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The wait is over: today, the New England Patriots opened their 2018 regular season. The team’s first opponent of the year were the Houston Texans. Led by fifth-year head coach Bill O’Brien – a former Patriots offensive coordinator –, the Texans will try to improve on a 4-12 season in 2017. Meanwhile, New England is trying to build the foundation for another championship run. And they did just that.
New England Patriots (1-0) 27 vs Houston Texans (0-1) 20
Date: Sunday, September 9, 2018
Kickoff: 1:00 p.m. ET
Location: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro MA
SB Nation affiliate: Battle Red Blog
For more details about the game and its broadcasting, please click here.
RB Sony Michel
OL Brian Schwenke
WR Chad Hansen
CB Keion Crossen
CB J.C. Jackson
TE Jacob Hollister
DE Derek Rivers
For more information on the list of inactive players, please click here.
Patriots starting defense in warmups:— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) September 9, 2018
DL: Guy, Brown, Flowers
LB: Van Noy, Bentley, Roberts Hightower
CB: Rowe, Gilmore
S: Chung, McCourty
First time we've seen the Patriots use a 3-4 alignment like that this year.
The Patriots look to use a 3-4 defensive front against Deshaun Watson and the Texans offense in order to keep as many eyes as possible in the backfield. This 3-4 defense actually makes a lot of sense, too, with how players are currently being valued in the NFL.
Nose tackles like Danny Shelton and hybrid 3-4/4-3 edge defenders like Kyle Van Noy are incredibly undervalued, while pure 4-3 defensive linemen like Aaron Donald and Chandler Jones are being paid bajillions of dollars.
Shelton and Malcom Brown can be the nose tackles, while Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler can share a role next to them. Trey Flowers, Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise, and Keionta Davis all have a similar skill set to set the edge and penetrate on the inside in how the Patriots use their 3-4 defensive end.
Add in Van Noy and Dont’a Hightower as experienced 3-4 edge defenders and you have a pretty stout defensive front that won’t allow Watson to escape the pocket, while combining Elandon Roberts and Ja’Whaun Bentley at the middle should (in theory?) make it easier for both of them to cover because they won’t be responsible for as much space. We’ll find out if this sentiment holds true.
Patriots starting lineups
Patriots defensive starters (nickel):— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) September 9, 2018
DT: Lawrence Guy
DT: Malcom Brown
DE: Trey Flowers
LB: Kyle Van Noy
LB: Dont'a Hightower
LB: Ja'Whaun Bentley
CB: Stephon Gilmore
CB: Eric Rowe
CB: Jonathan Jones
S: Patrick Chung
S: Devin McCourty
Patriots 1st drive: Tom Brady and company went three-and-out, punting the ball to the Texans.
Texans 1st drive: Dont’a Hightower recovered a fumbled exchange on the very first play of the drive to get the ball back for the offense at the Texans 19-yard line.
Patriots 2nd drive: Tom Brady found Rob Gronkowski for a 21-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
Texans 2nd drive: Patriots defense holds for a 3-and-out, thanks to a great run stop by Trey Flowers and good coverage by Eric Rowe and Ja’Whaun Bentley.
Patriots 3rd drive: Tom Brady and James Develin led the team to midfield, but they failed to convert on 3rd and 3 and had to punt. Ryan Allen stuck the Texans at their own 9-yard line.
Texans 3rd drive: Malcom Brown definitely had a safety on the first play of the drive, but the officials said Watson got rid of the ball. On the next play, Lamar Miller ran almost to midfield and then Watson gained another first down into Patriots territory. The Patriots defense held up and great coverage by Duron Harmon and Jonathan Jones forced Houston to punt, pinning the Patriots at the 6-yard line.
Patriots 4th drive: Tom Brady’s third-down pass to James White was tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted by Tyrann Mathieu, giving the Texans the ball on the Patriots 17-yard line.
Texans 4th drive: The Patriots defense was outstanding as the pass rush got to Watson on the first and third play, with Keionta Davis, Trey Flowers, and Deatrich Wise all wreaking havoc. The Texans gained -7 yards and settled for a field goal and 7-3 deficit.
Patriots 5th drive: New England started this drive at the end of the first quarter and Brady found Phillip Dorsett and Chris Hogan and drew a defensive pass interference call with Rob Gronkowski to move the chains into field goal territory. The Patriots went for it on 4th-and-inches, which Brady was able to convert. Patterson converted a huge first down off a jet sweep and Brady connected with James White for a 12-yard catch-and-run touchdown for a 14-3 lead.
Texans 5th drive: The Texans gained chunk plays on this drive with Tyler Ervin returning the kickoff to the 37-yard line, Watson finding tight end Jordan Watson over Patrick Chung for a 27-yard gain, and a few smaller plays to reach the New England 15-yard line. The defense stiffened up, with Wise notching a 4-yard sack, and held Houston to another field goal and 14-6 score. The Texans won’t be able to win if they keep settling for field goals.
