New England Patriots

Nov 22, 2020; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) runs with the ball as New England Patriots defensive end Tashawn Bower (96) attempts to make a tackle during the first quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

By Matt Dolloff,

When Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson powered through Ja’Whaun Bentley and Devin McCourty at the same time into the end zone, you knew it could be a long day for the Patriots defense.

Watson (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) engaged a gang tackle attempt by Bentley and McCourty (a combined 450 pounds) and essentially dragged them to pay dirt to cap a second-quarter Texans drive, putting Houston up 14-10 at the time. They never looked back, as the Patriots abandoned the run and the defense continued to look punchless both in their pass-rushing and tackling. The Watson touchdown run summed up the afternoon.

There’s little to say about a poor tackling day like that after the fact, other than it needs to be better. The execution was certainly off in that department. But it’s also indicative of a Pats defense that may simply be too light to handle bigger, stronger offensive linemen and ball-carriers.

“I mean, tackling just comes down to getting a guy down, so it’s always execution,” McCourty said after the game. “Obviously we don’t play guys that are easy to tackle in this league, so it usually comes down to execution, leverage. That’s what tackling is.”

The Patriots defense got virtually no pressure on Texans QB Deshaun Watson, and when they did, he escaped. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

The Patriots defense got virtually no pressure on Texans QB Deshaun Watson, and when they did, he escaped. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

Beyond the tackling when the ball got into the hands of playmakers, the Patriots’ defensive issues started up front. Watson often had a clean pocket, and escaped pressure when he didn’t. Besides a couple of QB hits and two drawn penalties by Chase Winovich, playmaking in the front-seven was virtually nonexistent.

The Texans entered the game with one of the lower-performing offensive lines in football, and it showed in the run game (or lack thereof). But they have four starting linemen over 300 pounds. Meanwhile, with top interior pass-rusher Adam Butler out, the Patriots’ heaviest regular pass-rusher was Deatrich Wise at 275 pounds.

Avoiding extra rushers to help cover the Texans’ weapons, Belichick left it up to the three or four guys on the front line. They didn’t even come close.

MORE: Patriots’ pass protection fails test against Texans

“Yeah, well, I mean, those are the choices you got to make,” Belichick said. “They got a lot of good receivers. They got a good quarterback. They have done pretty well against pressure. It wasn’t very good for us last year. We mixed it in there some, but they did a pretty good job with all of it, to tell you the truth.”

Lawrence Guy, Carl Davis, and Byron Cowart are better suited as run-stoppers. So the Patriots’ push up front against Watson had to come from guys like Wise, John Simon, and Winovich. They didn’t come close.

And the 2020 Patriots’ lack of power on defense could prove to be a big part of their downfall.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 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? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff or send him a nasty email at