New England Patriots at Houston Texans: Week 13 Observations

Tom Brady passed for 371 yards and two touchdowns against the league’s top-ranked pass defense. (Photo: US Presswire)

NEPD Editor: Matthew Jones

In what was a closer game than anticipated, the New England Patriots survived an ineffective first half to earn a three-point road victory against a Houston Texans team who played much better than their record would suggest. Read on for five takeaways from this week’s performance.

1. Patriots overcome slow start, early deficit caused by poor field position

If there was one significant storyline to the first quarter of this afternoon’s game, it was the excellent starting field position the Texans earned, which stood in stark contrast to the Patriots’ poor starting field position. Houston wide receiver/kick returner Keshawn Martin returned the opening kickoff fifty yards to the Houston forty-four-yard line; although Houston eventually stalled out, the Patriots were forced to begin the following drive on their own seven-yard line, punting from their eleven and allowing the Texans to start their following possession from their own forty-eight-yard line on a drive which culminated in a touchdown. Tom Brady was intercepted by Johnathan Joseph on an underthrown pass intended for Rob Gronkowski on the subsequent possession, giving Houston the ball on the New England thirty-one in a drive which also ended in a Randy Bullock field goal, giving them a ten-point lead midway through the first quarter, forcing the Patriots to play from behind. The Texans were efficient throughout the game, both in terms of throwing and in terms of running the ball, but their job was a little bit easier because of their favorable field position to begin early drives, which, even if they failed to result in points, also forced the Patriots to begin their drives from deep within their own territory, causing another slow start.

2. Case Keenum successful against frustrating soft zone coverages

Although New England’s pass defense improved dramatically last season by transitioning to more man-coverage concepts, those coverages were largely absent in the early going, with head coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia favoring soft zone coverages which allowed Case Keenum to find wide-open receiving options downfield, the first being Andre Johnson on a twenty-nine-yard grab on a crossing route during Houston’s second drive, a play which moved the ball to New England’s twenty-one and preceded a Ben Tate touchdown by three plays. Early in the second quarter, Keenum found a wide-open Keshawn Martin on a well-designed play, with the receiver gaining twenty-seven yards thanks to a blown coverage. Although Keenum was eventually intercepted on the drive, Martin’s catch set up Houston on the twenty-two-yard line, where the team appeared poised to further increase their lead. The first half of the game made it seem as though the Patriots had forgotten all of the ideas that have helped improve their defense over the past year or so. Andre Johnson went over one-hundred yards on the game, catching eight passes; his consistent production was frustrating because on plenty of occasions he was working against a defender other than Aqib Talib.

3. Run defense struggles, allows four rushing touchdowns on the game

One of the biggest concerns heading into the game was whether or not the Patriots could defend the run, and the early going was characterized by a combination of poor gap responsibility and missed tackles. The Texans gained seventy-three yards in the first half, averaging 4.6 yards per attempt (more if Case Keenum’s line attempt is excluded), with starting running back Ben Tate accounting for sixty-one yards and both of Houston’s first-half touchdowns. Defensive tackle Joe Vellano was unable to scrape down the line into the proper gap on Tate’s first run, and the latter was later able to break a twenty-yard touchdown run in which he was given plenty of room to work and eventually shook off a tackle attempt by free safety Devin McCourty, who got a little bit too aggressive with his angle. Tate added a third touchdown later in the game (Houston’s fourth, including Case Keenum’s bootleg), running through an open hole for a ten-yard score which pushed his yardage total on the game over one-hundred yards. The Patriots did perform a little bit better than anticipated, especially in the context of their other recent performances, but any time you surrender four rushing touchdowns, there’s plenty of room for improvement. For New England, that should come via further work on their tackling technique and gap responsibilities.

