Perry's Report Card: Patriots vs. Texans
What Tom Brady did at the end of Sunday's 36-33 win over the Texans, masterful as it was, came as little surprise. Fair or not, those types of fourth-quarter feats are now the expectation for the future Hall of Famer. Even with the amount of pressure he was facing. Even with the tight windows he was asked to hit. What has not been expected has been how the Patriots defense has performed through three games this season. Statistically the worst in the league in several categories, it allowed 26 points to a rookie quarterback playing behind a shoddy offensive line.
We've compiled grades for Brady, his defense, and all Patriots position groups following their last-minute come-from-behind victory ... highlighting the good, the bad and the ugly in the process.
Even before Brady did what Brady does late in the fourth quarter, he showed poise, accuracy and toughness. On his first completion to Brandin Cooks deep down the left sideline, he was drilled by Bernardrick McKinney. On game-winner to Cooks, he again had pressure in his face. His long third-down conversion to Danny Amendola on the final drive was also a seemingly-impossible dime. Brady finished the first half with a pair of short misfires to Cooks and Amendola, but that was a blip on the radar screen. For someone who was hit nine times, strip-sacked three times and pressured on eight more dropbacks, he was on point. One of his best regular-season comebacks in a career filled with improbable ones.
RUNNING BACK: C
There wasn't much room to run -- according to Pro Football Focus, the Patriots offensive line allowed just 1.2 yards per carry before contact -- but Patriots backs are having a hard time creating yards on their own. Mike Gillislee (1.8 yards per carry after contact this season) is supposed to be the hammer, but he's doing as much damage after contact as James White (1.7). White did some good work as a receiver, and the backs were used in protection to help keep Brady clean, but the Patriots have some issues in short yardage. Gillislee was stuffed on a third-and-one in the fourth quarter, and when the opportunity at another came up later, the Patriots opted to pass. Gillislee also got an assist on one of the Texans' sacks by tripping his quarterback near their own goal line.
Cooks said there was never any doubt that he had possession of the football on his game-winner, but it was close. Credit him with a route well run against Houston's Cover-2. He also had good awareness of where he was on the field despite the timing of the throw seeming a little late. His speed was on display on his first touchdown of the game, a 42-yarder on a deep over route. The field-stretching dimension he provided the Patriots offense was crucial against a defense that wanted to muddy the middle of the field. Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan also came through with big contributions. The only real demerits here are due to one third-down route that Hogan ran short of the sticks in the first quarter, and it seemed as though Cooks may have gone too far up the sideline on an attempted comeback route at the end of the first half.
TIGHT END: B+
Rob Gronkowski played nearly every snap after coming into the game as questionable with a groin injury. He looked plenty healthy posting up a Texans safety in the end zone for an easy score in the first quarter. He also finished his runs with power, and none was more important than his third-and-12 conversion on his team's final drive. He also chipped in as a pass-protector more than he typically does. With Marcus Cannon out, and against a talented Houston front, the Patriots line needed all the help it could get. Gronkowski did fumble late in the first quarter, though it bounded out of bounds. And the Patriots continue to get nothing from Dwayne Allen in the passing game. He tried to reel in an early Brady throw one-handed. Didn't work. He wasn't targeted again. Jacob Hollister did check in on three-tight-end sets and came down with a tough-as-nails 19-yard catch.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C-
Brady was pressured on 41 percent of his dropbacks against the Texans, hit nine times and pressured eight others. LaAdrian Waddle started for Cannon and allowed two hits and two pressures on his own. Nate Solder couldn't handle Whitney Mercilus' speed rush on one sack, and Joe Thuney had difficulty with Houston's power up front. David Andrews and Shaq Mason didn't communicate well enough on a stunt, leading to another Brady sack. The amount of running room provided to Patriots running backs also has to be a concern for Josh McDaniels and Dante Scarnecchia. Solder was high and beaten to the inside on Gillislee's failed third-and-one run in the fourth quarter, and Bill Belichick opted to throw on their next third-and-one later in the quarter. If there's any good news for this group, it's that the Texans defensive front may be the best the Patriots see in 2017.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B
Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise continue to show up as the team's most consistent pass-rushers with a sack (which came on a play when Flowers started in coverage), four hits and seven hurries between them. Wise also picked up a pass-breakup and one of his hits led to Stephon Gilmore's pick. On the most critical defensive play of the game, New England's big bodies like Malcom Brown, Alan Branch and Lawrence Guy came up big to stop a third-and-one run to force a field goal. Branch played 21 snaps and may be getting his legs under him. Cassius Marsh also showed up as an edge defender, recording a strip-sack and stopping Lamar Miller on a third-and-one at the end of the first half. This group had difficulty getting Deshaun Watson to the ground at times, but they won't see many quarterbacks with his mobility. Problem is, the next most mobile quarterback on their schedule, Cam Newton, visits Gillette this week.
Elandon Roberts has solidified himself as the No. 2 off-the-ball 'backer behind Kyle Van Noy. David Harris saw four snaps when it looked as though there was an issue with Roberts' hand in the second half. Roberts continued to be stout against the run -- he leveled Houston's left guard to blow up a D'Onta Foreman run for two yards -- and he was fine in coverage. Van Noy made a poor decision to try to break up a Watson pass intended for Foreman that led to a busted coverage and a 34-yard gain. He also picked up a third-quarter illegal contact penalty in the red zone, and two plays later Watson found Griffin for a touchdown to bring the Texans within one. If it wasn't for Van Noy's tackle on second down late in the fourth quarter, though, the Patriots might not have been set up for their critical third-and-one stop. He played every snap, and it's clear Patriots coaches trust him.
Three of the five Deshaun Watson completions that went for 20 yards or more came on scramble-drill plays. Tough to ask defensive backs to cover for extended periods of time, but that's kind of the nature of the business certain weeks. Stephon Gilmore made strong stops on an end-around run and a reception in the first quarter, but he seemed hesitant to tackle Lamar Miller in a one-on-one situation in the second. Gilmore gets credit for being in the right place at the right time for his pick, but he was flagged for pass interference and unnecessary roughness, and looked lost on one third-down Ryan Griffin reception. Devin McCourty used his speed to spy Watson at times and limit Watson's scrambles, but Watson got McCourty with a veteran head fake on a 29-yard touchdown pass to Bruce Ellington. McCourty was beaten on Griffin's second-quarter touchdown, though it was a well-placed back-shoulder throw that McCourty really had no shot at.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C+
With Danny Amendola back in the mix, the Patriots got a boost in the punt-return game. He had returns of 33 and 20 yards in the game to help improve his team's field position. Joe Judge's unit also got good work from Johnson Bademosi and Brandon Bolden in coverage. Ryan Allen helped make up for a couple of punts that seemed like miss-hits -- a 36-yard punt out of his own end zone in the first quarter and a touchback from the Houston 38-yard line that landed about five yards into the Texans end zone -- with a 59-yard punt that helped flip field position in the fourth. Amendola had an issue on one return when he let Shane Lechler's kick bounce past him and roll to the Patriots' 6-yard line, a 68-yard boot.