(Before It's News)
The Patriots crushed the Houston Texans in Foxboro last night, dominating all three phases of the game for a 27-0 shellacking. The win puts them at 3-0 and they are 1.5 games ahead of the second-place New York Jets in the AFC East. In 10 days the Buffalo Bills come to town for the last non-Brady game of the year (we hope!).
This game wasn't a fair fight. The Patriots did everything right and the Texans did everything wrong. From game plan to in-game coaching to offensive efficiency to special teams to defensive energy and speed, it looked like an NFL team versus a pee wee flag-football team.
There are far too many superlatives to go around the entire team this week. Even I don't want to write a 25,000 word blog entry. So instead, we'll go five-for-five. Standout performances in four different categories by the Patriots, and a fifth category for bad plays/decisions by the Texans.
Running back LeGarrette Blount gained 105 yards on 24 carries to take away the NFL lead in rushing yards for the season from Houston's Lamar Miller. His 41-yard touchdown burst through the left side clinched the game.
Quarterback Jacoby Brissett had pedestrian throwing numbers (11 of 19 for 103 yards and a 72.9 QB rating). But he never turned over the ball, had several scintillating QB runs (including a 27-yard touchdown), was only sacked once, and did not make any critical errors.
Receiver Malcolm Mitchell's lone catch came on 3rd-and-2, and he broke a tackle to to turn the short throw into a 27-yard reception (over 1/4 of all the yards Brissett threw for on the day). He also did a great job blocking downfield, including on Brissett's touchdown run.
Tackle Nate Solder gets a mention that could have gone to three or four offensive linemen. Against one of the better defensive fronts in the NFL, the team averaged 4.7 yards per carry and gave up one sack. Since Solder returned, most of the running plays are to his side, and his run blocking has been superb.
Martellus Bennett had only 2 catches for 10 yards, but his blocking continues to impress, both in pass protection and the running game.
Jabaal Sheard had 3 tackles and 2 sacks for 21 yards lost. He was the man on defense this week, seemingly around every time there was a big play made.
Alan Branch was critical to stuffing early runs by the Texans, which forced them to rely more on an unproven quarterback.
Chris Long got consistent pressure on the quarterback, made some nice plays forcing runs back inside, and batted down yet another pass. He thrives when lined up on the right side, not so much on the left. So he will likely be even more productive once Rob Ninkovich returns to take his normal position on the left (still scheduled for a Cleveland game return).
Jamie Collins' 14 tackles doubled the number of any other Patriots defender, and he had a pass defended and a nice interception. He is the glue holding together the linebackers until Dont'a Hightower returns.
Logan Ryan covered the best Houston receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, all game long. And though he didn't shut him out, his 4 receptions (for 56 yards) were nearly inconsequential, and every one of them was an acrobatic, tough catch against coverage that was right there.
Punter Ryan Allen was the game's MVP. His seven punts went for a 47.6 yard net average (0 return yards), and he pinned the Texans inside their 20 yard line all seven times. It would be nearly impossible for a punter to have a better game.
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski executed perfect kickoffs. They were high (so his teammates could get good coverage), short of the goal line (so the Texans had to return them), and towards the sideline (making them even easier to cover). It's no accident the Texans' average starting position was their own 16 — with Allen and Gostkowski both on their games.
Brandon Bolden and Nate Ebner both forced fumbles on those short kickoffs, both times the Patriots recovered them, and both times the Patriots offense scored touchdowns.
Cyrus Jones returned two punts for 23 yards and one kickoff for 24 yards. This is significant because it removes pressure to use Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman on kick returns, which keeps them fresher for the offense.
The only down note of the day was the long-snapping of Joe Cardona. He had one bad punt snap, one sub-standard one, and two iffy snaps on field goals/extra points. The special teams coach has done a nice job with the return games; it's time to get back to basics with Cardona before he blows an important snap.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had a phenomenal game. His plan to roll Brissett with misdirection and compliment that with option runs was brilliant. It kept the Texans off-balance, never knowing to go with Brissett or away from him.
You could see it on Brissett's touchdown run. The entire Texans front-seven went for the fake pitch to the left, Brissett rolled right, Shaq Mason cut the lone defender on that end, and it was all green pastures for 25 yards.
Bill Belichick never gets as much credit as he should when they debate NFL Coach of the Year. This season, he might have won the award already. “Ignore the noise” and “do your job” were never more important than this week, and he had his players ready to dominate.
Special teams coach Joe Judge has done a marvelous job with Gostkowski, Ryan, and the coverage team. His game plan changes per opponent, which is should. Best example is that the Pats kicked off through the end zone against Miami, obviously more afraid of the Dolphins return game than that of the Cardinals or Texans.
Matt Patricia earns a gold star for putting the game in Brock Osweiler's hands, and knowing those hands would not beat him. He calls a great game, anticipating what is coming and dialing up just the right counter.
Cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer and safeties coach Steve Belichick did a great job improving the secondary play against Houston. They had second-half let-downs against both Arizona and Miami, but not this week. The secondary played with smarts, passion, and great communication.
It's unfathomable that the Texans were not ready to handle the running attack of the Patriots in general and Jacoby Brissett in specific. It's as if they never watched the Dolphins film. You could see in that game how limited Brissett was on long throws, so why wouldn't you bunch the line and dare him to throw long?
The Texans' first possession ended when they ran the ball on 3rd-and-8 (and then punted). Late in the first half, they punted with about 90 seconds on the clock on 4th-and-2 at the 50 yard line. They should have been more aggressive in both those situations, especially with a rookie QB on the other side.
More a curiosity than anything else, but once the Pats got a first down with 1:05 left, why would the Texans take a timeout? If the Patriots tried to run out the clock, Houston didn't have enough timeouts to make them punt. And if the Patriots tried to score, that timeout only helped them.
They wasted a challenge to gain 7 yards on a punt midway through the second quarter. Note to coaches, unless it's over 25 yards or changes a first-down situation, most yardage challenges aren't worth it.
After the aforementioned challenge, the Texans had the Pats in 3rd-and-15 at their own 13 yard line. This was their chance to pin the Patriots back and change field position. So what did they do? Amendola caught a pass 8 yards short of the first down, ran around two defenders and split two others to get the first down. Pathetic.
Bonus mistakes, fumbling on two kickoffs, which led directly to 14 Patriots points. Once maybe, but after that, every player should have been drilled over and over about ball security on kickoffs.
(Note: the second fumbler had a towel in his left hand instead of having both hands on the ball. Credit to my wife, Lori, for catching that one!)
So where does that leave us? Thumbing our noses as the NFL. 3-0 without Brady, without Gronkowski, without Ninkovich, and without much resistance from the opposition. Ten days hence will be the league's last chance to get its pound of flesh during the Brady suspension. And with ten days to prepare, any doubt the Patriots will be in a position to win that one?
Statistical Oddity of the Week: The Texans had two plays in Patriots territory all night. Decades ago they kept Buffalo from crossing the 50 for an entire game, but I don't remember anything this dominant in years.
Non-Brissett MVP of the Week: Four words: Ryan Allen was magnificent.
Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: “Goodell is just the latest to take on Belichick and lose.”
Keep the faith,