It’s long been said about Bill Belichick and the Patriots that they like to take away what other teams do best.
In the pass-happy NFL, what most offenses do best these days involves getting the ball to big-time receivers. Not so surprisingly, the Patriots have done a tremendous job at shutting down opposing team’s “No. 1” wide outs this season.
The most notable example came in Week 5 against Cincinnati’s A.J. Green, as they held the three-time Pro Bowler to just five catches for 61 yards, without a touchdown. The most notable stumble came in Week 14 against the Browns when Josh Gordon ran roughshod over the New England defense to the tune of 151 yards on seven catches.
It’s obviously a lot easier to negate a team’s strength when you are something close to full-strength health-wise, which is why the statistics involving the Pats shutting down opposing No. 1s look much better earlier in the season than later. Through the first 11 games of the year, the Pats defense allowed just one 100-plus yard game to another team’s No. 1 wide out as Julio Jones caught six balls for 108 yards in Week 4.
Unquestionably, the health of Aqib Talib has factored into the Pats’ second slacking as the season has wore on. Talib was playing at an All-Pro level before tweaking his hip in the win over the Saints in mid-October. He has looked a step slow, at times, since.
Starting with Houston’s Andre Johnson in Week 13, the Pats let three No. 1 receivers burn them for 100-plus yards consecutively. Gordon, in Week 14, and Mike Wallace, in Week 15, also had touchdowns against New England. In the final two weeks of the regular season, they held Baltimore’s Torrey Smith to three catches for 69 yards and Buffalo’s Robert Woods (the Bills were without Stevie Johnson) to one catch for 27 yards.
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Much has been made about Colts quarterback Andrew Luck not having many weapons on offense. But receiver T.Y. Hilton is coming off a career game in which he torched the Chiefs for 224 yards on 13 catches with a pair of touchdowns. Hilton had five 100-plus yard receiving days during the 2013 regular season.
“He’s pretty dangerous on everything,” Belichick said of Hilton. “He’s caught long passes, intermediate passes, short catch-and-run plays. He’s very quick, fast explosive, good with the ball in his hands. He runs good routes, he’s a hard guy to tackle, so he can beat you in a lot of different ways.”
Follow Metro Boston sports editor Matt Burke on Twitter @BurkeMetroBOS