It seems opponents may believe they’ve found a way to have success against the New England Patriots defense.
Yes, the only two losses the Patriots have experienced this season have come against teams with athletic quarterbacks in the Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans, but there’s more to it than that. Both the Ravens and Texans attacked the Patriots defense by targeting linebackers in the passing game, whether that was with running backs or tight ends.
During the Patriots’ 28-22 loss against the Texans on Sunday, New England linebackers were in coverage on four receptions for 45 yards. Houston had just one incompletion when targeting a linebacker (coverage by Dont’a Hightower).
Linebacker Kyle Van Noy gave up the game’s first touchdown in coverage to Houston running back Duke Johnson. Fellow linebacker Jamie Collins was beaten by tight end Darren Fells for the Texans’ second touchdown of the game, which gave the hosts a 14-3 lead. Additionally, Ja’Whaun Bentley and Hightower each gave up receptions while Elandon Roberts did not allow a reception, but was flagged in coverage.
“That’s definitely come up before,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said on his Monday conference call when asked about Houston isolating linebackers in coverage.
It’s true. New England linebackers were also targeted at a high rate against Baltimore. In their Week Nine loss, the linebacker corps allowed six completions for 57 yards, with Hightower being in coverage for five of them.
“As I said, really all through we could have coached and played (better) — you know, they had us on a couple of scheme things and then there were a couple of times we were in position and couldn’t make the play, or should have been able to handle it and didn’t,” Belichick said Monday. “So we just have to do a better job all the way around of coaching, playing, execution.
“Again, it’s a good quarterback (Houston’s Deshaun Watson), good back (Johnson), but we’ve got to handle the passing game better than we handled it, period.”
In fairness, the Houston passing game did target New England corners at a higher rate than Baltimore did. Houston targeted corners nine times and safeties four times, while run-heavy Baltimore targeted the Patriots secondary nine times total. (This does not include defensive snaps the Patriots played in zone.)
Houston’s Johnson was heavily involved and finished with double-digit touches for only the second time this season. Johnson ran the ball nine times for 36 yards while catching five of the six passes thrown his way for 54 yards and one touchdown. Johnson was also a key against the Patriots zone defense as Watson’s main check-down target.
Additionally, Houston tight ends Darren Fells (two receptions, 23 yards, TD) and Jordan Akins (one catch, 19 yards) also came away with chunk plays when Watson opted against throwing at New England cornerbacks. Houston receivers were on the receiving end of nine of 19 completed passes, as running backs (six) and tight ends (three) complemented the passing attack.
Report: Karras expected to return
The Patriots were down to their third center on Sunday after Ted Karras was knocked out of the game in the third quarter. Karras, however, is said to have avoided a severe injury, according to a report from NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport.
Karras had an MRI on Monday, and there is optimism the injury is something he will be able to return from, Rapoport tweeted. Karras had played every offensive snap this season before the injury. He filled in this year for center David Andrews, who was placed on season-ending injured reserve (blood clot in lungs) before the season started. Veteran offensive lineman James Ferentz replaced Karras and played the final 44 offensive snaps at center. If Karras is unable to play against the Kansas City Chiefs this Sunday, it will likely be Ferentz who will replace him.
The 10-2 Patriots host the 8-4 Chiefs on Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
Patriots need fifth kicker
The carousel at kicker continues. The Patriots waived kicker Kai Forbath, who missed an extra point in the loss to the Texans on Monday, according to ESPN’s Field Yates. The Patriots will now enter game No. 13 of the season with kicker No. 5. Additionally, New England claimed former Philadelphia defensive tackle Albert Huggins off waivers.
It means the Patriots are currently without a kicker. Nick Folk, who was released by the Patriots because he needed an appendectomy last week, could be an option to return.