Patriots Fail on Key Opportunity to Build Momentum
Failure. It describes the team aspect of the entire flat-out failure that was the game in Houston. This was an eminently winnable game but the fourth time this year, the Patriots failed at crunch time. But like a few of the other examples, this game was lost long before Cam Newton’s Hail Mary fell short.
The Patriots were supposed to be better than Houston but in the end, they were/are not. Forget that the only team they beat was Jacksonville. Deshaun Watson had played them extremely well in his earlier starts but on Sunday, he looked like a magician. The Patriots defense, the same one that looked so solid against Baltimore failed to contain Watson, failed to put pressure on Watson, and failed to cover his receivers.
The Patriots offense wasn’t bad, they started off extremely well, but for some reason abandoned what was working. But the time they started clicking with downfield passes from Cam Newton, it was too late.
So, here are our grades this week for the Patriots-Texans game.
Cam Newton had a big statistical game when we all thought it would be the running game dominating play. Newton passed for 365 yards, averaged 9.1 yards per pass, his highest of the season. His QB rating of 102.6 was the second-highest of his season. His 42-yard touchdown pass to Damiere Byrd was an absolute beauty, he launched it from nearly the 50 and dropped it right in the bucket in the end zone.
But… his footwork suffered at times and when it did, his throws ended up in the dirt, which has been a recurring problem. On the double pass to Jakobi Meyers, he missed Byrd which would have been a touchdown. Some of his processing time and decision making still remains an issue.
Five batted passes at the line, regardless of J.J. Watt’s presence is at least partly on him, although the OL failed to cut him at the line.
Running Backs: C
Where did the running game go after the first drive? Damien Harris carried five times on the Patriots’ opening drive including a nine-yard touchdown run where he went in untouched. After that, he carried just three times in the first half and only three more in the second half. There is no way, the running game can get any traction going like that. Granted the offensive line didn’t have a game nearly as strong as they’ve been playing, but only running the ball 24 times against the worst run defense in the league is a total headscratcher.
The worst news is that the team will probably be without Rex Burkhead for the remainder of the year. He reportedly suffered a torn ACL and didn’t travel with the team after the game. Burkhead has been the team’s most versatile, dependable weapon on offense.
James White got an uptick in carries, getting five for 19 yards but also saw much more in the passing game, catching six passes for 64 yards. Jakob Johnson made a really nice block on Harris’ touchdown run, but after that, he wasn’t much of a factor.
Wide Receivers: B+
Damiere Byrd had his best game as a pro, being targeted seven times and catching six passes for a career-high 132 yards including that nice 42-yard touchdown pass from Newton. Jakobi Meyers wasn’t a factor in this game with just three catches for 39 including the 20-yard double pass, but while Houston was trying to take him away, Byrd and Newton more than made up for it, working the middle to deep areas of the field. Myers had the best block of the day, pancaking J.J. Watt on Harris’ touchdown.
N’Keal Harry was incorrectly called for a penalty, which inflamed the Twitterati, but managed five catches for 41 yards. Newton missed him on another. Donte Moncrief was activated off the practice squad and made a catch for 15 yards.
Tight Ends: D
Well, there that one good week. Ryan Izzo was given the job on several occasions to help block J.J. Watt and that didn’t go well. The running game which is his strength didn’t benefit much from his efforts. Izzo blew the assignment on a sack with Newton. Harry came in motion and was running a route in the flat. He’s not responsible for blocking the pass rusher. Izzo instead double-teamed Watt and Justin Reid came clean.
In the passing game, Izzo was invisible for 59+ minutes. With the Texans playing 20 yards off the ball, he caught a five-yard pass and turned it into a nine-yard gain. And caught Newton’s Hail Mary heave as time ran out. But it was about 10-yards short of the goal line. A perfect metaphor for the tight end position in 2020. Newcomer Jordan Thomas was targeted once.
Offensive Line: C+
The offensive line should have dominated this group that was allowing over five yards a rush and over 160 yards per game on the ground. But they did not. Was it simply that they got away from the running game too soon and then the piecemeal attacks didn’t give them an opportunity to get into a rhythm running the ball? That’s the feeling here but gaining just 86 yards and 3.6 yards per rush isn’t good and they bear at least part of the responsibility there.
