The Patriots took care of business at home against the Texans and they came away with the 27-20 victory that wasn’t really as close as the score would indicate. There was never the feeling that the Texans could take over and win this game and the muffed punt at the end, while it made it a one-score game, didn’t really change the momentum.
It was a good win, with plenty of positives and also plenty of negatives for the coaches to clean up before they travel to Jacksonville next week. With the NFL showing a ton of sloppy play across the board in Week 1, we’ve become accustomed to most of the teams playing below par since most of the players barely see the field during preseason. So, with that in mind, the coaches will take the victory and move on.
Overall the Patriots looked pretty good and were the better team throughout the game. The combination of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski seems to have not missed a beat and perhaps those missing OTAs sessions weren’t a big a negative as we were told to believe. There is a reason to feel much better about the pass rush this season, although the Houston OL is a bit suspect again. And the OL’s performance can only be described as a ton better than when the two teams met last year.
There were issues with the run defense, turnovers and special teams coverages on the minus side. So, with the season opener in the books, we’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.
Tom Brady wasn’t at his very best, as he was quick to point out after the game on Sunday but he was pretty damned good. There was absolutely no rust factor involved with the offense under #12 and he was his normal cool, brutally efficient leader.
All summer we heard the same mantra we’ve heard for what now? Eight to ten years? They have no weapons…the offense will struggle…yada, yada. Brady eats that like M&Ms, (although he probably eschews chocolate). He threw a nice back shoulder throw to Gronkowski for the Patriots first touchdown where the big man then muscled his way into the end zone.
He also had touchdown passes to James White and Phillip Dorsett, who was the 69th player (Gronk approves this message) to catch a touchdown pass from Brady. And his best pass of the day was arguably the one in the fourth quarter when facing a third and long. Brady bought time, slid in the pocket and found his fourth option, FB James Develin for a key first down. He finished 26-39 for 277 yards with 3 TDs and 1 INT.
Running Backs: B
The Patriots went with Rex Burkhead and James White mainly early in the game and then brought in Jeremy Hill later. Both Burkhead, who got the majority of the work in the running game and White were their normal solid performers on the field.
Hill came on and got just a few carries but appeared quick in the running game before going down with what appeared to be a nasty injury. That hit may require the Patriots to make a roster move if he’s out for an extended period, which it appears initially to be. **Update** Hill has torn his ACL and is done for the year**
James Develin provided his always solid game in the running game as a lead blocker but also chipped in with four catches for 22 yards. Develin had six catches all season in 2017 and nearly equaled that on Sunday. That’s nice stepping up. But overall, the running game went for 122 yards on 31 carries which isn’t bad at all.
Wide Receivers: C
The wide receivers entered the game pretty thin with just four on the roster, minus STer Matthew Slater. While their numbers weren’t earth shattering they performed okay for the first game of the season but in the future, they’ll have to step it up.
The bright spot was Phillip Dorsett who had just 12 catches all of last year. He had seven catches for 66 yards and a touchdown. On the final drive before the first half, Dorsett caught the last three passes Brady threw, including the four-yard touchdown. Cordarrelle Patterson had four touches including three carries and one reception.
Chris Hogan’s day was a disappointment. He was targeted five times and had just one catch for 11 yards. Riley McCarron was targeted once and had no stats but he would figure prominently in special teams (more below). The third down conversion rate wasn’t good and it is the WRs who must step up and change that.
Tight Ends: A
Rob Gronkowski is the best, most complete tight end in the NFL and it isn’t even close. The Texans decided that they were going to take him away with an athletic linebacker and a safety. It didn’t work. Gronkowski was the most dominant player on the field on Sunday.
He caught seven passes for 123 yards and a score, despite being the guy they tried to shut down. His 22-yard touchdown was a classic Gronkowski double coverage, back shoulder throw to Brady where he muscled his way in the end zone. At the end of the half, he split two defenders on a deep seam route where he made a fantastic catch despite a defender clearly pulling on his arm.
But Gronk is a force multiplier, he is a great decoy as well. On James White’s touchdown he lined up in the slot on the right and cut left and took all of the defenders with him, White was left with a huge hole in the defense to work in. Dorsett’s touchdown was similar. The guy continues to be unstoppable.
Offensive Line: A-
The offensive line was thought to be a question mark by some even though they had four of five starters returning. They were facing one of the best front sevens in the NFL and one that has a plethora of pass rushers. And for much of the day, Tom Brady could stand flat-footed in the pocket and go thru his progressions.
