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After Further Review: Patriots offense can't do it alone vs. Texans

20191202-AfterFurtherReview-PDC

First Quarter

-Since the return of Matt LaCosse, the Patriots offense has focused on use of trap and wham blocks, often pulling the tight ends and offensive linemen in the running game to help spring their running backs. It produced some success on the first drive of the game, opening up seams in the Houston defense. Still, the offense stalled out in the red zone, an all too common occurrence this season. The offense would not return to this tactic for the rest of the game, which was surprising.

-The rotation of personnel on offense continues to be staggering out of the gate, and though 11 personnel is still their go-to, we saw Elandon Roberts and Brandon Bolden as second backs in the backfield, and a steady rotation at tight end. Are they using this to figure out how the defense will play them? Or are they still searching for what will work? It would seem at this point in the season they're going to have to start narrowing in on what works and that's what they did in the second half to mixed results.

-The defense had a good start, forcing two punts, drawing a holding penalty and getting a third-down sack. They were mixing zone and man coverage, with an eye toward keeping Watson from tucking and running.

-On the offense's second drive they kept spinning the wheel, now with a focus on the spread offense including one snap with five receivers on the field. But it quickly came apart on the interception where N'Keal Harry was simply out-muscled for the ball. Harry's rounded inside cut provided him with no separation and even when he established his new direction he couldn't use his size to shield the ball. It's moments like this when you see how far a rookie receiver has to go and how the NFL game is one of technique and inches.

-Kyle Van Noy was in a tough spot on the first Texans touchdown, as he initially came downhill when it looked like Duke Johnson was staying home to block. But when Johnson released into the flat, Van Noy was going in the wrong direction and could not recover, making for an easy touchdown. Targeting the Patriots linebackers in coverage with schemes like this has been a good way to move the ball for opponents and the Texans seemed to recognize it for their gameplan.

Second Quarter

-The Texans 13-play, 88-yard touchdown drive saw them face just one third down and it was just one yard-to-go. That success on first and second down included gains of 19 and 13 yards before the 13-yard touchdown. A missed sack by John Simon and a missed tackle by Patrick Chung were also key plays.

-The touchdown came off a Ravens-looking inverted wishbone backfield that the Texans used quite a few times. Watson faked the handoff and looked for a moment like he was going to keep it. That froze Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower watching him, leaving Daniel Fells open for another easy score. The bulk of the Texans passing success came on underneath passes. They avoided the teeth of the Patriots defense - the secondary.

-Plenty of Pats battled an illness this week but few looked as affected as Jamie Collins, who seemed to be moving in mud all night. Collins can be a brilliant player, but when he's off his game for whatever reason, the fall off is steep.

-Marcus Cannon has been fighting some kind of illness for almost 10 days now and he looked like it in this game, getting beaten regularly off the edge by Jacob Martin.

-While there were a few plays where Brady didn't have time due to pressure, for the most part he had the time necessary to scan the field but it remains clear his receivers are not getting open, nor are they getting to where Brady wants them to be.

-The frustration was palpable at the end of the first half, as the Pats drove to the edge of field goal range after catches of 16 and nine yards by Jakobi Meyers. Having to punt in that situation was a rare occurrence in these parts.

Third Quarter

-After spending every drive since the first of the game on the bench, Sony Michel got two more carries at the top of the third quarter for a total of four yards. Not sure why the team moved away from him so quickly after he had some opening drive success. Instead they shifted to mostly 11 and 12 personnel and a heavy passing focus. Would've loved to see them go back to the whams/traps that were initially effective.

-There wasn't many positives to take away through the first half-plus in this game, but James White's 32-yard run was the longest of the season for the team and a career high. It featured great blocking at the point of attack by Cannon, LaCosse and Sanu, and White make the unblocked defender miss. There haven't been many of these kind of perfectly executed plays this year.

-That Patriots drive would stall out on a missed fourth-down conversion and the Texans would respond with a dagger, using deep passes of 20 yards then a 35-yard touchdown (twice). Both were to Kenny Stills, matched up on Jonathan Jones. It took just six plays to get into the end zone and was exactly what the Patriots had avoided all season long, giving up deep balls off of their zero blitz coverage. Watson handled it perfectly, staying calm in the pocket and delivering a strike to Still who had gained a step in both cases.

-The Patriots would try to respond on the next drive but it featured two holding calls and an offensive pass interference penalty totaling 30 yards. Ben Watson's 23-yard gain on 3rd-and-21, along with Julian Edelman's 44-yard catch were the key plays. But even Edelman's catch came late in the down as Brady looked unsure where to go with it initially. Even their big plays just don't look smooth or easy.

-James White's touchdown was maybe the easiest play of the game as Houston busted the coverage and White practically walked in from 12 yards out at the end of the third quarter. But then the botched two-point conversion delay of game penalty and missed extra point burned any momentum the sporadic drive had captured.

-After messing around with a lot of different personnel packages early on, the Patriots focused in on 11 personnel in the second half with a primary package of Edelman-Dorsett-Meyers with James White and a tight end rotation.

Fourth Quarter

-The defense couldn't get a stop one the critical fourth-quarter drive by the Texans that went 75 yards in nine plays. The departure for the defense in this game was that they did a pretty good job stopping the run aside from a 13-yard carry by Duke Johnson but now had problems against the pass. No, the damage here was done with the pass, with Hopkins grabbing two catches for 37 yards on the drive.

-The Texans broke out some tricks on the touchdown, with two handoffs then a toss pass from Hopkins to Watson for the score. Teams seem to save these kind of plays for the Patriots defense and the gadget plays have seemed to work more often than not.

-Despite being down 28-9, the Patriots put together another scoring drive but it was plodding like the rest of them with James White doing most of the damage on underneath passes while Brady danced around the pocket, never finding a rhythm like we are often used to be the end of games when everyone is just locked in. Most of the completions came late in the down with a hurried throw. This is not a recipe for success.

-The last drive looked similar but exploited soft zone coverage by the Texans meant to prevent the big plays. Still, the Patriots got gains of 15 and 36 to White, 21 to Meyers and a 20-yard touchdown to Edelman. But it's hard to argue this is what the Patriots offense can be given the situation despite it being the best they looked all night.

-Brandon Bolden came incredibly close to recovering the onside kick, which was perfect by Jake Bailey and was almost another major positive for the rookie. The Patriots fought hard till the end like they always do, but this was far from their best effort and far below where expectations are for this time of year. Can they put it all together in the next four games and go on a playoff run? It's as uncertain this year as it's ever been with Brady and Belichick.

Personnel Packages

Offense

  • 11 - 60 snaps
  • 12 - 12 snaps
  • 22 - 5 snaps
  • 00 - 1 snap
  • 10 - 3 snaps

Defense

  • 3-3-5 - 22 snaps
  • 2-4-5 - 14 snaps
  • 1-4-6 - 9 snaps
  • 3-4 - 6 snaps
  • 1-5-5 - 1 snap

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