While the New England Patriots started their game against the Houston Texans relatively well, the team ultimately was unable to follow through due to offensive struggles and a defense unable to deliver the crucial stops as it has in the past few weeks. Ultimately, the Patriots were defeated with a final score of 28-22 — falling to a 10-2 record on the year and from the top playoff seed in the AFC.
With that being said, let’s take a look at some of the players who stood out on Sunday, without the benefit of a film review.
Losers: The non-Julian Edelman wide receivers (Mohamed Sanu, Phillip Dorsett II, N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers)
There is a clip from the 2009 documentary A Football Life: Bill Belichick in which New England’s head coach speaks about the team’s inability to move the football when wide receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker are covered. The 2019 Patriots are similar in this regard, with Julian Edelman and James White playing the roles of Moss and Welker. New England is incapable of consistently moving the football with its other pass catchers, and the wide receiver corps takes most of the blame here: outside of Edelman, the group is not on the same page as Tom Brady often enough for the unit to function properly — and Sunday was a prime example of that.
Winner: WR Julian Edelman
Despite drawing considerable attention and being double-covered at times, the Super Bowl MVP was still able to produce solid numbers — six catches for 106 yards and a touchdown — and help the Patriots at least somewhat stay in the game. Edelman is clearly the only wide receiver who enjoys Brady’s trust on a down-to-down basis, and who needs special attention from the defense. The problem is that even when he draws it, the other players are unable to take advantage.
Loser: CB Jonathan Jones
Jonathan Jones remains one of the best slot cornerbacks in football, but he had some issues on Sunday against the Texans’ Kenny Stills. While he ultimately surrendered just three catches to the wide receiver, Jones was beat twice on Houston’s third touchdown drive of the day: he gave up a 20-yard completion on a 3rd and 7 when the Patriots were in Cover 0 with no help deep, then he surrendered a 35-yard touchdown pass to put the home team up 21-3.
Loser: OT Marcus Cannon
On average, Tom Brady had more than three seconds to throw the football against the Texans which shows that the pass protection up front was mostly good. However, it also had its noticeable downs as New England’s quarterback was taken down three times by Houston’s pass rush — with Marcus Cannon partially responsible for two of them. Cannon is not yet up to speed after dealing with an illness the last two weeks that also cost him five snaps after he was getting an IV to start the second half.
Winner: The Patriots’ run game
Despite the final numbers, New England’s offense had a rough outing. Not all was bad, though, as the team’s running game did find some success against Houston’s defense: the Patriots carried the football a combined 29 times for 145 yards and a very good 5.0-yard average. Led by James White and Sony Michel, who combined to register 24 carries for 124 yards, the Patriots were able to get a solid push up front — with left tackle Isaiah Wynn once again standing out at the left tackle position.
Loser: Josh McDaniels
From afar it seems as if New England’s offensive coordinator made some curious decisions during the game. While Josh McDaniels certainly has his reasons for each one of them based on the information he has available, the Patriots’ insistence to move the football through the air hurt them on more than one occasion: the unit was moving the football comparatively well on the ground early on in the game, but it went pass-heavy after a balanced first drive that ended with a field goal.
Winner: DT Lawrence Guy
Houston entered the game trying to establish a presence on the ground, but the team finished the contest with only 55 rushing yards on 20 carries for an average of 2.8 yards per attempt. A big reason for that was New England’s strong play up front, with defensive tackle Lawrence Guy once again showing why he is one of the most underrated defenders in the NFL: Guy’s strength and marvelous technique allow him to stay in position to hold down his gaps, and it helped the Patriots make its opponent one-dimensional.
Winner: RB James White
After a quiet few games, James White had a breakout performance against Houston. Yes, a lot of his yardage was accumulated during the late fourth quarter and with the defense in more of a prevent mode, but the veteran receiving back still showed the ability to serve as a second receiving option alongside Julian Edelman and doing some damage on the ground. On the day, White finished with 22 touches, 177 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns: he caught eight passes for 98 yards and a pair of scores, and carried the football 14 times for 79 additional yards — including a career-long 32-yard carry in the third quarter.
Loser: The Patriots’ linebackers in coverage
New England’s secondary is arguably the best in the NFL, so the Texans tried to target other areas in their passing game — most notably the short, underneath zones manned by the team’s linebackers. It worked: the first touchdown was scored when running back Duke Johnson beat Kyle Van Noy; the second to tight end Darren Fells was the result of a miscommunication between Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins. As well as the group as a whole is playing this season, Houston was able to get it into difficult situations at times.