Beware of the wounded bear; the Patriots took care of business last night with their defense completely dominating the Houston Texans and the return of Rob Gronkowski keyed the Pats offense in a 27-6 blowout win on Sunday Night Football.
They were beat-up and vulnerable it was said. Their offense was a shadow of what it had been and facing a defense on a roll featuring one of the most dominant players in the NFL. Instead, it was the Patriots defense that put on a show. They held Houston out of the end zone, and they battered QB Brian Hoyer with six sacks and constant pressure, forcing two fumbles and knocked him out of the game with a scary take down that probably caused him to suffer a concussion.
He’s baaaack: Rob Gronkowski showed just how valuable he really is to the Patriots offense as they looked much closer to their normal self on Sunday night. Gronkowski played a much lighter work load than normal, logging 42 of 69 offensive snaps according to Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston but immediately made his presence felt with a big reception that set up the Patriots first touchdown on a play where he was groped, grabbed and interfered with but still made the catch. He finished with 4 catches for 87 yards and a touchdown.
While not eye-popping numbers for Gronk standards, they were plenty good enough and reassuring to not only Patriots fans but to Brady and the rest of the offense as well.
Gronkowski also went over 1000 yards on the season making him the first tight end in NFL history to go for at least 10 touchdowns and 1000 yards in three seasons. It has been done only five times.
Back on top: After falling from the first seed in the AFC to the third with last week’s loss to Philadelphia, the Patriots got some great news before they even took the field. Both Denver and Cincinnati lost Sunday afternoon and the Patriots’ win vaulted them right back to the top seed in the AFC at 11-2.
The win also clinched a playoff spot for the Patriots who are close to clinching the division at this point as well. They lead the AFC East by three games with three to play.
Belichick Neutralizes Houston’s Best Threats: Going into this game, all the talk was about J.J. Watt on the Texans defense and DeAndre Hopkins on their offense. Watt, even with a broken hand was thought to be going to give the Patriots offensive line a bad time and had been on a roll recently. Hopkins, was the second most targeted wide receiver in the NFL and accounted for 27 percent of the Texans’ offense.
But Bill Belichick did what he always does; if you’re going to beat us, it will be with someone else. The Pats put two blockers on Watt for most plays and when they didn’t and singled blocked him, Brady was throwing the ball in about a second and a half.
This completely neutralized him and he was getting frustrated early. He took a very late and very dirty shot at Brady long after he released the first touchdown pass to Keshawn Martin and it cost him fifteen yards.
Watt finished with three tackles (two solo, one assist), one tackle for a loss and most importantly zero sacks. While many will point to his injury as an excuse it should be noted that this was the fourth time, that NE has faced a Watt-led Texans defense and he’s been a non-factor in all four…That isn’t a fluke, or an injury or luck. It is a trend.
Hopkins was relegated to milk carton status by a combination of Logan Ryan and Devin McCourty with over the top help. As has been their M.O. the Pats put their second corner (Ryan), with safety help on the opponent’s top wide receiver (Hopkins), and roll their top man (Butler), on their #2 wide receiver.
It worked perfectly. Logan Ryan played a heckuva game once again, providing blanket coverage on Hopkins, holding him to a pair of short passes until he snagged a 40-yard pass in garbage time where Ryan inexplicably stopped on the route. Perhaps he lost the ball in the lights, something that seemed to be happening to a few players during the game. It was Hopkins least productive night of the season in relation to his catches, yards and targets. Coming into the game, he was the second most targeted WR in the NFL. Houston attempted only six passes to him all night. That’s winning football.
It was another master stroke by Belichick, taking away the opponent’s top threats on each side of the ball. Coupled with this was the solid play of Malcolm Butler again, it shows the absolute confidence that the coaches have in Butler that they leave him out on an island by himself. And the second year corner continues to impress. New comer Leonard Johnson got in some snaps in the slot and made a couple of impressive pass breakups. He seems like a very happy man to be in Foxboro and has an impressive dance routine to boot.
It seems like a long, long time ago with all the hand-wringing back in training camp that was going on with the gloom and doom that was predicted for this secondary sans Revis et al. Well this young group has played much better than anyone has expected and the defense overall this season is better than last season’s….let that one sink in for a moment.
Front Seven Statement: In our keys to the game, we said we wanted to see the front seven be aggressive against Hoyer and not allow the Texans to be able to take their deep shots down the field. We looked to the edge players Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard to have an impact. Sheard and Ninkovich came up huge for the Patriots. Blasting around the right side of the Texans offensive line they terrorized Hoyer on many occasions and led the way for the NE defense.
Overall the quarterback pressure generated by New England was impressive both inside and out, even on a night where Jones was rendered ineffective on the left side. Sheard continues to be one of the big steals of free agency; now fully healthy after suffering an injury during mid-season, he was the player on the field that Watt was supposed to be. He logged two sacks for 34 yards, had three quarterback hits and forced two fumbles. He was a total pain in the ass for the Texans offense.
Inside Alan Branch continues to shine, playing some of his best football of his career and Akiem Hicks logged a pair of sacks as the Patriots rolled to six sacks on the day. Houston managed only 189 net yards of offense, 102 of which were passing yards. That is a pretty impressive day in itself, but they allowed only seven first downs all game and held Houston to 3-14 on third down. Matt Patricia and Belichick had a great defensive game plan and the players executed it very well.
Pats Stick with the Running Game: Yes, something else we lamented last week was the ditching of the running game much too soon and we wanted to see them show more patience with it. And not only did they do that, but they stuck with it even after LaGarrette Blount went down with a hip injury.
While the numbers weren’t eye-popping; 31 carries for 116 yards, they were good enough on Sunday night and they kept Brady from being continually harassed like he’s been too often lately. Blount was off to a good start with 10 carries for 51 yards before he went down, but Josh McDaniels stuck with the run and it paid dividends.
Late in the game on a third and goal from the two-yard line, the Texans sold out with their pass rush and Brady handed it off to James White on a delay up the middle which resulted in an easy touchdown. The Patriots dominated time of possession 35:14 to 24:46 for Houston. The Patriots ran the ball more times (31) than passes attempted (30) on the night and while they didn’t have the type of offensive explosion that we’ve seen so many times, it was more than enough the way the defense was playing.
Brady finished the night 22 for 30 good for 73.3 percent for 226 yards and two touchdowns for a passer rating of 116.8. He went over 4000 yards on the season and now has 33 touchdowns with just six interceptions in 2015.
Special teams play was also very solid on the night save for one more hiccup with Keshawn Martin muffing a punt. Martin had a very solid game up to that point and was replaced in punt returns by Danny Amendola. Ryan Allen and Stephen Gostkowski also had very good performances in a rebound for the STs units.
Injuries Continue to Pile Up: On a night where so much went right…this is what went badly. Already suffering from a slew of injuries, the Patriots lost four more players Sunday. We mentioned Blount went down with a hip injury but during the game, the team also lost Jonathan Freeny (hand), Devin McCourty (ankle), Dominique Easley (thigh), as well as Pat Chung who left temporarily but did come back.
These injuries will have to be monitored next week for their severity and to see how much time is lost, if any for these players, but it remains to be a very tough season on the injury front for the Patriots.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2015 NFL Season 2015 Patriots Season Bill Belichick Bill O'Brien Brandon LaFell Brian Hoyer Chandler Jones Danny Amendola DeAndre Hopkins Houston Texans J.J. Watt Jabaal Sheard LaGarrette Blount Malcolm Butler New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers picks predictions Rob Gronkowski Rob Ninkovich Tom Brady