The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY)

Pa­tri­ots’ poor tack­ling is un­der­min­ing sound de­fense

- By Karen Gure­gian Sports · College Sports · American Football · Bill Belichick · New England Patriots · Houston Texans · Deshaun Watson · San Francisco 49ers · NBC · Stephon Gilmore · Devin McCourty · Rodney Harrison

Tack­ling.

As fun­da­men­tals go, there’s noth­ing more im­por­tant in foot­ball than be­ing able to bring down the ball car­rier. It’s some­thing so ba­sic and rudi­men­tary to ev­ery team’s suc­cess or fail­ure.

And for that rea­son, it’s a skill that has tra­di­tion­ally been a strength of Bill Belichick-coached teams. Be­ing fun­da­men­tally sound has been a hall­mark of the Pa­tri­ots dur­ing the past two decades.

Only in 2020, not so much. One of the un­der-the-radar is­sues that’s crept up in sev­eral Pats losses this season has been poor tack­ling. It was par­tic­u­larly ev­i­dent in Sun­day’s loss to the Tex­ans.

Plays and drives were ex­tended be­cause the Pa­tri­ots ei­ther couldn’t get a hand on Deshaun Wat­son, or couldn’t wrap up who­ever had the foot­ball.

This hasn’t been a sea­son­long prob­lem, or a fac­tor in ev­ery game. But given how­much of a stick­ler Belichick is on the de­tails, it’s eye-open­ing when it does oc­cur. Dis­plays of poor tack­ling were also preva­lent in losses to the 49ers and Bills along with a win over the Ravens.

Former Pa­tri­ots line­backer Ted John­son, speak­ing on NBC Sports Bos­ton’s post-game show fol­low­ing the Tex­ans game, said the tack­ling was “as bad as I’ve ever seen it on this team.”

That’s say­ing a lot.

The break­downs Sun­day mostly fea­tured the sec­ondary, which was no sur­prise given the Pats are al­low­ing a league-worst 6.4 yards af­ter the catch to op­pos­ing wide re­ceivers. If some---

one is able to get free past the first level, the sec­ondary just doesn’t do the best job get­ting peo­ple down.

The Tex­ans also gotquite a few chunk gains on catc­hand-run plays or quick-hit­ters.

Case in point: late in the sec­ond quar­ter, fac­ing a first-and-15, the Tex­ans had an 18-yard pass play that should have gone for much less. Only the Pa­tri­ots couldn’t bring down 6-foot6, 258-pound tight end Pharaoh Brown.

Af­ter tak­ing a quick-hit­ter from Wat­son, Brown first steam­rolled corner Jonathan Jones, who was stiff-armed to the ground. Then Brown ba­si­cally plowed would-be tack­lers Stephon Gil­more, Terez Hall and Ja’Whaun Bent­ley back for at least seven ad­di­tional yards be­fore go­ing down.

There were other plays, in that same realm where ex­tra yards were gained be­cause the Pa­tri­ots sim­ply couldn’t get some­one to the ground.

Af­ter the game, de­fen­sive cap­tain Devin McCourty ac­knowl­edged it wasn’t “a great day of tack­ling” for the team. McCourty didn’t es­cape no­tice. He appeared on the of­fender list against the Tex­ans. He had a tough tack­ling mo­ment, ba­si­cally get­ting trucked at the goal line by Wat­son on a 4-yard touch­down run by the quar­ter­back.

In other in­stances, tak­ing poor an­gles or sim­ply throw­ing an arm out didn’t get the job done.

“Tack­ling has to be some­thing you take pride in,” said Pa­tri­ots Hall of Famer Rod­ney Har­ri­son when reached ear­lier in the week. “Bill would have never let us tackle that poorly.”

In that re­gard, the play­ers are well aware of the prob­lem. It’s prob­a­bly been re­played a thou­sand times in their film ses­sions. They have owned up to their de­fi­ciency in that area.

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