ReFo: Texans @ Patriots, AFC Divisional Round
No we just had the New England Patriots proving that they are better than the Houston Texans.
There’s no shame in that for the Texans but you have to question how the makeup of this team, even with players like Brian Cushing to return, can close the gap to their more offensively explosive counterparts.
Now the Patriots move onto a rematch with a Ravens outfit on the lookout for playoff revenge. On the back of this outing those in Baltimore better be concerned.
Houston – Three Performances of Note
Where was Watt
Back in Week 14 everyone who saw the box scores thought J.J. Watt had a disappointing game. He didn’t as the four hits and two hurries showed. But when it really mattered the Patriots were able to neutralize the key Texans defender with a combination of good scheming and awareness of how Watt operates.
It meant that he earned his lowest grade (-0.1) of the year, capping a tremendous year with his most ineffectual display. It wasn’t that he was bad but he was a non factor after a first quarter where he destroyed Ryan Wendell to pick up a tackle for no gain (13.51 in Q1) and picked up a sack (7.26 in the same quarter). With some double teaming and the Patriots keen to use his desire to get up field against him (with Michael Hoomanawanui having a lot of joy here), Bill Belichick accomplished his goal of slowing down the oppositions best player.
Is Matt Schaub Good Enough?
After a hot start to the year 2012 petered out for Matt Schaub (-0.5) and he carried that form into the playoffs. His 65.4% completion percentage and 343 yards may paint the picture of a man who did what was asked of him, but it wasn’t until the Patriots picked up a big lead and went into a bland, prevent style defense designed to slow him down as opposed to stopping him, that he moved the ball with any consistency.
As has been the case all too often Schaub struggled when pressured (-3.5), completing just 54.5% of his throws for a disappointing 4.9 yards per attempt. Are you convinced that he can push the Texans past the top teams in the league?
Myers Mans Up
It wasn’t all bad for the Texans though, with Duane Brown (+4.7) perfect in pass protection, while Chris Myers (+4.0) put forth the best display of any Texan in the running game. He found himself one on one with Brandon Deaderick or Kyle Love for the most part and comprehensively won his battles. It’s just a shame you couldn’t say the same about Wade Smith (-2.0) who drew the tougher assignment of Vince Wilfork. Naturally he gave up some, getting beat for a tackle for a loss with 10:58 to go in Q1, giving up four pressures and getting beat for here more tackles for no or short gains. It outweighed some good work but was the most glaring weakness on a line that needed to impose themselves.
New England – Three Performances of Note
Dominating Up Front
While much was made of a breakout game by Shane Vereen (who in fairness made some big plays in the passing game), it was the offensive line who stole the show, particularly on the left side. Logan Mankins may not have earned an All Pro nod this year, but he showed on his day his ceiling is as high as any guard in the league. Combined with a superb performance from Nate Solder (+5.6) they made it so their runners always had something to work with.
Mankins had a great deal of joy at the second level, finding his way to Barrett Ruud on a series of pull blocks where he enforced his will on the smaller Texans linebacker. Solder himself had a lot of joy here, seeking out second level defenders and attacking them with power whether it was a linebacker (2.21 to go in the third) or defensive back (such as with 13.06 to go in Q2). Bigger tests await them next week but more of the same and it will be hard for Baltimore to slow them down.
Finding some pass rush
Going up against Duane Brown isn’t easy, but even before Chandler Jones (-0.7) left the game hurt he’d failed to pick up any pressure. Later on in the game the Patriots tried a number of different combinations but they all struggled to consistently generate pressure off the edge, with Dont’a Hightower the most productive guy in the Patriots defense as he collected three pressures (1 Ht, 2 Hu) on his 10 pass rushes. Bryant McKinnie has done exceptionally well since returning to the Ravens lineup (two hurries in two games) and while you can get at Michael Oher do the Pats have the firepower to do so? On this evidence you’d say no, and that means you give Joe Flacco the kind of time he needs to look like a quality quarterback.
Have we seen Tom Brady (+2.8) play better? Yes. Did he need to in this one? No. The alarming thing is that he failed to complete any of the passes he was pressured on (0-of-5) but if you’re going to get pressure you really need to do it without blitzing.
The Texans defense wasn’t going to go out with a whimper and decided blitzing on 48.8% of plays was the way to go.
Here Brady responded with 10.8 yards per attempt and all three of his touchdowns as the fewer men in coverage meant more of the field to work with and boy did it show. Baltimore, take note.
– The Texans used three outside linebackers. Connor Barwin, Brooks Reed and Whitney Mericlus rushed the passer a combined 68 times and between them managed two quarterback disruptions.
– New England only missed four tackles while the Texans missed just three.
– This game featured two more “rare drops” from Wes Welker bringing his “rare drops” total to 17 for the year, surpassing his mark of 15 last year.
PFF Game Ball
The Patriots picked up 122 yards on the ground, with 72 of these coming from the left of center. That might not seem like a lot but it was crucial in them putting distance between themselves and Houston. For that, and their excellent work in pass protection, this game ball is going to be split in two and shared between Nate Solder and Logan Mankins.