4. Brady accurate, receives major contributions from Gronkowski, Edelman

In this morning’s Ten Keys article, whether or not the Texans would be able to cover tight end Rob Gronkowski was considered; the answer became apparent when Gronkowski shook former Patriots linebacker Jeff Tarpinian with a double move and came down with a twenty-three-yard touchdown grab late in the first quarter to cut the deficit to three points, then outran inside linebacker Daryl Sharpton on a seam route in the third quarter, breaking one tackle attempt and eventually dragging Sharpton out of bounds for a fifty-yard gain which took the Patriots to the Texans’ thirteen-yard line on a drive which ended two plays later on an impressive one-yard touchdown run by fullback James Develin in which Develin brook numerous tackles and helped cut Houston’s lead to three points. New England’s star tight end also made a seventeen-yard catch on a crossing route late in the fourth quarter to help set up Stephen Gostkowski’s second fifty-three-yard field goal of the game. Gronkowski’s performance was at least matched by an outstanding game by wide receiver Julian Edelman, who is developing into a legitimate threat at all levels of the field. Edelman caught nine balls for one-hundred-and-one yards.

5. Patriots opt to sit Ridley, turn in a decent ensemble performance

After his third fumble in as many games last week against the Broncos, the status of running back Stevan Ridley was unclear until about ninety minutes before game-time today, when the Patriots announced that the explosive but frustrating running back would be among the team’s inactive players for this week’s contest. In his place, the Patriots handed the ball to four different players this afternoon: Shane Vereen carried the ball ten times (adding five receptions and a touchdown through the air), LeGarrette Blount carried the ball on twelve occasions and scored, James Develin punched in a one-yard touchdown and received two more touches, one being a reception, and Brandon Bolden rushed twice and caught an eighteen-yard pass. Overall, there were times when the Patriots looked effective running the ball, but despite their two rushing touchdowns, they carried the ball twenty-seven times for eighty-eight yards, representing an average of less than 3.3 yards per attempt. The Patriots didn’t block particularly well in the run game this week, but it’s fair to wonder whether or not their performance on the ground would have been enhanced by Ridley’s presence, and whether or not we’ll see him back on the field next week.

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21 Responses to “New England Patriots at Houston Texans: Week 13 Observations”

  1. J H TARBORO says:

    I wonder why Steve Beauharnis is a healthy scratch every week? At Rutgers Beauharnis was good at covering WRs and TEs in space!

    • Rmc says:

      Cause Matt Patricia doesn’t know how to use him

      • acm says:

        it’s not like Patricia is anything more than an assistance on D for the Pats. His role on the team hardly extends too far beyond taking notes and looking BB in the eyes, imo.

  2. Barkevious says:

    I’m not a big Arrington fan, but I do think he brings a lot of value in the slot. He’s also strong in run support. Seeing him outside the #’s scares me though [only reason he was there was b/c Ryan was out]. He’s not the problem. Just needs to be put in a spot to succeed.

    I know sports radio is killing Hightower, but I don’t get the “he’s a bust” talk. The guy has legit tools and has shown he can do it in the past. Without Mayo though, our LBs look lost. And shame on Patricia for making both Hightower and Spikes play in so much space. That’s over 500 pounds worth of LBs in trying to run with RBs and TEs. Not going to work.

    I get that we’re pretty limited on personnel at this point, but I hope something changes with this D over the next 4 weeks. Because the current state isn’t going to get it done in the playoffs.

    • steve earle says:

      Not big fan of Arrington either and even when in the slot we have to admit there is plenty of room for an upgrade. A $4 million, I thought it was $7 mil? Whatever, to much I agree.
      Have you seen Lamarcus Joyner CB Fla St.? Only 5′ 8″, 190# but what a dynamic player. This kid would be a great slot corner. He was origanlly being mocked 4th to 5th but going up.
      Can’t just give up drafting DB’s and going after others castoffs, haven’t seen great results that way either. We just have to get Bill to listen to us, lol.

  3. rmc says:

    At the beginning of the season, the offense had injuries(Gronk, Amendoa and Vereen) and rookie receivers and still won. The defense with injuries or not, has been the weak point for this team. They had troubles getting off on 3rd down the last few years and this has deteriated this year. The only common denominator here is the coaching. Compare the offense and defense coaches and the offense has better experience. Matt Patricia has done nothing to prove he is a viable DC in my opinion, and although the secondary has been a little better, i am not sold on Josh Boyer and Brian Flores. Experienced defensive coaches i believe would improve this D. As it stands right now, I am not sure how long before the offense cannot bail us out.

