- Field Yates, ESPN Insider
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Patriots special teams ace Matthew Slater didn't shy away from the poor coverage he and his teammates had as a kickoff unit during Sunday's win over the Houston Texans.
"We've got to get better," the Pro Bowl special teamer said on Monday.
The Patriots allowed Texans safety Danieal Manning to return the opening kickoff 94 yards, 32 yards longer than any previous return allowed this season.
Asked what went awry on Sunday, Slater pointed to poor execution.
"There were several breakdowns," he said.
When pressed as to whether those breakdowns were from missed assignments or poor execution on specific assignments, he replied, "Both. I think a little bit of both."
With an AFC Championship Game rematch on tap with the Baltimore Ravens, who led the NFL in kickoff returns in the regular season, Slater knows improvement is critical for his team this Sunday.
"It's very important," Slater noted. "We need to perform better. We can't put our defense in bad situations like that, like I said last night. Overall into the next game, we've got to prepare for Jacoby (Jones), and we know how good he is and what he is capable of. I'm confident we'll have it fixed."
The Patriots had previously been very strong defending kickoff returns this season, allowing just 20.5 yards on average on kickoff returns during the regular season. That figure inflated to 46 yards per return for Houston on Sunday.
Preparations to stop Jones, an All-Pro selection as a kickoff returner this season, have begun, and Slater said fundamentals will be key in improved execution.
"Just go back to the basics," he said. "Go back to the fundamentals and the rules that we have as coverage players, and just doing our job better and doing our assignments better. It's been a strength for us this season. Kickoff coverage has been a strength, and like I said, I'm confident that we'll get it fixed."
Slater was also asked for his thoughts on comments from a top Ravens special teams player, Brendon Ayanbadejo, who called elements of the Patriots offense a "gimmick."
"I don't think about those kind of comments," Slater replied succinctly.