Bill Belichick sees critical third-down battle looming against Texans

FOXBOROUGH — Patriots coach Bill Belichick was effusive in his praise of the Houston Texans during his press conference Wednesday at Gillette Stadium, describing the AFC South team as one that seemed to excel in all phases of the game.

But when it came to third-down defense? Well, that’s where Belichick was particularly impressed by Houston’s defense, coordinated by Wade Phillips, the former head coach of the Boncos (1993-94), Bills (1998-2000) and Cowboys (2007-10).

Belichick seemed to sense a looming battle between the Patriots, who own the league’s best third-down conversion rate (52.6 percent), and the Texans, the NFL’s stingiest third-down defense and the AFC’s best team at 11-1.

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Through their first 12 games, the Texans have held opponents to a 28.2 percent conversion rate on third downs.

“I think they’re a good defense on every down,” Belichick said. “But on third down, they rush well and they cover well. [Kareem] Jackson and [Jonathan] Joseph have done a good job all year for them [at the cornerback spots] but they’ve had other guys come in there and do a good job for them.

“Of course, they can rush and create a lot of long yardage situations, so that’s helped their pass rush,” Belichick said. “They’re a good third-down defense, one of the best in the last 9-10 years statistically at under 30 percent, which is pretty impressive.

“They do everything well. They rush, they cover, they blitz, they mix it up.”