The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY)

Patriots’ poor tackling is underminin­g sound defense

- By Karen Guregian


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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