BOSTON (CBS) — It hasn’t looked too great for the Patriots secondary so far through three games. The group hasn’t lived up to its lofty expectations, despite having some serious talent on the depth chart. Malcolm Butler’s decreased role in Week 2 also raised eyebrows.

But even after Sunday against the Texans, when the Patriots allowed 301 yards through the air against Texans rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson, Bill Belichick doesn’t sound too worried about how the secondary has played. In fact, in the competitiveness department, he sounds pretty pleased.

Speaking on a conference call to reporters on Tuesday, Belichick had satisfactory marks for Butler – who regained his full workload on Sunday – and the rest of the secondary. He also made his typical acknowledgment that there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

“I think Malcolm did a good job,” said Belichick. “I mean, all of our defensive backs I thought were pretty competitive. We had some scramble yardage and loose plays and things like that. But I mean, the normal passing game we were pretty competitive on. But like anything else, there are certainly a lot of things we can do better. I’m not saying it was perfect or great by any means. We’ve still got a lot of things we can improve on.”

dl patrick chung patriots texans Belichick Pleased With Malcolm Butler, Competitiveness Of Patriots Secondary

Ryan Griffin of the Houston Texans carries the ball as he is pursued by Patrick Chung of the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on Sept. 24, 2017. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia was also happy with Butler’s compete level, despite a subpar day overall for the secondary.

“I’ll certainly say, man, I thought Malcolm [Butler] played really well,” said Patricia. “We certainly didn’t play great at all as a defense. I’m not saying that but I think the guy really tried to go out and play extremely hard. This is a very competitive guy. Malcolm steps up to the challenges that you place in front of him. He goes out and competes, he works hard, he tries to do it the right way and he really tries to get better every week.”

Butler, Stephon Gilmore, Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, and Duron Harmon so far have all received Pro Football Focus grades in the 70-79 range, which rates as “average”. Even at times against the “normal passing game” they have looked downright bad, sometimes missing coverage assignments or getting flat-out beat by inferior opponents. McCourty and Chung got burned by Texans tight end Ryan Griffin, who caught five of six targets for 61 yards and a touchdown.

Specifically, Belichick said he liked the competitiveness of the secondary, not necessarily their execution. But it’s still early in the season and this still-talented group needs time to figure out how they’re going to play together, especially when it comes to integrating Gilmore with his new teammates. So perhaps it’s more important that Belichick sees a unit that is at least competing as it gets things sorted out.

Nonetheless, the Patriots have allowed 331 passing yards per game, the most in the NFL so far. So it would be hard for the secondary to be any worse.


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