Why Patriots' Defense Will Be Their Achilles' Heel in Playoffs

Cameron ClowContributor IIIDecember 2, 2013

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 01:  Ben Tate #44 of Houston Texans scores a second quarter touchdown past Devin McCourty #32 of  the New England Patriots at Reliant Stadium on December 1, 2013 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Tom Brady's 371 passing yards were enough for the New England Patriots to eek out a 34-31 victory over the Houston Texans. The same Texans team that scored six points against the Jacksonville Jaguars a week prior. This performance revealed the Patriots greatest weakness, their defense. 

Ben Volin of The Boston Globe wrote this about the New England defense, "The Patriots defense was awful on Sunday, allowing the lowly Texans and their undrafted rookie quarterback to run up and down the field. The Patriots couldn't tackle, they couldn't cover and they couldn't rush the passer."

While they recorded the win, the Patriots should be concerned with the 31 points that Case Keenum and Ben Tate put on the board. Especially, considering the Texans are the NFL's No. 29 ranked scoring offense. 

A main concern from Week 13 has to be the play of Aqib Talib, who is usually a shutdown corner.

Talib typically draws the opponent's best receiver, and that was no different against the Texans. Andre Johnson was able to burn Talib for eight catches and 121 yards on just nine targets.

That's more production than he allowed to Demaryius Thomas and Steve Smith in the two previous weeks combined. If Talib can't return to the form that rendered Jimmy Graham to zero catches in Week 6, then the Patriots' secondary has to be worried.   

The Patriots' pass rush didn't help the secondary at all. They recorded just one sack and gifted Keenum with time to find open receivers. Keenum's 66-yard completion to DeAndre Hopkins is a good example:

On the rare occasion that pressure did get to Keenum, he made crucial mistakes. 

Keenum, however, is not near the level of any quarterback the Patriots will face in the postseason. 

Although Talib couldn't contain Johnson and the pass rush was almost nonexistent, the most glaring weakness for the Patriots had to be their rush defense.

That can't come as much surprise with Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly and Jerod Mayo all out for the season according to NESN's Doug Kyed. 

The Patriots don't seem to have a Plan B for stopping the ground game. "The defensive tackles get pushed up, over and out, the linebackers overpursue and get caught up in the second level and the defensive backs miss tackles." Kyed assessed.

"It's ugly to watch." 

The ugly rush defense allowed Ben Tate to score three times. Keenum even got in on the running game:

The Patriots couldn't seem to get a hand on Tate in the open field and if they did, they couldn't tackle him

Brady was able to play the role of Superman on Sunday. Being able to run wild on the Patriots, however, will help opponents control tempo and keep Superman on the sideline, which is cause for concern.

Luckily, the Texans had to resort to the pass and Keenum only completed half of his throws.  

New England can't rely on that level of production against Peyton Manning or Alex Smith should they meet in the postseason. That's if the Patriots can force them to resort to the aerial attack.

Keep in mind, Knowshon Moreno already dismantled the Patriots for 224 yards on the ground in Week 12. And Kansas City has the NFL's sixth-best rushing team with 4.6 yards per carry

For the Patriots, it's a pick your poison scenario. They either get gouged by the run, or take their chances covering receivers downfield. Neither was working well against the Texans, but New England escaped the game with a victory. 

And hopefully a wake-up call.