By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
DeAndre Hopkins may not have a great history against the Patriots, in particular. But the Texans receiver remains one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the NFL and one of the toughest covers that the Pats’ secondary will face all season.
You wouldn’t know based on the games that Hopkins has played against New England. In four games, he’s averaged four catches and about 65 yards and has yet to score a touchdown. As he’s wont to do, Belichick prioritizes taking him out of the Texans’ offensive plans, and to this point it’s worked. But that doesn’t make Belichick any less impressed with the dynamic wideout.
A big part of what makes Hopkins so good is his ability to make plays with his hands and body control even when he has a defensive back or two all over him.
“He’s kind of always open because if you just put the ball where he can get it, he can get it,” Belichick said during his Wednesday presser. “And, no matter where the defender is, there’s some spot away from the defender that if you put the ball there, he can come up with it.
“Even when it looks like he’s covered, he still comes up with the ball, draws a lot of interference penalties. So, I mean, he’s a tough guy to stop.”
It’s possible that Belichick revisits a strategy that’s worked with neutralizing Hopkins in the past: bracket him with the No. 2 corner (likely Eric Rowe) and a safety over the top (likely Devin McCourty or Duron Harmon), while No. 1 cornerback Stephon Gilmore works on wiping out the next target for Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. But there’s also a chance that you see Gilmore, who typically excels in press-man against bigger receivers, taking Hopkins one-on-one.
If that’s the task, Gilmore will be prepared. And he knows he’ll have to be at his best.
“He’s been making plays since he’s gotten in the league,” Gilmore said of Hopkins during an interview with 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Zolak & Bertrand on Wednesday. “Great ball control, great hands. So it’s gonna be a good matchup between us and him.”
Having a mobile, dynamic quarterback like Deshaun Watson certainly complicates matters for the Patriots in their efforts to defend against Hopkins. The receiver had a better-than-average effort in that game, catching seven of eight targets for 76 yards. But they still kept him out of the end zone, resulting in some rather empty stats for Hopkins.
The respect that Belichick and players like Gilmore have for Hopkins speaks to how much work they put in to defending him. Sunday’s season opener is no different. For the Patriots, the hope is that they can continue to keep one of the league’s best skill players in check.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.