For the Week 3 game plan, the four main points of emphasis were for LeGarrette Blount and Martellus Bennett to have big games, neutralize the edge rush from OLBs Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus, neutralize the impact of DeAndre Hopkins, and avoiding sloppy mistakes. The Patriots managed to excel in all four points, which isn't a surprise considering how badly they demolished the Houston Texans. Despite the short week, the Patriots were more than prepared for the game and pitched their first shutout since Week 17 against the Miami Dolphins.
Killer Bs: Both Blount and Bennett found a way to make an impact on the game. Bennett's impact was less noted in the box score, but made a couple nice plays. Primarily used as a blocker, the Patriots were able to run the ball well on the edges of the Texans defense. Bennett also drew two pass interference calls in the end zone before Blount's first touchdown of the game. Bennett caught two balls for 10 yards and had an end around go for 6 yards. With a mobile QB that isn't completely refined as a passer, it's not surprising to see Bennett used more as a blocker than a receiver.
Blount ran for 105 yards and 2 scores. Blount and the Patriots interior offensive line struggled when running the ball up the gut thanks to Vince Wilfork, but found success when rushing off the edges. Nate Solder was the best offensive lineman on the field Thursday night, opening up huge rushing lanes off left tackle and didn't allow a single pressure. Blount's biggest run of the night was off left tackle, although the WRs Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan threw two critical blocks in the open field to spring that play open. When given space to operate with, Blount is very effective at running the ball although he needs more space than most RBs due to his big stature.
Slow down Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney on the edge: The Patriots tackles had a big game and Jacoby Brissett's first two runs going for 40 yards seemed to make the Texans edge rush more timid. The Patriots used designed QB runs and were able to run the ball to keep the Texans rush honest. Brissett did take a sack, but that was more of a result of interior pressure collapsing the pocket. The Patriots tackles were also able to block the two pass rushers in the run game, with Solder having his way with Clowney on runs to his side of the field.
Take away WR DeAndre Hopkins: The Patriots played a Cover 2 shell for most of the game, which took away the downfield passes to Hopkins and Will Fuller. Hopkins wound up catching 4 balls for 56 yards, but had to earn every one of them as Logan Ryan stuck to him all night. Ryan also had a couple pass breakups as well. The Patriots had a safety over the top to help out for the entire game, which gave Ryan the confidence to play aggressive.
In order for that game plan to be successful, someone was going to have to win a 1 on 1 matchup. That matchup was Malcolm Butler vs. Will Fuller. Butler often covers the opponent's fastest WR even though he isn't the fastest CB on the roster. Butler held Fuller to 3 catches for 31 yards and nearly repeated his Super Bowl XLIX interception on a 4th down stop. Teams probably shouldn't run slants off a stacked WR formation from this point forward since Jimmy Garoppolo is the only QB to successfully run that play against Butler.
The Texans were unable to successfully rush the ball plus their leading receiver in catches was Ryan Griffin, who probably wouldn't be good enough to make the Patriots roster. Lamar Miller averaged under 4 yards a carry, most of his yards coming in garbage time. The Patriots were able to stop the run with their nickel defense and that allowed them to continue to play a 2-deep shell. With Options A, B, and C gone, Brock Osweiler was frustrated all night and the Texans offense put up 0 points. Jamie Collins recorded an interception and the Patriots defense picked up 16 pressures on 41 drop backs, including a pair of sacks from Jabaal Sheard.
Avoid sloppy mistakes: There weren't any real mistakes from the Patriots side although rookie Cyrus Jones had issues holding onto the football returning punts. The Texans were very sloppy with the ball with three turnovers, two creating short fields and 14 points on the board. QB Jacoby Brissett played a huge role in this as he was able to avoid turning over the ball. With a rookie QB making his first NFL start in Prime Time against a 2015 playoff team that started 2-0, I wasn't expecting a clean game from him. He delivered and even contributed a score of his own. It never looked like he was trying to force a play to happen, a mistake for a lot of young QBs, he either took off or threw the ball out of play when it wasn't there.
Football is complementary, as all three individual phases have an impact on the other two. With no turnovers on offense, that allowed the Patriots to pin the Texans deep on punts. Punter Ryan Allen had his best game as a pro with 7/7 punts downed inside the 20 yard line and 5 of them inside the 15. That gave the defense longer fields to operate with and was a big reason why the Texans didn't cross midfield until late in the 3rd quarter. The team that makes the fewest mistakes wins the game and the Patriots made very little while the Texans were error-prone for the entire football game.