  4. Bobthebuilder says:

    So, Steve, we draft OL well, so we should just draft Olinemen, right? That would be a great team. 15 OL and 20 RBs.

  5. Breazy says:

    Jamie Collins seems like the logical answer at middle linebacker in a pass-happy league. He just needs time to develop. The Vellano and Chris Jones are similarly raw at DT, but at least they get some pressure up the middle on passing downs. They get moved around too much on rushing downs. Since Armond Armstead didn’t make it off the NFI list, it seems like they’re what we’ve got for the duration…so, fingers crossed that they develop.

    • steve earle says:

      never thought of Collins as a MLB. Really I think Collins is better suited outside, jmo.
      about the def. coaching I can’t say your wrong but a better measure would be if there were not the injurys to all those starters I think. Holding my judgement there. As for Armstead, the guy is a ghost. We neve see him, never hear about him, Does he really exist? lol

  6. El Jaime says:

    Steve, that’s simply ridiculous. Arrington is great as the third cover corner. While he’s getting thrust up because of Dennard’s injury, he’s terrific covering in the slot. And it’s not ridiculous to pay for a nickel. That’s the crux on whether or not a defense can blitz. Having him opens up a world of options to help the pass rush, because much more often than not, he can be trusted in single.

    And as for nobody on staff having the ability to judge DB talent, I’d strongly beg to differ. McCourty’s a stalwart. Dennard can play. Logan Ryan’s developing very nicely. I’m impressed with Duron Harmon. And the same guys who judge draft talent judge free agent talent, and should deserve credit for Talib.

    These DBs, when healthy, are an above average unit. In the meantime, they’re mitigating injuries to key contributors and done enough to get to 9-3. Such is life in the NFL.

    • macspak says:

      Arrington is not great covering the slot. That is a ridiculous stmt. He is adequate and absolutely incapable of playing outside. Historically, over the last 10 yrs or so, the Pats have been horrendous drafting DB’s. One potential good year in the 2013 draft doesn’t negate the multitude of washed out wasted DB and S picks. Look them up, too many to list. BTW Arrington was originally signed as a FA.

    • steve earle says:

      Have to agree with macspak on Arrington and history but can’t give up on drafting DB’s either. No one is selling shutdown corners.

  7. J H Tarboro says:

    I know Donte struggles in coverage but in the 3-4 he wasn’t gap responsible at all.

  8. J H Tarboro says:

    I know Donte struggles in coverage but in the 3-4 he wasn’t gap responsible.

  9. J H TARBORO says:

    Great win by the Pats, just putting out there LB Donte Hightower is a liability! just saying.

    • Henry Carmen says:

      Whats the point if we are not allowing Dont’a to play to his strengths. Of course our 270 pound OLB is struggling in coverage.

      • steve earle says:

        I still think Hightower’s best position would be DE not LB.
        Again Arrington gives up the big play. Yea I know we just don’t have decent depth there.

        • Russell Easterbrooks says:

          Both Hightower and Spikes got caught in the wash lot, with Spikes playing banged-up. The Patriots had to wide a gaps among the DT-DE’s which helped blockers get to the second level on the LB’s in the run game. S Steve Gregory often came in to late.
          In that Zone coverage the Patriots were playing, Hightower and Spikes are unable to get deep enough drops, and end up with thier back to the QB, chasing. S Steve Gregory and McCourty were to deep often helping in deep coverage.
          Arrington is only average at outside CB, plays better coverage in the slot. The Patriots need another CB in the draft to add depth/playing time.

        • Steve says:

          Arrington is far from average at CB – he has proven that he can’t cover a lick! How many times has he gotten burnt deep playing out there? I mean seriously, it’s a the point where it’s embarrassing. Put him at the nickle and leave him there. A $4 million dollar nickle back….what a country!

          And Please, no more drafting DB’s! It’s a proven fact that No One on that staff is a very good judge of DB talent. Find someone (like Talb) that “can actually play” in the NFL and trade a pick, or sign them as a free agent.

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