FOXBORO — The New England Patriots held one of the league’s best offenses without a touchdown last week, but a new week means new challenges.
The 10-1 Patriots travel to the Houston Texans for a Sunday night showdown, looking to limit quarterback Deshaun Watson and a trio of dynamic receivers in All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller and Kenny Stills.
“Offensively, they’ve got a lot of explosive players and do a lot of things well,” Belichick said during his mid-week press conference at Gillette Stadium. “They’re really at the top of the league in just about everything offensively, wherever you want to look — certainly big plays, first down production — they’re just good at a lot.”
Houston is 10th in the NFL in points scored (24.1) and seventh in yards per game (381.6).
It will likely be the challenge for Patriots’ All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore to limit Hopkins, a two-time All-Pro himself, who Belichick spoke at length.
“As good as there is,” Belichick said. “He’s got tremendous ball skills, he’s long, great judgment, great timing to go up and get the ball. Makes some extended catches that I don’t know how many guys other than him could make them. He’s got good hands, good timing, strong hands, as you said. He creates separation with his quickness, his physical size, his length.
“He’s really never covered because there’s always some place you can put the ball where he can catch it and he has the hands to catch it. So, very hard guy to stop,” Belichick said.
Hopkins has 81 receptions for 839 yards in 11 games this season. He posted 115 receptions for 1,500-plus yards in 2018 and 1,300-plus yards on 96 receptions in 2017.
“I think he defines an NFL receiver,” Belichick said. “If you open “NFL receiver” in the dictionary, put his picture next to it. He gets open, he catches the ball. Doesn’t matter what the route is, doesn’t matter what the coverage is, doesn’t matter where the ball’s thrown or what the situation – first-and-10, fourth-and-goal. He’s very, very productive.”
Hopkins has six touchdowns while catching 72-plus percent of the passes from Watson this year. He caught 11 touchdown passes in 2018 and a career-best 13 touchdowns in 2017.
And while Hopkins is the leader of the receiving corps, he’s complemented by both Fuller and Stills. They’ve all shown the ability to have production for the Watson-led Texans offense, which ranks 12thin the league in passing yards (244.7 per game).
“They lead the league in long balls, deep passes,” Belichick said. “He (Watson) gets them down there, but he gets the ball to all his receivers, backs, tight ends. They all have a lot of production. Yeah, he can extend plays, he can run, he can extend the throw, accurate at all three levels. He’s a tough guy to handle, hard guy to tackle. He makes plays on his own.”
Watson has thrown for nearly 2,900 yards this season while completing 69 percent of his passes with 20 passing touchdowns and five rushing touchdowns.
The Patriots had 17 players listed on the injury report on Friday, nine of them due to an illness spreading around the team. Players that are questionable include Marcus Cannon, Jamie Collins, Stephon Gilmore, Kyle Van Noy and Isaiah Wynn.