High Marks For Brady But What About the Defense?
The Patriots pulled out another win thanks to the continued brilliance of Tom Brady and were able to come from behind and defeat the Houston Texans 36-33 on a pass from #12 to Brandin Cooks with just 23 ticks left on the clock.
But there are some serious questions to be asked about the defense. New England’s defense now ranks 32nd in yards and more importantly 32nd in points allowed. A Houston team that had scored 20 points in its first two games lit them up for 33 and left some more points on the field.
So, we’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.
Tom Brady was looking anything like the 40-year old that is A.) About to fall off a cliff. B.) Can’t throw the deep ball anymore, C.) A dink & dunk system QB on Sunday. Take your pick…did we leave any out? Rob Parker? Brady was under duress all afternoon and was sacked 5 times (4 by Houston and one by James White’s foot) and still managed to complete 25-35 for 378 yards and five TDs. Houston hadn’t allowed a 300-yard passer in over thirty + games. No more.
He was 5-8 throwing the deep ball and had the Texans very confused on the back end. He froze the deep safety by staring down the receiver on the game-winning TD giving Cooks time to get free and lofted a perfectly thrown ball right into the barrel. All of this with Jadeveon Clowney right in his grill. Tremendous poise and coolness under fire….again.
Running Backs: C
The backs weren’t targeted much in this one as they were mainly asked to stay in and either block or chip on their way out. James White had a nice 11-yard catch where he juked the defender and got the first down. But the backs were afterthoughts this week.
The running game was stuck in neutral. Mike Gillislee had just 31 yards on 12 carries as there was frequently nowhere to run (Cue up Martha and the Vandellas).
Wide Receivers: A+
These guys had their way with the Texans beat up secondary on Sunday. Chris Hogan scored two touchdowns on 7 and 47 yards that were ridiculously wide open. The wide receivers were creating space on the back end that the Texans couldn’t handle. As good as that front seven is, their backend is a liability. Brandin Cooks caught a bomb to start things off on the Patriots first drive, a really nice catch where he was interfered with and still brought down the pass.
Cooks had another nice catch on a 42-yard post where he caught the ball in the middle of the field with separation from newcomer Jonathan Banks and kicked his speed into high gear, leaving him in the dust for an easy touchdown. He then beat Kareem Jackson for the game-winner with under a minute to go.
Danny Amendola returned from a concussion and what a difference he made. Again, as we’ve said here many times, don’t judge him by his stats. He drew two defensive penalties and his catch on the Patriots final drive on third and 18 near midfield was a beauty. He got a bit of separation from Eddie Pleasant, went high up and came down the ball tucked away. Money.
Tight Ends: B
The Patriots got Rob Gronkowski back after tweaking a groin in New Orleans and he had a typical Gronk game. The big man had 8 catches for 89 yards and a touchdown and was giving the Houston safeties fits. He did a very good job of blocking, several times staying in to block JJ Watt or chip him on his way out in the pattern.
Dwayne Allen is really struggling right now, he had another drop and has zero catches so far this year. No one was expecting huge numbers from him but not this either. His blocking was okay but he did get taken to school on one play by Whitney Mercilus, but lots of guys do. Jacob Hollister had a nice catch down the seam for a nice game and then took a big shot but once again showed he was able to hold onto the ball. I think we’ll see more of him moving forward.
Offensive Line: C
The offensive line didn’t have a good day. With Marcus Cannon out the team used Cam Fleming and LaAdrian Waddle and both of them had issues. JJ Watt blew threw each on the first two plays of the game and had run stuffs behind the line. Nate Solder is playing hurt and was beaten on several plays. The interior of the line fared little better. Joe Thuney was pushed back violently by Watt and fell into Solder’s legs, allowing Clowney a free rush and he crushed Brady.
On a day where the line allowed five sacks and opened precious little running room for the running backs, they didn’t have their best day. But as we pointed out, Houston’s front seven is among the best in football.
