Passing Chart - Tom Brady
(credit: NFL.com’s Next Gen Stats)
Last week, we saw Tom Brady dominate the Saints defense with the patented Patriots short passing game, and Brady’s quick release, but it was the deep passing game that ultimately got the job done for the Pats against Houston. Brady was tremendous throwing deep. Going five for eight for 185 yards, three touchdowns, and a 145.8 passer rating on passes of 20+ air yards, which also includes the game-winner to Brandin Cooks.
It’s hard to argue with that kind of production, but here’s the downside: due to the high-volume of deep passes, Brady took a number of hits, as he was forced to hang onto the ball longer than you’d like against a pass rush like the Texans. Brady’s time to throw in Week 2 got back to a more customary 2.4 seconds, but it went back up to a similar mark as Week 1 at 2.7 seconds in Week 3. That doesn’t sound like a big difference, but those .3 seconds make all the difference when you have Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt chasing you. In all, the Texans sacked Brady five times, hit him eight times, and forced three fumbles, which is tied for the most in a game in Brady’s career.
The deep passes are flashy, and Brady still has the ability to throw them, but you’d still like to see the ball get out faster. Brady is currently leading the NFL in intended air yards per attempt at 12.5 according to Next Gen, which is a rare site to see from the Patriots quarterback.
Danny Amendola’s return to the field meant more of the same in terms of his usage. Amendola has spent 81.6% of his snaps in the slot this season, which ranks 11th among wide receivers that have played at least 25% of their teams snaps. We didn’t see the same production from Amendola against Houston as we did in Week 1, but his presence was felt regardless of the box score stats.
As for Chris Hogan, Amendola’s return meant less time in the slot than Week 2, when he lined up inside on 65% of his snaps. However, the efficiency from the slot was still off the charts for Hogan, as his ridiculous 6.78 yards per route run out of the slot ranked fourth among all wide receivers in the NFL in Week 3. It also helped that the Texans decided not to cover Hogan for some reason on far too many plays.
Another week, and another rough game for left tackle Nate Solder. Solder was beaten badly for two sacks, and had a team-high five total pressures allowed against the Texans. The former Pro Bowler has had a rough start to the season, and although he was not on the injury report, he has been dealing with something since the preseason. That’s not excuse making, but rather telling the whole story.
Solder, who is in a contract year, will need to step up his performance if he wants to sign another deal with the Patriots. He has been better than he gets credit for over the years, but there’s no sugar coating it now, he’s been bad the last two weeks.
Given the matchup, and the situation, LaAdrian Waddle deserves credit for holding his own against the Texans at right tackle. Waddle was thrown into the lineup when Marcus Cannon was inactive due to an ankle injury and concussion, and was asked to block the likes of Watt, Clowney, and Mercilus off the edge. The Patriots tried to give him as much help as possible, but to not surrender a sack against this Texans front deserves praise.
Pass Rush/Run Stops
Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise continue to be a huge problem for opposing defenses. Wise is the up and comer, but Flowers has been one of the league’s most dominant edge defenders since the second half of last season. Flowers’ 17 pressures on the season is tied for the third-most in the NFL through three weeks, and he’s doing it against the run too, with five run stops in 2017, including three against the Texans. The Patriots needed Flowers to continue to excel, and he has done just that.
Newcomer Cassius Marsh got a lot of flack for his blown coverage of Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt in Week 1, but give credit where credit is due, he was solid against the Texans. In all, Marsh tallied four total pressures to go along with a sack, and had a huge run stop on a 3rd and 1 on the Texans’ last possession of the first half.
Finally, Alan Branch’s lack of playing time and production is starting to get very interesting. Branch logged 21 snaps against the Texans, after being on the field for just six plays on defense in Week 2, but it appears that he’s being phased out of the interior defensive lineman rotation. He’s also not producing. In 33 pass rush snaps, Branch has zero pressures, and has just 3 run stops on 34 run snaps, which is where he typically shines.
Is Malcolm Butler back? We’ll have to give it another week or two, but his performance against the Texans, and his usage, would suggest that the Pats corner is back to playing to his usual standards. The Texans didn’t target Butler much, but when they did he was tremendous tackling receivers immediately at the catch, allowing zero yards after the catch, and took on the responsibility of covering DeAndre Hopkins in a number of key situations late in the game. It’s good to see Butler play with that same confidence we are used to seeing again.
Jonathan Jones is another interesting name to monitor for the Patriots. He’s starting to see serious time at cornerback, although Eric Rowe’s absence played a factor in that this week, but has had mixed results when targeted in coverage. Jones broke up two passes a week ago in New Orleans, but was picked on at times by Deshaun Watson in this one. Having said that, even though Jones led the team in targets, receptions, and yards allowed into his coverage, they were competitive catches, and he wasn’t burned badly for the most part. Can he be the third corner if Malcolm Butler were to leave in free agency next season? Who knows. But the Patriots obviously like him both on defense and especially special teams.
(h/t to Pro Football Focus: https://www.profootballfocus.com/products/elite#edge)