives on a late drag route from Whyle.
It’s possible Mapu and Calvin Munson were playing “funnel” technique where the route break determines who takes the back in coverage. However, Munson immediately stepping towartd the line of scrimmage makes me think he was spying Malik Willis.
If Mapu was indeed responsible for Chestnut, it’s a pretty straightforward learning moment and was the rookie’s only blemish in coverage.
Like virtually all rookies, Mapu will be asked to contribute heavily on special teams this season, and he made appearances on both coverage units and as a blocker on kick return against the Titans.
None of the kicks and punts Mapu covered were returned, but he and Anfernee Jennings buried linebacker Luke Gifford on one of J.J. Taylor’s returns.