It’s been a strange year for the Patriots.
Tom Brady and the team’s offense started slow but picked it up right around the halfway mark of the season. Aqib Talib and New England’s defense looked like they were primed to have their best season since the start of the new decade before getting bogged down by injuries. Stevan Ridley started the season in the doghouse, found his way out and was ordered right back in by Bill Belichick after some fumblitis.
Through it all, the Patriots stand at 9-3. Sunday didn’t prove much, other than that this New England team can beat one of the worst teams in the league despite coming out of the gate sluggish.
To dive further into what went down in Houston, check out this week’s film review below.
Brady just keeps getting better this season. His offensive line gave up plenty of pressure to the Texans’ front seven, but Brady didn’t seem overly bothered by it.
In years past, Brady would feel pressure and direct himself to the turf. In this game, the signal caller just shrugged it off, stepped away and fired bullet after bullet.
There weren’t many bad passes to find in this game. And Brady didn’t even have a traditional “X” receiver after Kenbrell Thompkins got hurt. Who needs an “X” receiver when you have Brady at the helm, though?
After being low on weapons through the first eight weeks of the season, Brady’s looking just fine with his full arsenal.
LeGarrette Blount‘s stat line won’t turn any heads, with just 44 yards on 12 carries with a long of eight. But those were 44 hard-fought yards for Blount, who took over the bell cow role after Brandon Bolden proved ineffective in the first quarter.
Blount had his truck stick working on Sunday afternoon. He rarely went down on first contact. It appears Blount has finally been taught to run with a lower pad level. That helped him greatly. He’s finally running with power when not standing straight up. Blount’s numbers would look a lot better without his final three runs, when the Texans knew what was coming as the Patriots were trying to run out the clock. Blount had three yards on three carries in New England’s final drive.
Shane Vereen had his patented drop on a long pass from Brady. But other than that down moment, the third-down back played well. His carries can be all or nothing, but Brady is still depending on him out of the backfield. Vereen had some tough catches in traffic.
James Develin was finally heavily involved in touching the football. He had two carries for four yards and a 12-yard reception. His one-yard touchdown was something out of Jon Bois‘ fantastic Breaking Madden series. Develin broke six tackles on his way to the end zone. It appears all of Houston’s defenders’ tackle ratings were dragged down to zero on the play.
Julian Edelman had another fantastic game. He now has more receptions and seven less yards than Wes Welker on the season. Edelman’s getting better after the catch as the season progresses. He’s also showing an ability to get open downfield that he didn’t flash early in his career.
Danny Amendola had a strong game too. Edelman just gets more snaps and looks from Brady. Amendola hasn’t looked quite as quick after suffering his early-season groin injury, but he was still getting open.
Thompkins got hurt while getting a little wild while leaving his feet on a first-quarter reception. KT had space in front of him, so it looked like he could have reached for Brady’s pass. At the very least, he could have jumped for the ball and still landed on his feet. Instead, Thompkins fell hard to the ground and hurt his hip. He came out of the game a play later.
Josh Boyce was not very impressive or decisive in his routes. He played just 16 snaps despite a golden opportunity to shine. Eventually, Matthew Slater was taking his reps in three-wide sets.
Rob Gronkowski had his best, most complete game of the season. He was equally impressive catching the football, running routes and blocking. His touchdown was stellar. Brady had a ton of time and Gronk had to keep working to get open. He finally caught a strike from Brady and rolled into the end zone.
Matthew Mulligan was mostly used as a blocker to help out with the Texans’ stout front seven. I didn’t have Mulligan giving up any pressures.
For the most part the Patriots’ offensive line did a nice job against J.J. Watt and the Texans’ defensive line. Brady was sacked just once. Nate Solder had too much on his plate and let Whitney Mercilus and Jeff Tarpinian through.
Here’s how the pressures broke down for New England’s offensive line:
Nate Solder: 1 sack, 1 pressure
Logan Mankins: 2 pressures
Ryan Wendell: 5 pressures
Dan Connolly: 6 pressures
Will Svitek: 2 pressures
The O-line did an OK job creating rushing lanes for the backs. Solder and Mankins had a lot of positive moments. Wendell and Connolly struggled at times.
