They didn’t make it easy on themselves, but Tom Brady and the Patriots earned a victory in their 2018 season opener against the Texans. Houston made a late push to try to tie the game but the New England defense held and sealed a 27-20 win. The Patriots were certainly not perfect, but they did not start as poorly as they did last season and appeared to have more cohesion on both sides of the ball. Here are some of the highlights from Sunday:
– We are going to start off with Tom Brady because it’s Tom Brady. He finished the game 26/39 for 277 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. This is impressive because it’s really not impressive at all. We have all been so spoiled that we can’t comprehend how wild that stat line is for a 41-year old quarterback who just tied Peyton Manning for most season opener wins with 13.
– The Patriots offensive line deserves hearty praise for their performance in this game. The Texans have one of the most fearsome front sevens in football with JJ Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus. New England’s offensive line held strong, only giving up two sacks for ten yards. They played well in man-to-man blocking, as well as in stunts to prevent Houston from getting to Brady. They also helped the Patriots rush the ball 30 times for 120 yards. Trent Brown, in particular, looked impressive in his first regular-season start for the Patriots. He spent much of the day matched up against Clowney, preventing him from getting to the quarterback. He could improve in the screen game but overall had a solid first game.
– As usual James Develin deserves special recognition. He stepped up to make four receptions for 22 yards, and more importantly helped open up the Patriots run game. He will never show up in highlights because everyone is staring at the running back, but he is constantly making key blocks that are the reason that New England’s running backs are able to hit those holes.
– The Patriots running backs looked solid in their first game together. Rex Burkhead and James White each looked solid in all three phases of the game. Jeremy Hill was extremely impressive with a couple of big runs. However, he suffered a knee injury at the hands of Develin on the fullback’s attempt to tackle Tyrann Mathieu. While there are no reports as of this very moment, it seems unlikely that Hill will see the field again this season.
– The Patriots receiving corps was decent despite the impending doom that everyone predicted. Phillip Dorsett, in particular, had a strong showing, finishing with seven receptions for 66 yards and a touchdown. His route running was fantastic and he made some tough catches. Brady connected with nine different receivers in the game, highlighting the diversity that the team has on offense to make up for a lack in receiver depth.
– Rob Gronkowski looked like an absolute beast in his first game of 2018, making seven catches for 123 yards and a touchdown. He was nearly unstoppable, although he did have an uncharacteristic fumble at midfield. Despite that miscue, his and Brady’s chemistry should give Patriots fans something to look forward too over the rest of this season.
– The Patriots defensive line was the highlight of the day on defense. They sacked Watson three times for 18 yards and had consistent pressure all night. What was most notable is that they got this pressure without dialing up many, if any, blitzes. They rushed four throughout most of the game, with a rotation of Deatrich Wise, Trey Flowers, Adrian Clayborn, Keionta Davis, Adam Butler, Malcolm Brown, and Danny Shelton. Clayborn, Wise, and Flowers had success rushing around the edge all afternoon, particularly against Houston’s left tackle. Davis, Brown, and Shelton created decent pressure up the middle, something that the Patriots did not see last season. This was a marked improvement over the defensive line that the team sent out last year.
– The Patriots secondary had a relatively successful game, particularly when compared to the way they were playing this time last year. They held Deshaun Watson to 176 yards on a 50% completion percentage, while only giving up one touchdown. Stephon Gilmore also came up with an interception. They had a good scheme across the board, especially against DeAndre Hopkins, who was held to only 78 yards on eight catches. Gilmore was not perfect in coverage on Hopkins, but considering he was in straight man for most of the game, his performance shouldn’t be overanalyzed just yet. Jonathan Jones was a standout, playing noticeably tight defense on Bruce Ellington all game.
The Patriots were not perfect. Their offense was stagnant at times, and their play calling was inconsistent. Their defense held Watson in check but still gave up 167 yards on the ground. Although that did not end up hurting them in the end, it is not ideal to be giving up that kind of yardage on the ground. However, this was a good win for the Patriots. It started their season off on the right note against a tough AFC opponent, it tested their ability to finish a game strong, and it will be a good film study to make improvements as they head into Jacksonville for week two.
Until next time – B$