Patriots 6th drive: Brady and Chris Hogan are struggling to build a rapport and the Patriots had to punt the ball away after two incompletions. James White also looked hobbled after an incomplete pass.
Texans 6th drive: The Texans picked up some early yards, but Watson chucked up a 60-yard prayer into the end zone on 2nd-and-3 to Vyncint Smith, who was tightly covered by Eric Rowe. Stephon Gilmore came over from the other side of the field to record the interception in the back of the end zone.
Patriots 7th drive: Tom Brady and company went an unimpressive three-and-out, as the interception ultimately cost the Texans only 24 yards.
Texans 7th drive: Houston had the chance for a double-whammy, getting the ball after the half, but after reaching midfield and the two-minute warning, a false start and illegal block in the back penalty pushed Houston into a 2nd-and-23 situation, allowing the defense to force a punt, which Jeremy Hill subsequently blocked, setting Tom Brady and company up at the 22-yard line with 89 second left.
Patriots 8th drive: Hill burst out of the gate with 19 yards on two carries, before Brady found Gronkowski for a 28-yard gain. This was potentially incomplete (although any other receiver would have drawn a defensive pass interference call), so the Patriots hurried it up. Rex Burkhead fumbled the ball, which Chris Hogan recovered with 27 seconds left. Brady found Dorsett for the remaining 30 yards, including a 4-yard score and a 21-6 lead at the half.
Texans 8th drive: Houston kneels.
First Half Review
Tom Brady picked up 3 touchdowns to move ahead of Drew Brees in All Time Touchdown Passes, spreading the wealth among Rob Gronkowski, James White, and first-timer Phillip Dorsett. Dorsett was the 69th unique player to receive a touchdown pass from Brady, which trails only Vinny Testaverde (70 unique players) for the most in NFL history.
While Gronkowski (60 yards and a touchdown) and Dorsett (40 yards and a touchdown) shined, and the ball carriers all played well (including Cordarrelle Patterson, with 19 yards on 3 touches), Chris Hogan has struggled to generate separation and develop his rapport with Brady. Hopefully Hogan can emerge in the second half, but he’s been pretty quiet (1 catch for 9 yards on 3 targets) in the first half.
It’s also worth noting that left tackle Trent Brown has done a pretty great job all day, with only one or two noticeable pressures allowed to a terrific Texans defensive front.
On the defensive side, the Patriots have done a good job of shutting down the Houston passing attack, with Deshaun Watson completing just 5 of his 13 passes (38.5%) for 61 yards and an interception. Watson’s been sacked twice, and the combined pass rush from Trey Flowers, Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise, and Keionta Davis has been stellar all day and the Patriots have 8 quarterback hits already.
In coverage, Stephon Gilmore has locked down DeAndre Hopkins (2 catches for 19 yards) and has two passes defended and an interception in the end zone, while Eric Rowe has been outstanding on the other side of the field. Jonathan Jones has been great in the slot. Patrick Chung allowed a 27-yard catch on a beautiful throw to tight end Jordan Thomas, but most of the Texans damage has come on the ground.
Lamar Miller, Alfred Blue, and Watson combined for 91 yards on 17 carries (5.4 yards per carry), although 31 of those yards came on a single carry. Still, the Patriots run defense hasn’t been great as Malcom Brown missed two huge tackle opportunities. Ja’Whaun Bentley is starting over Elandon Roberts in between Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy, although Nicholas Grigsby started to get some play as the coaches try to find a solution for their run defense.
The Patriots lead 21-6 at the half, with the Texans getting the ball after the break. Let’s see if New England can put them away early so we can have a restful fourth quarter.
Texans 9th drive: Kyle Van Noy recorded a 7-yard tackle for loss to start the second half and Ja’Whaun Bentley made a beautiful open field tackle after a 5-yard gain before the Patriots forced a punt on 4th-and-1.
Patriots 9th drive: Rob Gronkowski gained 29 yards on the second play, but Kareem Jackson punched it out from behind and Tyrann Mathieu recovered it. It was Gronk’s first fumble since 2012. Jeremy Hill looked seriously injured on the play by James Develin and writhed on the ground. His right knee is being tested and he was helped off the field.
Texans 10th drive: The Texans took advantage of the good field position and marched towards the goal line. The Patriots defense strengthened in the red zone and the Texans went for it on 4th-and-5 from the 17-yard line. Tight end Ryan Griffin shook free of Devin McCourty, but Watson threw another inaccurate pass and turned the ball over on downs. DeAndre Hopkins is visibly frustrated by Watson’s accuracy issues (9 completions on 20 attempts).
Patriots 10th drive: Brady and the offense started to roll and he found Gronkowski for a 30-yard gain (115 yards and a touchdown so far!). Chris Hogan drew a defensive holding penalty for a fresh set of downs, but J.J. Watt beat LaAdrian Waddle to hit Brady and the offense settled for a field goal. Stephen Gostkowski knocked in a 39-yard field goal for a 24-6 lead.