It wasn’t nearly as poor of a performance against the run as the Patriots churned out against Denver. For the most part, Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones did a nice job setting the edge while making their fair share of plays in the middle of the field through high effort. Jones played five-technique and seven-technique defensive end. He also stood up at outside linebacker in the base 3-4 often. New England spent most of its time in the 3-4 base.
Joe Vellano and Chris Jones were much better in this game. They still have a tendency to get pushed out laterally too often, but their high motors can make up for it at times. Isaac Sopoaga was getting pushed out too often, especially when taking on single teams. Sealver Siliga held his ground well a couple of times but missed a tackle and had a tendency to get pushed around.
Sopoaga, Siliga and Chris Jones all shared the nose tackle role. The Patriots allowed 15 yards on four carries when Jones was in the middle, 57 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries with Sopoaga, 52 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries with Siliga and -2 yards on Vellano’s lone snap against the run playing nose.
Here’s how the defensive line stacked up in the pass rush:
Rob Ninkovich: 5 hurries, 4 QB hits
Chandler Jones: 3 hurries
Isaac Sopoaga: 1 sack, 1 hurry
Andre Carter: 2 QB hits
Joe Vellano: 1 hurry, 1 QB hit
Chris Jones: 1 hurry, 1 QB hit
It was a rare down performance from Brandon Spikes against the run. He was overpursuing and getting blocked out at the second level. He did have his usual disruptive moments, as well. It’s a case of the linebackers missing a player like Vince Wilfork, who commanded double teams on every play.
Dont’a Hightower got caught up in the second level at times, too. He also showed some indecision. He had a positive Spikes-esque moment when he knocked fullback Greg Jones into Ben Tate, creating a negative play.
Hightower’s best moment came when covering running backs out of the backfield. He struggles to keep up with tight ends, but he always does a nice job sticking with back in man.
Spikes had some trouble in coverage, failing to drop far enough into his zones at times. Dane Fletcher looked good in coverage. He was only in on two run snaps.
Jamie Collins had another “up” performance after not showing much in the first half of the season. Collins was able to hit Case Keenum on a completion to DeAndre Hopkins. It looked like Collins may have hesitated slightly just before getting to Keenum. He could have possible sacked the quarterback. If not, he could have disrupted Keenum’s pass.
Check out how the linebackers did rushing the passer:
Dont’a Hightower: 2 hurries
Jamie Collins: 1 QB hit
Brandon Spikes: 1 hurry
Here’s how they stacked up in coverage:
Dont’a Hightower: 1-3, 17 yards, PBU
Dane Fletcher: 0-2
Rob Ninkovich: 0-2
Brandon Spikes: 0-1 2 PBUs
It appears Aqib Talib is still recovering from his hip injury. He’s having some trouble starting and stopping. It’s most evident when he’s attempting to defend comeback routes.
Logan Ryan might have been the best defensive back on the field for the Patriots. He did a great job on DeAndre Hopkins all day. He also came away with an interception and a pass breakup.
Kyle Arrington played sparingly. It appears he’s still bothered by his groin injury. He may have retweaked it on the 66-yard catch he allowed to Hopkins.
The Patriots played a lot of zone. It wasn’t overly effective in stopping Andre Johnson, who found his way to the linebackers too often.
Duron Harmon was late on a 28-yard completion to Johnson and missed a tackle. He nearly had another easy pick in the fourth quarter but stepped out of bounds.
Steve Gregory was blocked out on a long Ben Tate run. He was also late on a Johnson catch. Gregory split snaps with Harmon in his first game back from a broken thumb.
Keenum didn’t bother to throw anywhere near Devin McCourty. He had a missed tackle in the run game. That’s the second game in a row McCourty hasn’t been thrown at.
Here’s how the defensive backs fared in coverage:
Kyle Arrington: 1-1, 66 yards
Aqib Talib: 4-5, 43 yards, PBU
Duron Harmon: 1-1, 28 yards
Logan Ryan: 1-2, 11 yards, INT, PBU
Steve Gregory: 1-2 8 yards
Marquice Cole: 0-1, PBU