The Texans defense, especially Houston's front seven, is damn good. And Bill Belichick knows it.
The Patriots head coach continued to talk up this week's opponent in his Friday morning press conference at the media workroom at Gillette Stadium.
Belichick opened the meeting with reporters saying, "It's been, as always, a very challenging week getting ready" for the Houston coaching staff and talented roster.
Later, a question regarding linebacker Bernardrick McKinney's contributions to the star-studded Texans front seven led by J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus really got the Belichick praise train chugging along.
"Another good player. I mean, they have too many good players so it's hard to help," Belichick said of blocking them all. "If you help one, then you're light on the others. If you help one of the others, then it's tough. That's what makes them so good, is they get a lot of those matchups and you can't help. Like I said, too many guys so the guys that get singled are productive and they make plays. They make plays for a loss. They make plays in the running game. They make plays in the passing game and they make plays in pursuit. They make a lot of plays down the field. A good example was the Cincinnati game where Kareem Jackson caused the fumble but there's Clowney chasing the ball down there. It pops up into his hands. He turns around and runs it back 50 yards the other way. They knock down passes. They hit the quarterback. They tackle running backs, but they chase and pursue well down the field, as well. They're never out of the play. Those four guys – they are very impressive."
Beyond Belichick's continued praise for all things Houston – at least on defense – here are some of the other highlights of the coach's morning press conference.
1. Texans RB Foreman is "LG like":Houston third-round rookie running back D'Onta Foreman hasn't had an overly big role in the first two weeks, carrying the ball 13 times for 44 yards. But, that doesn't mean the 6-0, 235-pound back doesn't have big potential.
In fact, Belichick said the youngster reminds him of another big-bodied playmaker that New England fans are quite familiar with.
"Foreman is a big kid, a big, strong guy. I mean, not quite as big as [LeGarette] Blount but big like LG was," Belichick said. "[He has] really good hands. I spent quite a bit of time with him at Texas last spring. He's an impressive guy. He can run through guys. He can run around them. He's got good quickness in space, a good receiver. He's a big back with some little back skills, so he's got a very good overall skill set. He can be used on all three downs, but he can get tough yards and he can be tough in space as we saw in the preseason game."
Belichick then emphasized that Foreman is an even more dangerous option as a pass-catcher than Blount.
"He's a good receiver. He can split out. He has good hands. He's good in the passing game," Belichick said. "He's got long speed and he can take a short run and turn it into a 50, 60-yarder like he did in college. He runs away from people. He's got a lot of skill."
2. "Nobody works harder than Cam" Fleming: Cameron Fleming appeared in seven games with a pair of starts as a fourth-round rookie in New England in 2014. A year later, though, the Stanford product was cut in early September and joined the Patriots practice squad after clearing waivers. He rejoined the active roster later that season and in the last two-plus seasons has apparently become a trusted, reliable option as a backup and occasional extra blocker.
Fleming started seven of 12 games played in 2015 and then five of the 16 he played last fall. Though some thought he was on the roster bubble this summer, Belichick's description of his fourth-year tackle's time in Foxborough doesn't seem to support that theory.
"I think Cam had a good rookie season for us. We were in a roster situation there where we had to do that," Belichick said of the release and short practice squad stint. "He was only on the practice squad for a week or two and then we were able to adjust some things and get him back, so that was really more of a procedural thing than it was a big dip in his performance or anything like that. That really wasn't the case. He's been pretty steady and pretty consistent all four years. But again, it was a procedural thing that we did to make a roster spot there for a couple of weeks. Once that cleared, we got him back.
"We weren't looking to ever move on from him, but nobody works harder than Cam. He works extremely hard. He's very smart and when you tell Cam, 'This is what you need to work on,' then you're going to see him spending considerable time every day, a half-hour or an hour every day working on those things. He's a great guy to coach. Really takes his job [serious]. He's very professional and well-prepared, smart. Whatever you ask him to do he really works hard to try to do it just the way you wanted it. I have a lot of respect for him."
3. DeAndre Hopkins' "catch radius is probably as big as any receiver in the league":There is little doubt that Hopkins is the focal point of the Texans passing attack. The fifth-year receiver has been targeted on 29 of the 60 passes thrown by Houston quarterbacks this fall. He leads the team with 14 receptions, twice as many as running back Tyler Ervin. He has Houston's one and only touchdown reception on the season.
A reporter declared that Hopkins wasn't one of the bigger or faster receivers in the league, so just how does the Texans go-to guy get the job done?
"Hopkins is a very physical receiver. He's a good route technique guy and he has great hands," Belichick described. "He's good against off-coverage with his stems and his route technique and he's good against press coverage because he's physical. He uses his hands well and he's able to create separation and then he can extend. He catches the ball away from his body very well. When the quarterback can put the ball where he can get it, he gets it. He has good timing on the deep balls to go up and out-jump the defender who might have good positon on him, but he goes up and can get those balls, make spectacular one-handed catches or diving catches. His catch radius is probably as big as any receiver in the league. There's somewhere you can put the ball, no matter where the guy is on him, there's somewhere where you can put the ball where he can get it that the defender cant, and if it's a good throw he'll get it and it will be a completion. So he's never really covered even when he's covered."