In week 3, the Houston Texans featured Kareem Jackson and Jonathan Joseph at cornerback, with Kevin Johnson playing 52% of the snaps. Fourth-year cornerback A.J. Bouye was barely a blip on the radar with just 17 snaps against the Patriots as a tight end coverage specialist.
Since then, Jackson has been relegated to the slot and Johnson is on the injured reserve. Bouye is now playing like one of the top cornerbacks in football and has caught the attention of the Patriots.
Bouye has “done a great job for them,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. “They have a lot of good players there in the secondary. Losing Johnson, I know that was tough, but Bouye has stepped in and done a great job. Jackson playing inside, Joseph on the perimeter...Bouye has stepped in and been very productive for them.”
Bouye “had an incredible year,” Patriots QB Tom Brady said. “What a great young player and great future that he has. I mean he’s just shut a lot of people out over the course of the season. He seems like he’s a feisty young player. He’s certainly not afraid to get in there and play in the run game, but really his coverage skills are very impressive for someone of his size. He’s got all of the makings of what it takes to be a great corner in this league.”
Joseph and Bouye have been great this year, and Jackson’s role in the slot is worth monitoring. We spoke with Brett Kollmann of BattleRedBlog.com for his thoughts on the Texans secondary.
“Johnathan Joseph is the grizzled veteran of the group, and despite his age he has still been an effective boundary corner this season,” Kollman writes. “Kareem Jackson spends most of his time in the slot, and while not as good of a cover man as Joseph and Bouye, he is excellent against the run and arguably the best open field tackler on the team. Jackson's presence in the slot has been a key factor in the Texans' success at defending the edge run game for the last few seasons. Bouye started the year fourth on the depth chart, but quickly became the team's most reliable corner in coverage (other than Kevin Johnson, who is on injured reserve) once he was given a chance to get on the field.”
If the Patriots can isolate Jackson into coverage of Patriots WR Julian Edelman, then the New England offense could have an advantage to exploit. Moving the ball against the Texans secondary isn’t going to be easy.
“It doesn’t seem to really matter which guy is getting thrown on,” Belichick said. “They all make plays. They’re all very close to the ball and they get a lot of interceptions and get interceptions off of tipped balls, because the coverage is there and the quarterback tries to throw it in there and it gets batted around and somebody picks it off. On top of that the pass rush is good, so there’s not a lot of time for the receivers or the quarterback to extend plays or do a lot of multiple moves. You’ve got to be decisive. You have to get open quickly and it’s hard for the quarterback to hold the ball against this pass rush.”
“They’ve been playing as well as any secondary that we’ve faced all season,” Patriots QB Tom Brady added. “Their cover guys have done such a great job for that defense and there is a reason why they’re ranked number one. They don’t give up any easy yards in the pass game. They don’t give up any big plays. They’re really well-coached, which is very easy to see. I think they’ve just really come on over the course of the whole season. I’ve just been very impressed with what I’ve seen.”
The Texans play exceptional complementary defense and Bouye is the surprising star of the secondary. Brady will try to waste Bouye’s talent by moving the least-targeted skill player into his coverage (sorry, Michael Floyd). If Brady can avoid throwing a turnover against this Houston secondary, then he will have gone a long way to ensuring a Patriots victory.