Defensive Line: C
The Patriots defensive line set up to stop the run, frequently putting ten men in the box, practically daring the rookie QB, DeShaun Watson to throw. And despite that, with an offensive line playing pretty horribly and being banged up, the Texans ran for 125 yards on the ground. That isn’t getting it done. They had a hard time bringing down the elusive, eel-like Watson on several plays, but one has the feeling that we’re going to see a lot of that moving forward.
The pass rush was inconsistent but did get some pressure at times. Cassius Marsh had a pretty good day with a sack and a couple of pressures. Deatrich Wise was bearing down on Watson early in the game and forced him into an errant throw that was easily picked off by Stephon Gilmore. But the line stepped up big at the end of the game with Alan Branch and Malcom Brown stuffing a 3rd and 1 at the Patriots 18-yard line forcing a field goal. If Houston converts there, they probably score six and walk away with the win.
Dont’a Hightower missed his second game (not surprisingly) and Kyle Van Noy played every snap on defense. He had some up and down moments but he guessed wrong and went for a pick on a pass to D’Onta Foreman in the flat. He didn’t get there and Foreman rolled for a 34-yard gain. His diving play on Lamar Miller was a beauty, stopping him from breaking off a big gain. Elandon Roberts was mostly solid in the run defense but is still a liability in coverage. David Harris is still MIA.
The team played a lot of zone coverage because of the presence of a running QB and as we’ve said before, this team doesn’t do zone well. Once again the big plays killed the secondary where they allowed a rookie QB to throw for over 300 yards on the day. The secondary allowed six passes of more than 20 yards. Malcolm Butler returned to the lineup with Eric Rowe injured and played well. Gilmore had an up and down day. He had an interception and a nice return but then took a needless penalty on a deep throw where he had good coverage as well as safety help. Jonathan Jones struggled on the day and was picked on a bit. Pat Chung gave up a big play as did Devin McCourty who was beaten for a touchdown to Ryan Griffin in the end zone. Unfortunately, we’ll probably see more zone this week as Cam Newton is coming to town.
Special Teams: B+
Stephen Gostkowski made all of his extra point attempts and his kickoffs were perfectly placed allowing the coverage units to go down and make plays. With Nate Ebner back, they did just that. Brandon Bolden made two very good plays on the coverage team.
Amendola’s return re-ignited a sleepy return game and he had big returns of 33 and 20 yards. The first of which set up the Patriots first touchdown (Did we say $$$).
Ryan Allen was okay, he put three punts inside the 20 but when they were pinned deep, he shanked one, giving the Texans excellent field position. But the overall coverage units were outstanding and this week. Once Matthew Slater returns, we expect it to get even better.
Bill Belichick’s best move of the day was allowing his team to be itself. There was none of this phony, “we’re all going to kneel or none of us are” BS or anything else. He let the players decide how to handle it and they seemed to become closer as a group because of it. The comments after the game seem to echo that. Brilliant move on his part. However….
We can stop with the narrative about rookie QBs facing a Bill Belichick defense for now. Yeah, sure they won the game because of the continued magnificence of Tom Brady. But it was Watson who for the vast majority of the game who took Belichick and Matt Patricia’s defense to school and the Texans who weren’t supposed to move the ball at all this season, pushed the Pats defense around easily. They tried to confuse Watson by constantly bringing ten men up in the box and daring him to throw….he did. The problem was, they never came thru with the threat of bringing pressure and Watson wasn’t intimidated at all.
Offensively, the plan was simple, they were going to attack the deep part of the field, and despite the issues on the offensive line, they accomplished that quite well. We could get nit picky with a few of Josh McDaniels play calls, but against that defense, putting up 36 points….is a very good day.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2017 Patriots Season Bill Belichick Brandin Cooks Cassius Marsh Chris Hogan Danny Amendola Deatrich Wise Deshaun Watson Dion Lewis Houston Texans Jadeveon Clowney James White JJ Watt Malcolm Butler New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers Rob Gronkowski Tom Brady Trey Flowers Whitney Mercilus