Dont’a Hightower’s Struggles Tied in to Inexperience at Defensive Tackle and Other Takeaways From Patriots-Texans


Dont'a HightowerBill Belichick probably loved the Patriots’ win over the Texans.

Not only did the coach come away with a win, but there are many, many teaching points to take away from this game. And New England can’t get over confident after beating a now 2-10 team by just three points.

It wasn’t a game the Patriots will be telling their grandkids about, but a win is a win at this point in the NFL. The offense carried the defense, but neither unit was perfect in this win.

To hear more about the positives and negatives from this game, including the coverage and charting stats, check out this week’s five takeaways below.

1. Patriots go zone against Texans.

The Patriots certainly showed some man-coverage looks against Houston, but for the majority of the time, New England was in zone. That’s why the coverage charts below don’t come close to equaling the 272 yards Case Keenum threw for.

Arrington was only targeted once. He allowed a 66-yard reception to DeAndre Hopkins. Otherwise, Arrington played well. The life of a cornerback is tough. They’re only showed on TV when they’re doing something bad or spectacular. Arrington did his job for the most part.

Talib had a tough matchup with Andre Johnson. He went off for 121 yards on eight catches, but Talib only allowed four catches for 43 yards.

The linebackers did a nice job in coverage, allowing just one reception on eight targets for 17 yards. They had three pass breakups.

Devin McCourty was not thrown at once again.

Kyle Arrington: 1-1, 66 yards
Aqib Talib: 4-5, 43 yards, PBU
Duron Harmon: 1-1, 28 yards
Dont’a Hightower: 1-3, 17 yards, PBU
Logan Ryan: 1-2, 11 yards, INT, PBU
Steve Gregory: 1-2 8 yards
Dane Fletcher: 0-2
Rob Ninkovich: 0-2
Brandon Spikes: 0-1 2 PBUs
Marquice Cole: 0-1, PBU
Chris Jones: PBU

Arrington finally passed Dennard for yards allowed on the season. That makes sense, he has the most snaps in coverage out of Patriots cornerbacks. Those are really solid numbers from the Patriots’ top four cornerbacks.

Arrington: 31-59, 464 yards, 4 TDs, INT, holding penalty
Dennard: 29-59, 439 yards, 2 TDs, INT
Talib: 20-46, 281 yards, 4 INTs, 1 TD, pass interference penalty, 2 holding penalties
Ryan: 17-36, 206 yards, 3 TDs, 3 INTs
Hightower: 21-39, 199 yards, TD
Gregory: 11-24, 147 yards, TD, pass interference penalty
Mayo: 14-27, 146 yards
McCourty: 9-16, 114 yards, 2 TDs, INT, holding penalty
Spikes: 12-18, 102 yards, TD, INT
Cole: 8-14, 94 yards, TD, INT
Harmon: 6-9, 73 yards, 2 INTs
Collins: 6-8, 59 yards
Ninkovich: 6-11, 31 yards, pass interference penalty
Chandler Jones: 1-1, 7 yards
Fletcher: 1-5, 5 yards, TD

2. Patriots pressure Case Keenum but can’t catch him.

The Texans quarterback is deceptively shifty in the backfield. The Patriots put a lot of pressure on him, but only caught him once on a coverage sack.

Rob Ninkovich had nine total pressures, by far the most by a New England player on Sunday. The linebackers were able to get some pressure on Keenum, as well.

The Texans have a solid line, but the pressure the Patriots were able to generate played into Keenum completing just 50 percent of his passes.

Rob Ninkovich: 5 hurries, 4 QB hits
Chandler Jones: 3 hurries
Isaac Sopoaga: 1 sack, 1 hurry
Andre Carter: 2 QB hits
Joe Vellano: 1 hurry, 1 QB hit
Chris Jones: 1 hurry, 1 QB hit
Dont’a Hightower: 2 hurries
Jamie Collins: 1 QB hit
Brandon Spikes: 1 hurry

Chandler Jones: 10 1/2 sacks, 39 hurries, 12 QB hits (62 pressures)
Ninkovich: 5 sacks, 42 hurries, 14 QB hits (61 pressures)
Chris Jones: 5 sacks, 11 hurries, 3 QB hits (20 pressures)
Kelly: 2 1/2 sacks, 12 hurries, 2 QB hit (17 pressures)
Buchanan: 2 sacks, 10 hurries, 3 QB hits (15 pressures)
Hightower: 1 sack, 11 hurries, 3 QB hits (15 pressures)
Vellano: 1 sack, 11 hurries, 3 QB hits (15 pressures)
Carter: 1 sack, 6 hurries, 6 QB hits (13 pressure)
Spikes: 7 hurries, 1 QB hit (8 pressures)
Fletcher: 2 sacks, 4 hurries (6 pressure)
Collins: 3 hurries, 2 QB hits (5 pressures)
Wilfork: 4 hurries, 1 QB hit (5 pressures)
Mayo: 1 1/2 sacks, 1 hurry, 1 QB hit (4 pressures)
Ryan: 2 sacks, 1 hurry (3 pressures)
Sopoaga: 1 sack, 2 hurries (3 pressure)
McCourty: 1 hurry, 1 QB hit (2 pressures)
Bequette: 1 QB hit (1 pressure)
Gregory: 1 QB hit (1 pressure)
Cole: 1 hurry (1 pressure)
Arrington: 1 hurry (1 pressure)

3. Texans deserve credit for Tom Brady’s limited incompletions.

Brady had just 11 incompletions on Sunday and just one can be called an out-and-out drop. Shane Vereen dropped a pass in the end zone.

Here’s what I saw on the rest of the incompletions:

Brady throws deep out of bounds to Kenbrell Thompkins
Brady throws wide, Julian Edelman reaches, ball hits Edelman in hand
Brady bounces throw to Thompkins, KT walks off limping
Brady slightly overthrows Edelman, he can’t catch up to it, goes off his hands
Brady hit by J.J. Watt as he throws
Brady’s throw to Rob Gronkowski broken up by Eddie Pleasant
Brady throws behind Edelman, hits him in the hands
Brady throws to Vereen in end zone, drop
Brady’s to Gronkowski swatted by Watt
Brady’s throw to Gronkowski broken up by Pleasant
Brady’s throw to Gronkowski broken up by Brandon Harris

The Texans made a lot of good plays. That’s an improvement, though for the Patriots. Typically, they have more than one drop, especially this season.

4. Linebackers should be given some slack.

I see so many complaints about Hightower that it’s almost hard to track them all. He certainly has not been Jerod Mayo 2.0, but consider that Mayo never had to deal with life without Vince Wilfork.

For most snaps, the Patriots don’t have a defensive tackle that can eat up multiple blockers. If Chris Jones and Vellano are getting single teamed, it opens up blockers to move downfield to take on Hightower and Spikes. Mayo was able to roam much freer in years’ past.

It’s concerning that Hightower can’t shed blockers more, but he’s always having to wade through traffic because his defensive tackles are getting treated like rag dolls in the run defense.

That’s not to say we should start placing blame on Vellano and Jones. They’re just rookies and neither player is a traditional nose tackle. But Hightower and Spikes should be given some slack because what they’re working with up front.

5. Patriots nearly ran out of wide receivers

Aaron Dobson was inactive due to a foot injury and Thompkins hurt his hip midway through the game. That left a lot of two-receiver sets with just Edelman and Danny Amendola. That’s certainly not ideal and takes away a downfield threat.

Josh Boyce was targeted just once despite getting an increase in reps. Matthew Slater even came on to play receiver.

Brady still played well, though, despite much of a deep threat on the field. It was an impressive performance from the Patriots quarterback.

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