The New England Patriots escaped Houston with a three point win on Sunday, in what became a surprisingly tough game. The Texans have now lost 10 straight, while the Pats are in prime position to secure a first round bye in the playoffs.
Despite their awful record, the Texans did come into this game with the number one defense in football, making the performance put on by Brady and company quite impressive. The defense on the other hand, played pretty bad, which warrants their low marks.
Here are the game grades.
Passing Offense: A
The first half was a struggle for New England, only coming away with seven points, but they made everyone forget about that 30 minutes of play with a masterful second half performance. Receivers were getting wide open against the top secondary in football, Brady had beautiful protection, and his throws were on the money. The combination of Gronkowski, Edelman, and Amendola was potent throughout the game, combining for 20 catches, 282 yards, and a touchdown. This unit finally appears to be getting on track, just in time for the playoffs.
Rushing Offense: B-
This group was without starting back Stevan Ridley in this game, as Bill Belichick decided to keep him inactive because of his recent fumbling issues. Shane Vereen and LeGarrette Blount did most of the running for New England, and while it wasn’t their best game, it got the job done. The Patriots obviously saw something they liked in the passing game, which didn’t make running the ball a priority. One big positive was fullback James Develin getting involved, catching one pass, as well as receiving two big carries, one going for a spectacular one yard touchdown run.
Pass Defense: B-
Giving up 272 passing yards to Case Keenum isn’t ideal, but the back end of the Pats defense did what they had to do when it counted, which is why they salvaged a B- rating. Keenum did find a lot of open receivers when the Pats went to a zone defense, but he found yardage much harder to find when New England switched to man coverage. The pass rush didn’t get consistent pressure on Keenum, but they did come through on a huge fourth down late in the game, which pretty much sealed the Patriots win.
Run Defense: D-
This unit is where the biggest problems lie on this team. The injuries to Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, and Jerod Mayo have really hurt the interior of the defense, which has led to some huge days for opposing running backs. Chris Jones, Joe Vellano, and Isaac Sopoaga get pushed back on nearly every running play, leaving it up to the linebackers to make a play, and even then it results in a solid five or six yard gain. Jones and Vellano are just rookies, and they have played well for being thrust into such a huge role, but sometimes this league is unfair, and right now their best efforts just don’t cut it. Dont’a Hightower continued to struggle, following up his bad performance against Denver, with another mediocre outing. I honestly don’t know what has happened with him, but sooner or later, I have the feeling that the Pats will go to Dane Fletcher more often now that Hightower is struggling.
The final statistics don’t look that bad (28 attempts, 121 carries, four touchdowns), but the middle of the Patriots defense was gashed all game long. I have said this a thousand times over the last month, but Belichick and company better make some adjustments in the middle, because their current run defense will not help them get to New York, this February.