Think of second down as football's version of the midrange jumper.
Dunks and 3-pointers make highlight reels, but midrange jumpers are just as important to scoring points in basketball.
The same goes for football, where second-down success sometimes gets overlooked in lieu of first down plays and third-down conversion rates.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick doesn't overlook anything, though, and believes New England needs to improve on second down -- on both sides of the ball.
"It was an area we didn't do a very good job of against Houston," Belichick said Tuesday on a conference call with reporters. "Honestly, it wasn't that great against Kansas City last year either in the playoff game. So, that's something we have to do a better job of coaching and executing."
New England gained four yards or fewer on more than half (13) of those plays, leaving Tom Brady and the offense with more challenging third down situations.
The Patriots faced third-and-5 or more 14 times and third-and-10 or more six times on Sunday. Not putting themselves in easy situations there. https://t.co/9TC0Wvuo16
— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) December 3, 2019
Those stats are particularly concerning to Belichick, who pointed out that the offense should have the advantage on second-down plays.
"The offense has more options. They have two downs instead of one," Belichick explained.
"... They can do whatever they want. They can run, they can throw short. If they complete a 10-yard pass, then they pick up the first down on second down, and there is no third down. So, if they pick up five yards on third-and-8, it's a different story than picking up five yards on second-and-8. So, just defensively, you have more things to defend, more things to worry about."
Unlike the Patriots, the Texans' offense was able to utilize that advantage Sunday.
Houston gained a first down on 33 percent of its second downs (6 for 18) and racked up 10 yards or more on five second-down plays, the longest a 27-yard strike from Deshaun Watson to DeAndre Hopkins that led to the Texans' fourth touchdown of the night three plays later.
An athletic quarterback like Watson gives Houston additional play-calling versatility on second down. But the Patriots face another mobile QB this Sunday in the Kansas City Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes, so they'll have no choice but to buckle down and defend "the forgotten down" better than they did at NRG Stadium.
"On second down, there's probably a few things you could eliminate, but not nearly as many," Belichick added. "You just have to defend a lot more, and as I said in our case, we just need to do a better job of it.
"We need to coach it better and we need to play it better."
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