One week after their most impressive game of the season, the New England Patriots had another disappointing outing. The team struggled on the road against the Houston Texans, and eventually was beaten with a final score of 27-20 to fall to 4-6 on the season. Needless to say that the Patriots appear to be in do-or-die territory moving forward as far as their postseason aspirations are concerned.
With all that said, let’s take a look back at the game in Houston to see how New England opted to use the talent on its roster — and who played the biggest roles in the team’s loss
Total snaps: 69
G Shaq Mason (69; 100%), G Joe Thuney (69; 100%), OT Michael Onwenu (69; 100%), C David Andrews (69; 100%), QB Cam Newton (69; 100%), WR Jakobi Meyers (68; 99%), OT Isaiah Wynn (65; 94%), WR Damiere Byrd (62; 90%), TE Ryan Izzo (56; 81%), WR N’Keal Harry (52; 75%), RB James White (39; 57%), RB Damien Harris (26; 38%), FB Jakob Johnson (19; 28%), RB Rex Burkhead (12; 17%), TE Jordan Thomas (7; 10%), WR Donte Moncrief (4; 6%), OT Jermaine Eluemunor (4; 6%)
Despite going against the worst run defense in the NFL, the Patriots decided to attack with a pass-heavy approach beginning as early as the first series. Accordingly, the team’s passing game personnel saw plenty of action — from wide receivers Jakobi Meyers, Damiere Byrd and N’Keal Harry each playing over three-fourths of the snaps, to James White leading the running backs for the first time since Week 6’s loss against the Denver Broncos.
Top early-down back Damien Harris, for comparison, played only 26 snaps and finished the game with 11 carries for 43 yards and a touchdown — his worst statistical outing since that game versus Denver. While such an approach seems counterintuitive versus Houston’s defense, the unit put additional bodies in the box to prevent New England from running the ball. The result was the Patriots moving to the air with some, but not enough, success.
All in all, the unit was on the field for 69 snaps with five players going wire-to-wire. One notable exception who normally would be on that list is Isaiah Wynn: the Patriots’ starting left tackle went down with an apparent knee or ankle injury in the fourth quarter, and had to sit out the final four offensive snaps of the game. Former number one right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor, who again started the game on the bench, filled in during his absence.
Total snaps: 61
S Devin McCourty (61; 100%), CB J.C. Jackson (59; 97%), LB Chase Winovich (53; 87%), CB Stephon Gilmore (53; 87%), S Kyle Dugger (46; 75%), CB Jonathan Jones (45; 74%), S Adrian Phillips (45; 74%), LB Ja’Whaun Bentley (44; 72%), LB John Simon (40; 66%), DE Deatrich Wise Jr. (37; 61%), DT Byron Cowart (32; 52%), DT Lawrence Guy (32; 52%), CB Jason McCourty (27; 44%), LB Josh Uche (22; 36%), DT Carl Davis (20; 33%), LB Terez Hall (17; 28%), DT Isaiah Mack (11; 18%), S Terrence Brooks (9; 15%), CB Joejuan Williams (6; 10%), LB Anfernee Jennings (6; 10%), LB Tashawn Bower (6; 10%)
Coming back after a three-game absence due to a knee injury, Stephon Gilmore saw considerable playing time: the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year was on the field for 53 of a possible 61 snaps in his usual role as the Patriots’ top perimeter cornerback. While J.C. Jackson saw more action than him, Gilmore is expected to be back at 100 percent playing time sooner rather than later — good news for a New England defense that struggled mightily to defend the pass on Sunday.
One major problem for the unit was preventing passes over the middle of the field, and away from Gilmore and Jackson. The Patriots tried defensive backs Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips (and to a lesser degree Joejuan Williams) as well as off-the-ball linebackers Ja’Whaun Bentley and Terez Hall, but to no avail: Houston routinely found holes in New England’s zone-based coverages and methodically moved the football down the field time and again.
Up front, meanwhile, the team relied on a heavy dose of outside linebackers Chase Winovich and John Simon as well as a healthy rotation at defensive tackle. While this lineup allowed New England to make the Texans one-dimensional by limiting the output on the ground to just 55 yards on 19 carries, it failed to keep Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson from moving around in the pocket and from extending plays with his feet.
Total snaps: 27
WR Matthew Slater (23; 85%), CB Justin Bethel (23; 85%), LB Chase Winovich (18; 67%), S Cody Davis (18; 67%), S Kyle Dugger (17; 63%), WR Gunner Olszewski (15; 56%), CB Jonathan Jones (14; 52%), LB Josh Uche (14; 52%), S Terrence Brooks (14; 52%), CB Joejuan Williams (14; 52%), WR Donte Moncrief (12; 44%), P Jake Bailey (12; 44%), S Adrian Phillips (10; 37%), RB Rex Burkhead (8; 30%), LB John Simon (8; 30%), LS Joe Cardona (7; 26%), FB Jakob Johnson (6; 22%), DT Byron Cowart (6; 22%), DT Carl Davis (6; 22%), S Devin McCourty (5; 19%), DE Deatrich Wise Jr. (5; 19%), LB Anfernee Jennings (5; 19%), G Shaq Mason (4; 15%), G Joe Thuney (4; 15%), OT Michael Onwenu (4; 15%), OT Isaiah Wynn (4; 15%), TE Jordan Thomas (4; 15%), OT Jermaine Eluemunor (4; 15%), K Nick Folk (4; 15%), OT Korey Cunningham (4; 15%), LB Ja’Whaun Bentley (3; 11%), CB Jason McCourty (2; 7%)
New England used 31 players in the kicking game, par for the course this season. Of those 31, eight were employed exclusively in the game’s third phase: the three specialists — Nick Folk, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona — as well as Matthew Slater, Justin Bethel, Cody Davis, Gunner Olszewski and Korey Cunningham. All in all, the group had a solid outing, with Bailey and the coverage team in particular looking good.
One player on the opposite end of the spectrum, however, remains Gunner Olszewski. The Patriots’ kickoff and punt returner was again a non-factor throughout the game and put up some disappointing averages whenever returning the ball: he averaged 1.5 yards on his two punt returns and 12.0 yards on his lone kickoff runback. At this point in time, and with Olszewski not providing any help on offense, one has to wonder how secure his roster spot is especially with the 2021 offseason possibly beginning sooner rather than later in New England.
Did not play
QB Jarrett Stidham, C James Ferentz
With the game coming down to the wire, number two quarterback Jarrett Stidham once again had to ride the bench throughout the contest. The same is true for interior offensive lineman James Ferentz, who did establish himself as the top backup option after the release of Hjalte Froholdt but is limited to emergency duty nevertheless.
QB Brian Hoyer, RB Sony Michel, CB Myles Bryant, RB J.J. Taylor, DT Adam Butler, WR Isaiah Ford
New England entered the weekend with 15 players listed as questionable on the injury report but no straight deactivations. That number jumped from zero to two on Saturday, however, when Adam Butler (shoulder) and J.J. Taylor (illness) were ruled out after not traveling with the rest of the team to Houston. Four more players were added to the list before the game, even though none of them had any health-related issues.