Report card: Patriots-Texans
The coaching staff deserves criticism after losses such as that in Week 6 to the Seattle Seahawks. But it also deserves praise after wins like this one on Monday night. Nothing needs to be said about the Patriots' offense, but the defense was able to adjust to injuries to top cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard and still hold Texans quarterback Matt Schaub to a 68.8 passer rating. That's a product of coaching. On the negative end, substitutions were an issue at times, with a burned timeout and a 12-men penalty to show for that.
The Patriots knew that pass defense was the Texans' weak point coming into this game and they attacked it, establishing a deep passing game that has rarely been shown this season. Obviously, the Patriots benefited from blown coverages, such as that on tight end Aaron Hernandez' second touchdown catch, but overall it was a masterful performance from this unit. On the downside, pass protection was suspect, with Brady sacked just once, but hit -- in some cases very hard -- on numerous other plays.
Statistically, this wasn't a bad game by any stretch, with Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen taking the bulk of the load for a combined 112 yards on 26 carries (a 4.3 yard-per-carry average). However, several ineffective plays on the ground led to third-and-long situations, which could have hurt in closer games. Another area of concern: fumbles. Both Ridley and Danny Woodhead (off a screen pass) couldn't hold onto the ball, which was recovered both times by their teammates.
Perhaps the highest grade in this category all season. The tone was set early when Devin McCourty looked like a natural safety, undercutting a Kevin Walter route and coming up with a key interception in the red zone. Even with Aqib Talib leaving with an injury late in the second quarter, the Patriots were able to keep Andre Johnson from becoming a major factor. It was telling that running back Arian Foster was the Texans' second-most-targeted receiver, a sign that the Patriots were successfully able to funnel the Houston passing game into the short range.
It wasn't perfect, and the Texans were able to hit the 100-yard mark, but this unit got back on track against the NFL's fourth-leading rusher, Foster. He finished with just a 3.1 yard-per-carry average on 15 carries. Outside of his 23-yard run in the third quarter, counterpart Ben Tate had just 23 yards on seven carries. Considering the Texans were playing from behind and probably could have gained some deceiving extra yardage if they so desired, this was an impressive performance.
Outside of Wes Welker's 31-yard punt return in the first quarter, there wasn't a whole lot to write home about from this unit. Stephen Gostkowski boomed five kickoffs for touchbacks, while neither team attempted a field goal in the game. There was one Zoltan Mesko punt that probably had coach Scott O'Brien cringing, but overall nothing to be concerned about for the Patriots.