Patriots defense showed it has the potential to be really solid

Jim Davis/Boston Globe

If you watched the Patriots' pre-season game against the Eagles last month, you saw a defensive performance that had been missing all of last season. Granted, the game didn't matter, but if you're like me, you hoped the Patriots would deliver an effort like that when the games counted.

And while New England's defense didn't completely overwhelm the Houston Texans yesterday, they definitely showed a lot against a team that has a legitimate shot to match up with the Pats in January.

The biggest difference from 2017 to 2018 is that the pass rush has a pulse. The Patriots had the right mix of aggressiveness and discipline to be able to contain Deshaun Watson, who completed 17 of his 34 passes for 176 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

The Pats sacked Watson three times, totaled 12 quarterback hits and 19 pressures while mostly rushing four, sometimes five. Last season, that performance was nowhere to be found even on the defense's best day.

There are a lot of reasons for what we saw yesterday. Some of it is health, some of it is improved depth, some of it is better coaching, but let's not forget the secondary. The unit was already looking good on paper, and that translated to the field.

Because of the pressure the pass rush put on, the secondary could be more aggressive in their coverage. New England's defensive schemes are most often match up-dependent and often change even during the course of the game.

Yesterday, though, the Pats played a lot of man coverage, which happened in part because of their aggressiveness at the line of scrimmage. It wouldn't be shocking to see the Patriots employ this strategy against Jacksonville on Sunday, who have an average offensive line (15th) and one of the worst group of wide receivers in the league (30th), according to Pro Football Focus.

And no, I didn't forget about Blake Bortles. Everyone knows he isn't good, so it pretty much goes without saying.

It isn't always wise to judge a group based on one regular season game. But if the Patriots are able to build on what we saw yesterday, it will go a long way in helping them reach Atlanta in February.

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