ReFo: Texans @ Patriots, Week 14
As a Houston Texans fan you would have been left in disbelief and concerned, as for the second time this season your team was comprehensively beaten in a primetime game against one of the league’s elite. As a neutral, an encounter between the supposed two best teams in the AFC never materialized as the Patriots took advantage of some early bounces and simply throttled the life out of the Texans.
The New England defense rose up and was as big a factor in the victory as the offense, if not more of one, and the way the Patriots were able to run the ball on a usually strong Houston run defense has to raise concerns, not only for the Texans but also the rest of the AFC. If the defense can maintain this kind of form for another month then this team is not simply about Tom Brady and the passing game. All season long they have shown glimpses, but this was the culmination of a complete team performance — maintain that level of play and this team will be extremely difficult to beat.
The spectacle may have been a disappointment but there are still kudos and concerns to highlight from a game that re-ignited the race for the NO. 1 seed in the AFC.
Houston – Three Performances of Note
There has been much conjecture and debate as to the performance of J.J. Watt in last night’s game, with suggestions in some parts that he was shutdown and taken care of by the New England offense. Well, there is a difference between playing well and having a turning influence on a game. It is certainly true that Watt was unable to make the splash play, but that doesn’t for a second mean that he played poorly or was shutdown. His grade alone (+7.1) illustrates that he was making positive plays and he did get into the backfield five times to hit Tom Brady (one nullified by a penalty).
What the Patriots did well was limit the plays he was making and ensure those plays didn’t turn the game. He was held without a sack or a batted pass, and none of his hits led to anything worse than an incompletion. He even recorded a forced fumble that led directly to a New England touchdown, which wasn’t exactly a fitting reward for his effort. Sometimes no matter how well you play you simply don’t get the breaks to allow you to turn the game in your team’s favor.
This game will have come as a culture shock for the Houston Texans’ offense. For a unit that is so used to controlling the pace and tempo of a game they were rocked out of rhythm by a New England defense eager to prove a point. They then found themselves quickly behind the 8-ball, a position from which they never looked like recovering.
Up front, the Patriots did not discriminate against the Texans’ linemen that they picked up positive plays from. As much as Ben Jones (-3.6) was victimized by Vince Wilfork early on, Duane Brown (+1.5) also had his struggles against Rob Ninkovich. The Patriots’ defender was able to shed our top-rated left tackle with surprising ease early in the game to make plays in the running game, and also profit from pressure on Schaub to pick up a sack off Browns’ block.
When the Texans were in a chase position they simply didn’t look capable of jumping back into the game, unable to engineer a big play to Andre Johnson. This Houston offense is built to execute one way, and they can execute extremely well when they control the game, but after this one the questions will be raised as to whether they can come from behind against a good team.
Cause for Concern?
The Houston Texans’ defense has done a very good job so far of recovering from the loss of their defensive leader, but are the cracks now starting to emerge? This week, outside of another exceptional display by J.J. Watt and some solid run defense by Whitney Mercilus (three stops in run defense), the defense was found wanting at every level.
Up front Antonio Smith, Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell struggled to get to grips with the New England run blockers and as a result the secondary was left extremely vulnerable to the play-action passing game. This led to the 37-yard score for Brandon Lloyd as none of Glover Quin (-3.0), Danieal Manning (-3.6) or Johnathan Joseph (-1.8) seemed interested in tracking the receiver running deep behind the defense. The Texans have put in one defensive display reminiscent of this back in their Week 6 defeat to the Packers. They rebounded from that well and they need to do just that again in the final month of the season to be ready to compete come playoff time.
New England – Three Performances of Note
Running Game Sets the Tone
The stat line will tell the story of another spectacular game by Tom Brady as he threw for four touchdowns with no interceptions for the 14th time in his NFL career. Certainly this was a fine game from Brady, but from early on the running game set the tone and late on it was the running game that drove the final nail in the coffin.
On the first drive it was a Jekyll and Hyde show from Stevan Ridley as he ran hard and picked up 22 yards on his first three carries before putting the ball on the ground close to the Texans’ goal-line, only for Aaron Hernandez to bail him out. Credit has to go to the offensive line, which has parlayed their success running the ball from the gun last season into being one of the better run-blocking lines in the league whether they are in the gun or under center. This week Logan Mankins (+4.1) was the star turn, but Ryan Wendell and Nate Solder were also impressive. The Patriots’ ability to change their spots on offense and now use the run to set up the pass, and vice-versa, has to have the entire league quaking in fear.
Wilfork Leads the Charge
This was an almost complete team performance by the Patriots, and for the most part the defense had an absolutely excellent game, led by Vince Wilfork’s best outing (+7.9) in quite some time. Recent weeks have seen some utter dominance from defensive tackles, and Wilfork was just the latest to join the party as a pass rusher and run defender. His four stops were a season high, and he was simply too much for Ben Jones to handle in the first quarter as the Texans couldn’t use their agility to get around the Patriots’ big bodies up front and open up holes across the field for Arian Foster. Wilfork’s forced fumble on Matt Schaub as he swatted the ball out of the QB’s hand was simply the cherry on the cake. He was ably backed=up at each level of the defense though, and in particular any other week we might have been lauding Dont’a Hightower (+2.9) and Jerod Mayo (+2.8) as the stars of the defense. The two combined for nine defensive stops and four quarterback hits as the Patriots got a lot of production from sending their linebackers after Schaub.
Brady Pulls the Strings
In spite of the stat line this was not vintage, impeccable Brady, but it was more than good enough to beat a Houston Texans team who couldn’t take advantage of some off-target throws by Brady. When the Texans sent the blitz (56% of plays) Brady was particularly devastating, collecting three of his four touchdowns against extra pass rushers. Brady was sacked once on a blitz, but otherwise collected 14 of his 21 completions and 159 of his 296 passing yards.
In previous years the weight of the Patriots’ expectations has been on Brady to deliver and fire with the passing game to carry the rest of the team. If the rest of the team continues with performances like these for the next two months then it is quite intimidating to think that Brady doesn’t have to be exceptional for the Patriots to be extremely difficult to beat. If he is as good in the playoffs as we know he can be then it is tough to see a team beating a complete performance from New England
– The Patriots certainly didn’t want J.J. Watt to have much time to get pressure in this game; Brady’s average time to throw this week was 2.27 seconds, one of the quickest single-game snap-to-release times of the season in the league.
– New signee Stanford Routt made his Houston debut this week and recorded a solitary defensive snap while surrendering a penalty on special teams.
– While mainly tasked with covering Andre Johnson, rookie corner Alfonzo Dennard did a solid job recording a pass defense and a third-down stop on three targets.
PFF Game Ball
The Patriots jumped on this game early and kept the Texans at arm’s length the rest of the way. Vince Wilfork was a big reason for the Texans being kept off of the scoreboard until midway through the third quarter.