The New England Patriots escaped Houston today with a 34-31 win over the lowly Texans. This game wasn’t expected to be this close, because of how different these two teams had performed coming into this game. However Houston fought hard, and they almost pulled off a huge upset in the AFC.
The Patriots certainly didn’t put their best foot forward in this one (particularly the defense), and despite getting the win, a lot of negativity will emerge from this contest. Here are three quick thoughts I took away from this game.
1. Defense Is Struggling
The Houston Texans offense averaged gaining 363 yards a game before today, while scoring only 18. Their offense had not played well all season long, and I don’t think anybody was expecting them to go off against New England, despite all of the injuries the Pats had suffered. But Case Keenum and company tore up them up, generating 385 yards and 31 points. The absence of Alfonzo Dennard in the back end definitely hurt, as the Texans took advantage of the banged up Patriots secondary throughout the afternoon. Keenum threw for 272 yards, with 121 of them going to Andre Johnson. Aside from rookie Logan Ryan, I thought that everybody in the defensive backfield had a rough game, including Aqib Talib, and surprisingly, safety Devin McCourty. Talib wasn’t locked in man coverage all game long, but he wasn’t his usual lock down self when he was. When they went to a zone, Houston receivers were just about as open as an NFL player can be, with miscommunications popping up left and right. McCourty did not keep everything in front of him like he usually does, most notably when he allowed DeAndre Hopkins to get free for a 66 yard reception. McCourty was the only safety back, and it was his job to make sure the man coverage in front of him did not get beat for a big gain. He also took quite a few bad tackling angles, which resulted in a lot of extra yardage on the ground.
The run defense was just as bad, giving up 121 yards on 28 carries, as well as four touchdowns. Again it seems like the same problem keeps arising, which is the middle of the defensive front does not have the talent to stuff quality running attacks. Chris Jones and Joe Vellano are constantly getting pushed off of the line, making it tough for them to make a play near the line of scrimmage. Brandon Spikes had a decent game, but his partner Dont’a Hightower continues to struggle, as he contributed to the Texans great day on the ground. As I mentioned before, the safeties didn’t tackle particularly well either, making their pathetic run defense a three level effort.
It was an overall horrible game played by the New England defense, especially because of who the opponent was. Getting Alfonzo Dennard back will help this group, but they will need to start playing better pretty soon, because efforts like this will doom them, come playoff time.
2. Offense Clicks Without Key Starters
The last couple of games has brought out the best in the Patriots offense, finally reminding us of what a New England offense is supposed to look like. Today they aired it out, throwing for 371 yards, and two touchdowns. Aaron Dobson was inactive for this game, and his replacement, Kenbrell Thompkins, exited early with what appeared to be a hip injury. But this didn’t faze this unit, who continue to prove that they can dominate opposing defenses in multiple ways. They did it through the air in this one, led by Rob Gronkowski (six catches, 127 yards, one touchdown) and Julian Edelman (nine catches 101 yards). The Texans came into this game with the top ranked defense in football, giving up only 290 yards a game. New England put up 453 total yards in this one, further improving this groups confidence.
3. Slow Start Overcome By Big Comeback Again
Starting slow has become a common theme for the Patriots over the last couple of games. They were down seven against Carolina in week 11, before coming back and barring a ridiculous no call in the back of the end zone, should have gotten that win. Last week they were down by 24 at halftime versus Denver, before Tom Brady engineered the largest comeback in team history as they won late in overtime. Today the Pats were down 17-7 at the half, but another second half comeback resulted in their ninth win of 2013. The ability to dig themselves a first half hole and then come back from it, is a good trait to have, but starting slow is not something they would like to continue in the future. If they do this against a really good team in the playoffs, they may not be able to recover. These comeback wins are great, but I would like to see New England start a game off right, and finish it with a solid victory.