The New England Patriots defeated the Houston Texans 27-20 to start the 2018 regular season 1-0. The game wasn’t pretty and there’s a lot for Bill Belichick to evaluate and criticize, but the outcome is in the books.
Here’s what we learned.
Tom Brady still looks great
The reigning MVP might be 41 years old, but he easily outplayed the 22-year-old on the other sideline. Brady finished the day 26 of 39 (66.7%) for 277 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 1 interception for a passer rating of 102.2. That interception was the result of a tipped pass at the line of scrimmage, too, so it wasn’t directly his fault.
Brady was efficient and he moved well in the pocket. He spread the ball around with nine players seeing targets and four recorded four or more receptions. There is a glaring concern about the lack of connection between Brady and Chris Hogan (1 catch for 11 yards on 5 targets), but Brady proved that Father Time is going to have to wait a little bit longer.
Rob Gronkowski is a beast
Gronkowski was a huge receiving threat up the seam and picked up 123 yards and a touchdown on 7 receptions. Sure, he fumbled one of his receptions, but not all fumbles are the same and Bill Belichick tends to cut a player some slack if the fumble is the result of a player in transition (like Gronkowski) or where the defender is unseen (like Gronkowski).
With Edelman out and Hogan not producing, Gronkowski will need to replicate this production in each of the next three games if the Patriots are going to emerge from the first quarter of the season with a strong record.
Phillip Dorsett is more than hype
Dorsett was fantastic in his first real game in the spotlight for New England. He collected all 7 of his targets for 66 yards and a touchdown and he was running many of the same routes that Brandin Cooks ran in 2017.
While Brady and Dorsett didn’t connect on a deep ball (Dorsett’s long was 14 yards), that can come later and the fact that Dorsett’s producing on short targets is probably a better indicator that the receiver will be a part of the Patriots game plan beyond Edelman’s suspension.
I’m going to be the first on the hype train that expects a Dorsett extension by the end of the regular season. There’s no facts or rumors behind this, but it seems like a Patriots thing to do, especially with the Patriots receiving corps lacking any continuity beyond this year.
The Patriots pass rush looks fierce
Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise looked outstanding as they picked up 1.5 sacks and 3 quarterback hits, while Adrian Clayborn added 2 quarterback hits of his own. Keionta Davis, as the fourth man in the rotation, hit the quarterback, too. This quartet had an extremely promising first game, especially after how last year’s lack of a pass rush was crucial to the team’s defeat in the Super Bowl.
We have to add Lawrence Guy into the mix, too, because he generated a fair amount of pressure up the middle, too. He was the best defensive tackle on the roster today because...
The Patriots interior run defense is concerning
Malcom Brown, Danny Shelton, and Adam Butler all had ugly missed tackles against the run on Sunday and the Texans gashed the run defense on a regular basis. This wasn’t an intentional decision to prevent Deshaun Watson from throwing the football, like the choice they’ve made against Peyton Manning in the past. The Texans just had an easy time running the ball up the middle.
Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue combined for 124 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries, for nearly 5 yards per carry. Deshaun Watson added in 40 yards on 8 carries, too. The Patriots edge defenders did an okay job of stopping runs to the outside, but the consistency at which the Texans gained yards up the gut is concerning.
The issue goes beyond the defensive tackles as Ja’Whaun Bentley, Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, and Elandon Roberts didn’t win the necessary battles to stop the rushing attack. The Patriots were really bad against the run in 2017 so any struggles this season should be flagged for concern.