5 things New England Patriots must improve on

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Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

4. Run defense

It’s no coincidence that the Patriots have lost consecutive games considering how porous the run defense has played. As you well know, the Pats lost in overtime to the Broncos on a 48-yard scamper by C.J. Anderson in which he slashed his way through the Patriots’ defense with ease. In total, Broncos running backs tallied 175 rushing yards against the Pats that game, an inexcusable amount.

Despite the Eagles not having nearly as much time of possession as the Patriots had on Sunday, Darren Sproles, Kenjon Barner and DeMarco Murray still posted 129 yards. The success on the ground allowed Philly to sustain drives that Sam Bradford otherwise wouldn’t have with his right arm.

Read what they said: Patriots’ reaction to Week 13 loss

Of course, the main reason the Patriots have struggled against the run in recent weeks is the absence of Dont’a Hightower. Jamie Collins returned, but the Pats’ front seven is at its best (and honestly, elite) when both Collins and Hightower are manning the middle side-by-side. Hopefully, Hightower will return next week.

In addition, rising star Dominique Easley missed Week 13 due to injury. With Easley in the fold alongside fellow youngster Malcom Brown and with Collins and Hightower filling gaps, the Pats’ run defense ought to improve.

It’s somewhat comforting that the Texans are tied for the second-worst yards per carry average in the league, 3.5.

Next: 3. Offensive play calling