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New England Patriots Divisional Round Grades

The New England Patriots defeated the Houston Texans 41-28 and were significantly better in all of the major categories, with the exception of special teams. It’s a good thing I don’t grade special teams, because I would have given those guys a flat-out F for the horrendous performance they had against Danieal Manning and the Texans kick-off return team.

New England Patriots Pass Offense A+

The Patriots just dominated the Texans through the air for a second straight time, and they were once again able to do it without Rob Gronkowski (he barely played before breaking his arm again). Tom Brady finished with a QB Rating of 115 on the nose with three touchdowns, no picks, and 344 passing yards for 8.6 yards per attempt. It was a fitting way for Brady to pass Joe Montana on the all-time list for most wins by a QB, because the performance underscored his aerial dominance in the playoffs. As my dad put it after watching the Denver Broncos lose, “If Tom Brady was the quarterback, then the Patriots would have won. He always gets the job done.”

He did today, and he had plenty of help from his receivers. Wes Welker was fantastic with eight receptions for 131 yards, and you can tell that the Houston Texans had absolutely no idea how to cover him in the middle of the field. In the defense of their defense, they aren’t the only team to run into trouble following the nearly uncoverable slot man. Brandon Lloyd and Aaron Hernandez made some solid plays, but it was Shane Vereen (I gave him the game ball) who provided the spark the Pats needed on offense. Danny Woodhead went down on the first play of the game, but Vereen stepped right in and scored three touchdowns with some staggering totals in the receiving and rushing game. Just incredible stuff from the second-year back.

Give credit to the offensive line too, because they made elite 3-4 DE J.J. Watt look subpar for the first time this season. The usually transcendentally great defensive lineman only managed one hit on Brady, and he didn’t even make a significant impact against the run either. Chalk it up as a solid day for the line, despite allowing Antonio Smith to get a few hits on Brady.

Patriots Run Offense A

Combined, Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley averaged over 5.5 yards per carry in this game, with Ridley gaining 5.5 per rush on 15 carries and Vereen 5.9 yards per carry on seven attempts. Both second-year backs scored a touchdown, and they were brutally efficient against the Houston Texans defense. That’s as good as I’ve seen anyone run against the Texans defense, and the plays they made will give them plenty of confidence in what will surely be a tougher challenge next week against the Baltimore Ravens.

Pats Pass Defense B

Although the Patriots gave up a significant amount of yardage (343) to Matt Schaub, the bend-don’t-break philosophy worked well and the staggering yardage numbers are misleading. Schaub only averaged 6.7 yards per attempt, as he needed 51 attempts (11 more than Tommy B) to throw one less passing yard than Brady did. He was solid overall with a QB Rating barely over 90, but the Patriots did a nice job containing his weapons. Aqib Talib held Andre Johnson to 95 yards of receiving, which is actually five yards below Johnson’s average amount of receiving yards per game.

At first glance, it looks like Owen Daniels had a fantastic day with nine receptions for 81 yards. However, he needed 15 targets to reach that number and averaged only about 5.4 (that might be off, had to do that in my head) yards per target. Arian Foster did, however, have a big game as a receiver against the Patriots, so the Pats need to be careful next week against an even better receiving option out of the backfield in Ray Rice.

Overall, the Texans averaged only around ten yards per reception.

Run Defense B+

I highlighted keeping Arian Foster quiet and not allowing the Houston Texans to establish the running game early as keys to the game for the Patriots, and they fulfilled on both notes. Their ability to stifle the Texans running game early on was especially important, and you could tell that Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison‘s gameplan in this one was just to give the rock to Foster as many times as possible and not even bother with Brandon Tate and Justin Forsett. Foster had 90 yards and a touchdown, but it took him 22 carries to do so. That’s 4.1 yards per carry, which is only mediocre.

The Patriots front seven received two terrific games from Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork, with the Pats lone First-Team All-Pro selection (yes, I am still mad about those snubs) controlling the line of scrimmage. Mayo continues to play incredible football in the 2012-2013 season after notching two tackles for loss against the Texans, and I truly believe he deserved to be right there on the All-Pro team with Wilfork.

The plan to only give the ball to Foster was a poor one, because you have to use a stable of running backs against the Patriots in order to beat that top run defense. Tate was actually significantly more effective than Foster the last time these two teams played, and his speed and elusiveness would have been much more effective. Oh well, that’s their problem to complain about.

You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.

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