Texans 11th drive: Houston picked up 68 yards on 10 plays before Alfred Blue ran around the edge for a touchdown, bringing the score to 24-13. Houston ran the ball 7 times for 34 yards and a touchdown and passed the ball 3 times for 34 yards. Danny Shelton and Adam Butler do not form a good run defense interior and I would watch for the Texans to run whenever Butler is on the field.
Patriots 11th drive: The Patriots started their drive at the end of the third quarter, gaining 27 yards including a third (!!) completion to James Develin. The goal for Tom Brady and company was to drain as much of the clock as possible and to extend their two-score lead and they succeeded in moving into the red zone, but a miscommunication between David Andrews and Shaq Mason yielded a 7-yard sack and Cordarrelle Patterson gained 0 yards on an end-around. The Patriots settled for a 35-yard field goal and a 27-13 lead. The 13-play drive used up 7:04 of game time, so this field goal drive was a rousing success.
Texans 12th drive: Houston drove the ball to midfield, but Trey Flowers and Lawrence Guy split a sack and Devin McCourty made an incredible open field tackle to force a punt after a quick drive.
Patriots 12th drive: J.J. Watt easily beat LaAdrian Waddle and D.J. Reader cut up the middle against Joe Thuney and David Andrews to sack Brady for a 3-yard loss on second down, setting up a 3rd-and-13. James White scampered for 11 yards, but the Patriots settled for a Ryan Allen punt after a quick drive with a little more than 5 minutes left in the game.
Texans 13th drive: The Patriots forced a super quick three-and-out, but Riley McCarron muffed the punt off his facemask to set the Texans up on the Patriots 16-yard line. Ja’Whaun Bentley tackled Lamar Miller for a 1-yard loss, but Stephon Gilmore was flagged for defensive holding to get the Texans to the 5-yard line, Watson was subsequently flagged for a false start, and Malcom Brown whiffed on a possible sack of Watson as the quarterback made it back to the 2-yard line. Gilmore was flagged for another holding call to set up 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line, but Flowers and Guy teamed up for another sack. Watson fired a laser between Ja’Whaun Bentley and Eric Rowe in coverage to register a 5-yard touchdown and bring the score to 27-20. Instead of going for the onside kick, the Texans kicked it through the end zone to challenge the Patriots offense.
Patriots 13th drive: The Patriots needed to get two first downs in order to ice this game because the Texans had three time outs. Brady found James Develin for a 10-yard gain and the first of the two necessary first downs. The offense couldn’t record a second first down, despite the strong efforts of Rex Burkhead, and punted on 4th-and-2 with 51 seconds left in the game. Ryan Allen, with possibly the play of the game, pinned the Texans at the 1-yard line with 43 seconds left (Jonathan Jones downed the punt).
Texans 14th drive: An unnecessary roughness call against Duron Harmon and a few quick gainers set the Texans up on their 43-yard line with 5 seconds left in the game with one chance to reach the end zone. Rob Gronkowski was on the field to defend the Hail Mary, as was Jason McCourty who ultimately knocked it down.
The Patriots defeated the Texans 27-20 in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score suggests. A late Riley McCarron muffed punt set up a touchdown for the Texans, but the game was pretty much in hand at that point.
Rob Gronkowski had an excellent day with 7 catches for 123 yards, a touchdown, and a fumble, while Phillip Dorsett stepped up as the Brandin Cooks/Julian Edelman replacement by catching all 7 of his targets for 66 yards and a touchdown. Rex Burkhead was the #3 offensive star with 69 yards on 19 touchdowns, while Jeremy Hill and James White chipped in a combined 43 rushing yards on 9 carries and 44 receiving yards and a touchdown on 5 catches.
Chris Hogan was underwhelming with just 1 catch for 11 yards on 5 targets. Cordarrelle Patterson had a quiet second half, too, and finished the day with 19 yards on 4 touches.
On defense, Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise, and Lawrence Guy teamed up on a combined 3 sacks and the defensive front recorded 12 quarterback hits. Ja’Whaun Bentley started at linebacker and collected 7 tackles, including one for loss, and a quarterback hit.
Stephon Gilmore (2 passes defended and 1 interception), Eric Rowe (1 pass defended), and Jonathan Jones (2 passes defended) did a good job as the starting trio at cornerback, while Jason McCourty chipped in a pass defense on the final Hail Mary.
The Patriots did a great job of buttoning up the defense in the red zone, but they definitely struggled in run defense, with Malcom Brown, Adam Butler, and Danny Shelton all having some pretty rough missed tackles in the middle of the field. Hopefully they can improve their play moving forward.
New England is now 1-0 on the year and they proved they can win without Julian Edelman on the field and with all the offensive turnover. They travel to face the Jacksonville Jaguars in week 2 in a rematch of the AFC Championship Game.