BY DAN BEGNOCHE
Since the mid-'90s, New England has put up some stellar numbers on third down, but it's never finished with higher than a 50 percent conversion rate, according to ESPN.com. That's exactly the position the Pats are in now, posting a ridiculous 53 percent rate thus far.
The team will face perhaps its toughest test this weekend, however, as the Houston Texans head into Massachusetts touting the league's most proficient defense on third down. (photo: Maitri, Flickr)
“Third down, they rush well and they cover well,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick told reporters Wednesday. They’ve created a lot of long yardage situations, they’ve been ahead and so that’s helped their pass rush.
"They’re a good third down defense – one of the best in the last nine, 10 years statistically – to be under 30 percent is pretty impressive. They do everything well: they rush, they cover, they blitz, they mix it up but you have to really work to convert on third down against them.”
The Texans' defense is only allowing just over 28 percent to be exact, the lowest since Tennessee's defense back in 2003. The main key for Houston has been the squad's ability to get to quarterbacks, ranking third in sacks in the league, as well as defecting passes. The front has deflected more than 100 passes so far this season, far and away the most in the league.
Belichick joked his team may have to use brooms during practice this week to simulate the Texans' ability to get their hands on the ball, saying they're a “disruptive front” that will be a formidable matchup.
Look for the Pats to rely heavily on the run game to pick up those crucial first downs, as Stevan Ridley leads the league with 66 rushing first downs. In fact, the team as a whole has accumulated 116 rushing first downs this season, also tops in the league. Conversely, Houston has allowed only 58 rushing first downs this season, third best among all defenses.
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