The Patriots humiliated the Houston Texans on Thursday night with one of the greatest gameplans in the history of the NFL. Behind third-round rookie Quarterback Jacoby Brissett, the Patriots embarrassed the previously unbeaten Texans by handing them a 27-0 defeat. It would take weeks of film study to discover all of the nuances the Patriots’ coaching staff installed during the short week of practice, but I’ll try to explain a couple of schemes Bill Belichick employed in an all-time great coaching performance.
The first thing that jumped out to me watching the game live was the lack of pressure the Texans were able to put on the Patriots’ young Quarterback. The Texans racked up 9 sacks through the first two games, but the Patriots Offensive Line only allowed 1 sack against one of the most dominant defensive fronts in football. The Patriots totally took J.J. Watt out of the game by occasionally sending a triple-team his way, and getting the ball out of Brissett’s hand quickly in the short to intermediate pass game. Field Yates (@FieldYates) tweeted a startling statistic regarding the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, “JJ Watt vs. all other teams: 76 sacks in 79 games. JJ Watt vs. the Patriots: 0 sacks in 4 games.” The Patriots simply refuse to be beaten by their opponents’ best players, so they effectively take them out of the game.
The Patriots were also able to silence another Texans star in DeAndre Hopkins by holding him to 56 yards on 4 receptions from 8 targets. New England Cornerback Logan Ryan was matched up with Hopkins all night, while their other star Cornerback Malcolm Butler shut down speedy rookie Wide Receiver Will Fuller (7 targets, 3 receptions, 31 yards) who had gone over 100 receiving yards in each of the first two games. Without his two favorite receivers Osweiler only managed to throw for 196 yards, and threw a crucial interception to Jamie Collins early in the 2nd Quarter. The Patriots allowed the Texans to beat themselves with 3 turnovers while the Patriots refused to give the ball away. The Texans also committed 3 more penalties than New England for 28 more yards.
The most impressive part of their gameplan was the handling of young Jacoby Brissett. They emphasized Brissett’s ability as a runner (he was the 6th highest graded running Quarterback in 2014 according to Pro Football Focus) by giving him 8 carries for 48 yards and a Touchdown. They were creative with their formations including the one shown below, which I had never seen before in an NFL game.
Building an early lead allowed Offensive Coordinater Josh McDaniels to be conservative in his play-calling only asking Brissett to throw the ball 19 times. The Patriots received a typical ground-and-pound performance from RB LeGarrette Blount running for 105 yards and 2 TDs on 24 carries.
Another advantage the Patriots had in this game was that the Texans’ Head Coach, Offensive Coordinator, and Defensive Coordinator had all previously worked under Belichick in New England. I have no doubt that Belichick had some notes on how to expose each of their schemes if they ever donned a headset on the opposite sideline.
The Patriots have now started 3-0 without possibly the greatest Quarterback of all time, and only seeing 14 snaps from the greatest Tight End of all time in Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots were my preseason Super Bowl pick, and I doubled down on that prediction by tweeting that they’ll go 16-0 after their impressive performance in Week 1. Anything is possible when you have the greatest mind in all of football sporting his patented cut-off hooded sweatshirt roaming the sidelines.