I can’t imagine the NFL enjoyed, once again, the Patriots ruining their most hyped matchup of the season. It was billed as two juggernaut franchises clashing in a week 14 showdown, but the Patriots quickly showed everyone that they are still the king of the AFC.
Here is a breakdown of how the Patriot’s offense, defense and special teams played in last Monday’s rout.
Offensive Snap Shot
It was pretty apparent from the outset that the Patriot’s offense was clicking on most cylinders. Although the team's 200 yard rushing performances seem like days gone by, their running game is still reliable and dynamic. However, it was surprising and frustrating, at times, when they moved away from this strength during long stretches of the game.
For example, during a stretch between the 2nd and 3rd quarters, the Patriots punted four consecutive times. During their first stalled drive, they lined up in the shotgun and passed on 3rd and 2. On their third drive, also ending in a punt, they went no-huddle, lined up in the shotgun and passed on 3rd and 3. Finally, Shane Vereen's run extended their fourth drive on 3rd and 1. Yet, New England still passed three straight times right after and punted.
Although the lack of running had much to do with Houston's personnel groupings and strategy, the offense still must trust the capable hands of their backs to gain the first down in short yardage situations.
Throwing on 3rd and 1 is just so 2007-2011....
In all, the offense snapped out of its funk in the third quarter and scored touchdowns on 3 of their next 5 possessions. Receiver Brandon Lloyd followed up his unimpressive 1 catch game last week against the Dolphins with a 7 catch, 89 yard, 2 touchdown performance against Houston, while off-the-street receiver Donte’ Stallworth chipped in with a one-handed 63-yard catch and score.
Defensive Snap Shot
Jackie MacMullen's great piece on ESPNBoston emphasized the progress the Patriot's defense has made during the second half of their seasons since 2010. This is somewhat old news, but New England’s defense improves as the season progresses. Opponent’s points per game drops from 22.6 to 18.7 and opponents total QBR rating drops from a league worst of 68.6 to a league best of 37.4. Holding a potent Houston offense to only 14 points was icing on the cake.
As I noted in yesterday's game recap, one of the plays of the game might have been made by Bill Belichick. About 40 seconds into the first quarter, Arian Foster had already railed off two quick 10+ yard gains (one was called back due to an illegal formation). A quick timeout by Belichick quickly helped the defense make adjustments and Houston's drive stalled. The Texans went three and out and failed to score until the third quarter.
Finally, the secondary has improved remarkably over the last month. Remember back in week 6 when Seattle bombarded the Patriot’s secondary with deep passes? The tandem of Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory at safety, paired with newcomer Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington at the corner positions, seems to have settled down this problem area.
Interesting note: Once a starter, safety Patrick Chung played only 16 snaps, while rookie Tavon Wilson chipped in with 17.
Special Teams Snap Shot
The biggest note here is that the Patriots opted to go with the sure handed Wes Welker to return punts. His 31-yard punt return helped set up the Patriot's touchdown on their first drive of the game. In other news, punter Zoltan Mesko averaged 48 yards per kick on 5 punts and Steven Gostkowksi did not have to face any field goal situations.