One key aspect of the New England Patriots’ defensive philosophy under head coach Bill Belichick can best be summed up like this: don’t let your opponent’s best player beat you. In the case of his team’s Week 14 foe, that player is quickly found.
DeAndre Hopkins remains one of the best wide receivers in football, and has again been a consistent source of production for an otherwise uneven Cardinals offense. While he did miss the first six games of the season for violating of the league’s performance-enhancing drugs policy, he is still ranked first on the team in receptions (49) and receiving yards (574).
Even though the Cardinals are 4-8 and one of the bigger disappointments in the NFL this season, Hopkins is every bit as good as any wide receiver in the league. In fact, he is every bit as good as any wide receiver Belichick has gone up against in his career.
The future Hall of Famer said so himself during his Tuesday press conference, singing Hopkins’ praises when asked about him.
“He’s got tremendous ball skills,” Belichick said. “He catches everything, has great hands, and he’s long, so he’s never covered. Even if he’s covered, there’s a place where the ball can be that he can get it and still make the catch. Great coordination on the sidelines.
“And he doesn’t really look like it but he’s a strong kid. You see him break tackles. He’s a strong kid in terms of creating separation on routes, yards after contact, you know tough yards like around the goal line or that extra yard for a first down type of thing. He’s a very smart football player, very savvy.”
The one thing that sets Hopkins apart from other players in the NFL, however, are his ball skills. And according to Belichick those put him in the upper echelon of wideouts throughout his 47 years in the league.
“His ball skills are at the very elite level with guys that I’ve seen in this league,” he said. “He’s up there with whoever the top guys are — the Cris Carters of the world and guys like that. He’s every bit as good as anybody I’ve ever coached against.”
Belichick and the Patriots have met Hopkins, a first-round draft pick by the Houston Texans in 2013, on several occasions through the years.
Hopkins appeared in six regular season games and a playoff contest for the Texans against New England, as well as one meeting between the Patriots and Cardinals after he was traded there in 2020. All in all, he caught 40 passes in those eight games for a combined 523 yards; he also threw a 6-yard touchdown pass during a 2019 game.
That game was won 28-22 by the Texans, and therefore Hopkins’ only victory against Belichick’s team. The other seven all ended in defeat, and for the Patriots to increase that number to eight they know that slowing down the hyper-talented wideout will be key yet again.