The New England Patriots escaped the Houston Texans with a victory and move forward with a commanding lead of the AFC East and the inside track on a first round bye. The whole team needs to play better coming out of the gate as they sport a horrendous 78-37 score at halftime in their past five games and if you remove the Steelers game it falls to 68-13, or an average score of 17-3.25. That needs to be fixed.
1. Arrington benched - Kyle Arrington still has the penchant for giving up the big play on the outside. He's been fighting a groin injury and played only minor snaps, but when he played he let up the 66 yard reception to Deandre Hopkins that set up a big drive for the Texans. After Houston scored on that drive, Arrington didn't see another snap on defense, in the two drives with the game on the line. Instead the Patriots opted for Marquice Cole. Logan Ryan might have done enough to get the starting nod if either Aqib Talib or Alfonzo Dennard is unable to go in future games, even if Arrington is healthy.
2. Running Wild - For the second game in a row, it seemed as if the opposition had their way against the Patriots run defense. While the Texans had fantastic success in the red zone, those were actually the three of the best running plays all day. The rest of the time, the Patriots were actually able to defend the run fairly well in the 3-4 front. Joe Vellano, Isaac Sopoaga, and Chris Jones created the front and they did a good job clogging lanes. Vellano and especially Jones need to do a better job getting off of blocks to disrupt the running lanes, but they looked fairly mediocre this game, which is a huge improvement.
3. Linebackers fall - Brandon Spikes looked completely uninterested in playing defense in the first half and once he played his initial move (crash the backfield and disrupt the running lane) he seemed lackadaisical. In zone coverage, he looked to go through the motions, but his competition level wasn't there until the second half.
Dont'a Hightower had himself another solid day, looking good in shallow pass coverage (he'll always be beaten up the field) and was active on the line. His issue is that his instinct levels aren't where they need to be in order to react and is often a step behind in run defense and instead of a stop, he makes a tackle with the RB falling forward or is blocked out of the play. The Patriots actually flipped Spikes and Hightower's role to open the second half and let Hightower attack the backfield. He and Spikes have a very similar game, with Hightower excelling in coverage and Spikes better against the run.
4. Zoned out - it looked like plenty of the early damage by the Texans were against the zone defense by the Patriots, but they actually faced mixed packages. New England loves to throw confusing packages at young quarterbacks in the hope that they'll cause an inadvertent turnover with a bad read. That just didn't happen, but the Patriots kept using multiple coverage schemes. Aqib Talib had a solid day in coverage against Andre Johnson, with 70 of AJ's 121 yards coming against the zone, and one of his man completions he was taken out of the play by an undercutting (and missing) Steve Gregory.
5. Who's receiving? - Once Kenbrell Thompkins hurt himself, the Patriots offense had to turn to Josh Boyce and Matthew Slater at outside wide receiver. The base offense consisted of Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Shane Vereen, and whatever player they could find. They played James Develin more than expected and I believe Belichick suited up as a tight end for one play. Aaron Dobson and Thompkins better heal quickly or else the Patriots offense reverts back to 2011 where they don't have a viable outside threat.