Newton’s pass protection wasn’t great with blown assignments but overall wasn’t as bad as thought at first glance. On the failed 4th and 4, Jermaine Eluemunor double-teamed Whitney Mercilus with Joe Thuney, allowing Lonnie Johnson to run free at Newton.
Defensive Line: B
The defensive line was good in this game once again. While Houston isn’t a running team, they only managed 55 yards on 19 carries but 36 of those were on Watson scrambling. Texans running backs averaged less than a yard and a half per carry. Lawrence Guy and Carl Davis did their job well inside. Davis was clearly held on Watson’s touchdown run. Deatrich Wise and Guy had the only two QB hits on Watson.
The Patriots linebackers followed up one of their strongest games of the year with one they’d rather forget. However, as much as the defensive game plan was to NOT blitz Watson much and drop in coverage, that decision was a mistake and poorly executed. Watson had a whopping 241 yards by halftime. But even when they did rush, the Texans, minus their starters at LT and LG kept Watson clean all day, his first game all season that he wasn’t sacked.
Missed tackles were the story of the day. Ja’Whaun Bentley took a terrible angle on Watson’s TD run and he was of little help when Devin McCourty got blasted by Watson who was running full-steam when they met at the goal line.
Chase Winovich drew two holding penalties and should have drawn a third on Watson’s TD pass right before the half. Josh Uche had a nice stop of Watson scrambling on a key 3rd down in the second half.
The Patriots secondary had their own share of missed tackles and assignments. While some of the plays were the direct result of Watson making plays with his feet and extending plays, they also had plenty of plays where the secondary was just beat. Houston had seven plays of 20+ yards, and while the pass rush certainly deserves part of the blame.
Despite getting consistently burned by all three Houston tight ends, they allowed them free releases at the line. One would think that would be an adjustment made during the game…but it was not. But give the Texans credit, they have very good WRs and executed well. On the Brandin Cooks 44-yard pass play, they executed a perfect (and legal) pick play on Stephon Gilmore, allowing Cooks a free release where he took off. J.C. Jackson recognized it but was already in catch-up mode. And Watson’s pass was on the money. Stuff like that will happen but what was inexcusable for the secondary was not just YAC (yards after the catch but yards after contact.) Texans receivers had over 60 yards after being contacted…yuck.
Adrian Phillips was a bright spot once again. He’s been a great addition. Kyle Dugger hits a ton but was in chase mode too often with the tight ends. That’s where the guys on the edge should have been helping with a chip here and there.
Special Teams: C
Joe Cardona, Jake Bailey, and Nick Folk were all just fine. Folk was perfect on the day with two FGs and two extra points Bailey as always hit a couple of boomers. But the Patriots need to address their return game.
Bill Belichick even addressed the lack of return game during his Monday presser. Gunner Olszewski continues to return nearly every kick in the end zone and rarely makes it back to the 25-yard line. That isn’t cutting it and for an offense that has to scratch and claw its way down the field, it puts them already in a hole and is unacceptable.
If the coaches are instructing him to return everything, then that must change, isn’t it time to start giving J.J.Taylor a look in the return game, at least in practice?
The Patriots coaching staff had a poor game plan for this one and it was not overly well executed. Josh McDaniels got away from the running game for no apparent reason, and while we’ve been harping on mixing it up some on first down, abandoning it against the worst rush defense isn’t smart.
Some of his play calls certainly deserve some scrutiny as well. With Newton and Byrd showing the ability to push the ball deeper, a 2nd and 19 run to White followed by a screen pass on 3rd and 17 are curious at best. And too many screen passes that opponents see coming. On their second possession, the 3rd and 10 screen to Burkhead was sniffed out right off the bat.
The Belichicks (Bill and Steve) aren’t immune. Their decision not to push the envelope on Watson was a first-half disaster. As well as not chipping the tight ends. Where are the in-game adjustments?
We’re on to the Cardinals, but first, bury the football from this game behind the stadium.
Posted Under: Patriots Report Card
Tags: Bill Belichick Brandin Cooks Cam Newton Damien Harris Damiere Byrd Deshaun Watson Devin McCourty Houston Texans Jakobi Meyers James White JJ Watt New England Patriots Patriots Patriots edge rushers Ryan Izzo Stephon Gilmore Will Fuller