The Patriots defense had an emerging party, of sorts, against the Buccaneers last Sunday.
Holding Tom Brady to just 19 points, with less than 300 yards passing, and no touchdown passes is a step in the right direction.
And yet, it’s not perfect.
The unit continues to have issues stopping running. And, before Brady’s set kneel to end the game, the Bucs also made points on their last three drives with a touchdown and two field goals.
So there is always work to be done for Bill Belichick’s defense.
The good news?
The Texans are on deck, and so far, their offense is a mess. Quarterback Deshaun Watson is on the sidelines hoping to be replaced. Starter Tyrod Taylor was on injured reserve with a hamstring injury, and Davis Mills provided no relief. The rookie looked completely overwhelmed and equalized against Buffalo last week, who threw four picks in a 40-0 killing.
Undoubtedly, Belichick will want the Patriots to continue to torture the young Texans quarterback.
Here’s how the Patriots defense can keep the Texans on the board:
1. Spook Mills
The Patriots have been pretty creative in defending Brady last week. And while they can’t use all the same bells and whistles to try and upset Mills, they’ll still want to use a healthy dose of disguise to keep the rookie’s head spinning.
Mills probably had a nightmare all week, after 11 for 21 for just 87 yards, with four picks.
The former Stanford star, a third-round draft pick, is going through some of the usual worsening illnesses, but it also doesn’t help that not having a team around him.
Last week, he had minus-23 net yards passed in the first half. His overall pass rating for the three games he played was 50.4.
He recorded five of the team’s seven turnovers. At this stage, he is an interception waiting to happen.
Belichick praised Mills, but not at the top, which is how he usually responds when asked about the opposing quarterback.
“Pro-style quarterback. I think he’s got a good base,” Belichick said. “Like any rookie quarterback, he learns all the time, but I think you see a great level of talent and a great that ability to make throws, and I think they did a good job of trying to include him. ”
It’s hard for Belichick to say more, as Mills threw five interceptions, with just two TD passes.
2. Remove Cooks
Brandin Cooks is their best receiver, and judging by statistics, Mills ’favorite target.
Through four games, the Cooks had 28 catches on 369 yards and a TD. He had 20 more catches than the next closest receiver, running back to David Johnson, who had eight.
“He’s probably targeted like any receiver in the league, and he’s dangerous to everyone,” Belichick said of the former Pats receiver. “Obviously, he has tremendous speed. He’s a great deep ball player. Super competitive Tough kid … he can make 20 a 5-yard advantage in a hurry.”
The Cooks ’removal mission fell to JC Jackson, who is now officially the Patriots’ second-seeded top gun, whose Stephon Gilmore did not return after being traded to Carolina on Wednesday.
Last week, Jackson marked Bucs top receiver Mike Evans well. Cooks is simply the next person on his dance card. Take him away, and that should be far away towards the stiffness of Mills and the offense.
“He’s definitely a go-to guy for them in the passing game,” Belichick added about Cooks. “We have to do a good job with him.”
3. Ground the run game
Because of the Patriots ’struggle, the Texans will try to run the ball. And they would keep running it, until the Patriots forced them to stop.
If the Texans are successful batting the rock, that will take a bit of pressure on their rookie quarterback. But if the Pats can get up and clamp the Texans ’running game, it will force Mills to pass further and put him in their wheelhouse.
Last week, the Bills held the Texans to 48 yards on 18 carries.
Mark Ingram (52 carries, 171 yards) was the top back. David Johnson (16 carries, 67 yards) and Phillip Lindsay (24 carries, 31 yards) are also in the mix, while old friend Rex Burkhead is also a member of the Texans ’backyard.
Bottom line, if the Patriots want to flummox Mills, they’ll stop running first.