Monday, December 2, 2019

Patriots Drop Big Game to Texans, 28-22

The Patriots lost a big one last night, with the Texans handing them their only important loss to the franchise in its history -- 28-22. The loss drops the Patriots into the #2 playoff seed, and leaving them with a razor-thin one-game lead in the AFC East (over Buffalo). Next week doesn't get any easier, with the Kansas City Chiefs coming to town.

If you watched the game, you probably saw as much as I did. The Pats offense couldn't get out of its own way for most of the game. They scored touchdowns on their last three drives, but it was too little too late. And their defense played mediocre most of the game, giving up four TDs, one after an interception and two after loooong drives.

They can blame the flu (which took out half the team). They can blame Romeo Crennel's great defensive plan. They can blame the play-calling. But the fact is that teams have a simple formula to stop the Patriots passing game. Double Julian Edelman, cover James White with a defensive back, and dare anyone else to beat man-coverage.

I won't really know how the offense is going until the next two games. The Dallas tilt was a quagmire, not much to learn there. And the other two bad offensive performances were all on the road, where crowd noise causes problems. If they hold onto the #2 seed, that means at least one home playoff game. So that means how they perform the next two weeks will tell us a lot about how things will go in the playoffs. Assuming they make it :(

And for crying out loud, can they play with a little better plan to start the games? And a little more urgency on offense? The last four games combined, they have 10 total points in the first quarter. And seven of those came after a blocked punt against Dallas.

Time for Josh McDaniels to earn his keep and come up with a better plan entering the game. Falling behind KC or the Bills (in three weeks) won't do. If you could score three straight TDs late, then figure out how to do it early.

As for this game, the only real stand out was James White. The Pats finally figured out that when he's in the game teams expect passing plays. So they ran him instead -- to the tune of 79 yards on 14 carries (a 5.6ypc average).

The Pats will need to play White more, even if it means risking injury or wearing him out. They just don't have lots of other good options at this point. Sony Michel is useless in the passing game. And Rex Burkhead isn't consistent enough.

Among the receivers, Mohamed Sanu has Brady's trust but he dropped a fourth-down throw that hit him in the hands (and he also fielded a punt inside the 10 yard-line, a no-no on special teams). However, Jacobi Meyers got more targets this week, with some positive results. But then on the downside again, Phillip Dorsett seems to have lost the ability to beat any defenders one-on-one.

The defense is still playing at a historically excellent pace. But it's apparent that if the team doesn't get ahead, they aren't exactly the reincarnation of the 2000 Ravens. They can be had if the other team doesn't have to throw all the time to get back into the game. Balanced offenses give them real trouble, specifically the linebackers, who have trouble covering receivers.

Special teams actually played pretty well. The punting and kickoffs were solid and they got the one field goal they attempted. They even had a real shot at an onside kick that could have given them a chance to pull out the victory. But alas, it bounced off Brandon Bolden's hand and out-of-bounds :(

(Note: I put the missed extra point on the coaching staff. They decided to get cute and look at a two-point conversion. And when they didn't get the defensive look they wanted, they took a five-yard delay of game penalty. Then the kick went slightly wide left. Not on the kicker, IMO, on the coaches.)

Where does that leave us? Not quite the #1 seed anymore, but still in line for a playoff Bye if they hold serve. Recovering from the flu will help. And maybe that KC defense will cure what ails the offense... but I won't hold my breath on that one.

Biggest ongoing concern: It's the offense, specifically the receivers not getting separation. The running game isn't a concern, because they won't be lining up to run on anyone anytime soon. They have to get the receiver thing figured out, or they are going no where in the post-season.

Non Brady MVP: James White, who had the aforementioned running stats and also 8 catches for 98 yards and 2 touchdowns. I sort of think the team rediscovered White this week, and I hope they continue to use him.

Statistical oddity: So far this year, the AFC East is 11-4 against the NFC East (a winning percentage of .733). And the bottom of the AFC East stinks -- which shows you how bad the NFC East is. Washington and the Giants should be relegated.

Water-cooler wisdom: "Four games to figure out the offense, or they are toast in the playoffs."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 10-2!