There is something about big December games for Bill Belichick and the Patriots as they rolled to their 13th straight December win, 42-14 over the Texans. In a game which was so highly anticipated, it was virtually over early in the second quarter as the Patriots scored on their first three possessions to lead 21-0 and never looked back for their seventh straight win.
Here are five observations from the dominant win:
Brandon Lloyd stepped up and had a big game in Monday night’s convincing win over the Texans.(FILE:USPresswire)
Brady, McDaniels come out on fire
You could not have scripted a better start for the Patriots as the offense scored on their first three possessions building a 21-0 lead. It couldn’t have looked any easier as Tom Brady and the offense picked the Texans defense apart. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels mixed in the running game as much as he needed to keep the defense off balance. He also used a number of different formations to create the match ups he was looking for and Brady exploited them. The drives totaled 56, 82 and 70 yards respectively with Aaron Hernandez catching touchdown passes on the first and third drives, and Brandon Lloyd catching a touchdown on the second. Over the first three drives Brady was a man on a mission going 11-14 for 155 yards and three touchdowns.
You knew in a big game the Patriots would come in with an impressive game plan and that’s just what they did. McDaniels and Brady seemed particularly pumped up for this game with McDaniels showing more emotion than he has in any other game this season. McDaniels used the Texans aggressiveness to the Patriots advantage running a number of misdirection plays getting the Texans to bite and then throwing or running the opposite way. The running game was used just enough to keep the Texans linebackers and safeties honest, which allowed Brady to dissect the Houston secondary and allow the Patriots to jump out to a huge lead and never look back.
Defense excels against good team
Coming into the game much of the talk was how the defensive would fare playing against a very good Houston team featuring a solid running and passing attack. The Patriots defensive rose to the occasion holding the Texans to just 12 points, all of which came in the second half when the result was all but in doubt. They limited Houston to just 323 yards of total offense and only 100 yards rushing, including only 46 from All-Pro running back Arian Foster. Vince Wilfork was the leader of the group having one of his best games as a Patriot. Going against double teams on most plays, Wilfork still managed to record four tackles (one for a loss), one sack, and one impressive defended pass. His value to the defense truly is irreplaceable and as much credit as he gets, he deserves that much more.
As each week goes by, the defense keeps getting better and better, and now they can say they have done it against a winning team in Houston. This could be the difference in the playoffs this year — the defense having the ability to win a game on it’s own, not relying too much on the offense.
Whether it is Aqib Talib himself, or just a coincidence, ever since he stepped on the field for the Patriots there has seemed to be a different defensive philosophy with the unit playing much more loose and dialing up blitzes creating pressure on their own. This was something non-existent early in the year, possibly because of Bill Belichick and the coaching staff worried about getting beat deep if they were to send extra guys after the quarterback. As has been the case in recent weeks Belichick and the defense blitzed on a number of plays making Matt Schaub uncomfortable in the pocket forcing poor throws, including one to Devin McCourty late in the first quarter.
Although Schaub was only sacked twice, he was hit eight times. Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower and Justin Francis led the rush with two quarterback hits each. The Patriots also defended seven passes, a very high number for them. The teams tackling was also arguably their best of the season, something which needed to be good going against a very good rushing team in the Texans. Talib seems to have given the defense a confidence boost, especially in the coaching department allowing them to play more loose and free, letting guys blitz and make plays instead of sitting back and waiting for their opponents to make mistakes on their own.
No Watt factor
Entering the game much was made of Texans defensive end J.J. Watt who came into the game with 16.5 sacks and 15 pass deflections, but was limited to zero sacks, and zero passes defended. He did record four tackles, but was essentially a non factor. The credit has to go to the Patriots offensive line as Houston’s defense came in ranked fifth in the league in sacks. Although Brady did take some tough hits, six hits to be exact, he was sacked just twice. The group got Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly back, which were certainly big positives to go along with Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer and Ryan Wendell. The offensive line also did a formidable job in running blocking, opening up holes for the Patriots running backs. The Patriots ran for 130 yards, led by Stevan Ridley’s 72 yards. The offensive line is ultimately the key to the entire offensive moving forward being able to protect Brady as well as opening roles for the running backs to maintain a balanced attack.
Injuries bare watching
While it was a very good win, it did come with a bit of a price because of a few injuries particularly on defense. Talib was injured right before halftime and did not return. It appeared to be a hip injury. Fellow cornerback Alfonso Dennard also injured himself late in the game and reports from the stadium were it was a hamstring injury, something which kept him out of training camp. The Patriots cannot afford to lose these players as they have valuable roles in the secondary. Also, something to watch defensively is the health of Brandon Spikes. Although he didn’t miss any time, he seemed to be a step or two off, limping heavily after most plays. He did have an ankle injury listed this week, so it is something to monitor the rest of the way.
Offensively, the team made it out of the game injury free, but the unit was already heavily banged up with Rob Gronkowski out until most likely the start of the playoffs and Julien Edelman on injured reserve. Lloyd and Donte Stallworth picked up the slack Monday night with Lloyd catching a touchdown pass and recovering a fumble in the end zone. He caught seven passes for 89 yards. Stallworth caught just one pass, but it was a big 61-yard bomb going for a touchdown. These two players will be huge for Brady and the offense until Gronkowski gets back. As the regular season winds down the Patriots are making a strong push for the AFC’s overall No. 1 seed and need as many players to step up as they can.
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