Trent Brown did a tremendous job on Jadeveon Clowney all game long and the talented pass rusher was invisible for most of the game. He and Whitney Mercilus were relegated to a milk carton in the game. Marcus Cannon did a tremendous job on J.J. Watt who did get a couple of hits on Brady when LaAdrian Waddle came on the second half. The Texans did get a couple of sacks from the interior of the line late in the game.
The only picky thing we can find is that the run blocking was just okay but not great. The team averaged just 3.9 yards per carry, again okay but not where they want to be. However, they did rush for 122 yards on that front seven, so we’re not going to harp on that at all.
Defensive Line: B
It was a mixed bag for the defensive line on Sunday. They were outstanding at getting after the quarterback and (this time), containing him in the pocket. Trey Flowers had a tremendous game, he’s always an under-the-radar guy. Flowers logged 1.5 sacks, two tackles for loss and three QB hits. Deatrich Wise, in a limited role, due to the rotation, had 1.5 sacks, 1.5 tackles for a loss, and three QB hits. All in just 22 snaps
Unlike a year ago, the Patriots were for the majority of the afternoon, able to keep Deshaun Watson in the pocket and stop him from gaining the edge and making plays with his feet. The rotation of DEs was working and they kept fresh legs out there with Adrian Clayborn and newcomer Keionta Davis playing well too.
Lawrence Guy is the most underrated player on the Patriots. Guy had a great game and provided solid run support as well as pushed the pocket. He forced Watson’s throw that was picked off by Gilmore.
The run defense overall was not good, the Texans were running at Malcom Brown and Adam Butler and that will have to be tightened up. In the second half, however, it looked like the team was going to a smaller box and playing more two deep safeties, but we’ll have to rewatch the tape and see if some of the issues were by design.
Kyle Van Noy, rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley, and Dont’a Hightower played the most snaps. Bentley was really good for the most part and moves all over the field pretty well for a big man. He was out of position, however, on the 31-yard run by Lamar Miller in the first half. Elandon Roberts came on in the second half and had one really bad series, where Alfred Blue and the Texans gashed them on the ground. Roberts has a penchant for filling the wrong gaps at times and that series was not good.
But in covering the backs and tight ends, the linebackers had a very good game. The running backs had just two catches and TE Ryan Griffin was shut out. It was a pretty good start to the season, while they have a lot of room for improvement, it was light years better than the start to 2017.
Stephon Gilmore continued the outstanding play that he’s demonstrated since the midway point of last year. He had a strong spring and summer and he was matched up with one of the best WRs in the game with DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins had his catches, he ended up with eight for 78 yards but he wasn’t a difference maker in the game. The Texans were trying everything in their power to get him the ball but Gilmore blanketed him all game.
His interception was a phenomenal play. Gilmore ran from the other side of the field when he saw Eric Rowe in single coverage and covered a tremendous amount of field with the ball in the air and went up, high pointed the ball and snagged the interception out of the hands of Rowe.
Rowe had a pretty solid game as well, while Ellington had just four catches for 37 yards. The safeties did a very good job of communication (the opposite of 2017) and the bunch formations that gave the team fits in 2017 didn’t phase them this time around.
Special Teams: C-
The normally solid Patriots special teams coverage units laid a clunker against the Texans who were one of the worst STs units in the league last year. Houston averaged 31.2 yards per kickoff return, not what I would consider anywhere near the Patriots par. But it was the first game of the season and the team did lose a couple of their core special teamers in Brandon Bolden and Jordan Richards while Jacob Hollister missed the game due to injury.
Riley McCarron muffed a punt which allowed Houston to score on a short field to cut the score to a touchdown late in the game, but it was also his first NFL game. He’ll hear it from the coaches this week.
On the plus side, Stephen Gostkowski was perfect on three PATs and both FG attempts. And Ryan Allen had six punts for a 46.8-yard average. Included in that was his last-minute punt that went 55 yards and was downed on the one-yard line.
Bill Belichick had the team ready to go this season. The Texans tried to replicate their game from last year where they bunched their formations and got the Patriots secondary confused but this time, it didn’t work. The defense was well prepared for it plus the movement of Watson in the pocket.
Dante Scarnecchia had the OL extremely well prepared to face the Texans pass rush and stout front seven. The offense knew they were thin at WR but they worked up a game plan that got everyone involved. Josh McDaniels was still able to find ways to attack the secondary and the Patriots were still balanced in the running and passing games.
Brian Flores and the defense earn high marks of the week. The Patriots defense looked much, much better this week than they did at this time last year. Overall, very high marks for the coaching staff, but an even tougher test awaits this week.