At New England
Cloudy 62 degrees
Key Decision #1: (NE ball, up 7-3/fourth-and-inches at HOU 25/14:37 Q2)
• Instead of attempting a 43-yard FG and possibly going ahead 10-3, Bill Belichick had QB Tom Brady attempt a QB sneak on fourth-and-inches. A stop by the Houston defense would have given the Texans quite a lift, but the attempt may not have been more than six inches. Playing at home, and still early in the game, Belichick thought this was a worthy gamble, particularly since Brady is very effective on his sneak attempts.
• The sneak was converted for a first down, and NE ultimately scored a TD to take the first two-possession lead in the game, a lead they would never relinquish.
• A two-possession deficit on the road vs. NE is incredibly difficult to overcome; Belichick knows how to close and they did it again this day.
Key Decision #2: (HOU ball, trails 21-6/fourth-and-5 at NE 17/9:56 3Q)
• Instead of attempting a 35-yard FG to draw within 21-9 with plenty of time left in the game, HOU head coach Bill O’Brien chose to convert the first down against a NE defense that had been playing well up to that point.
• The attempt failed, and NE converted for a FG to lead 24-6. HOU ultimately would claw back in this game to within 7, and a chance to tie the game, but if they had taken the 3 here, they would have had a chance to win the game.
• Interestingly, later in the game, HOU trailed 27-13, and faced a fourth-and-8 with 4:41 in 4Q, and the ball on their own 36. In this situation, we felt perhaps O’Brien would again go for this fourth down, trailing by 2 TDs late in the game. Instead, he punted, which indicated to us some inconsistency with his reasoning given his earlier fourth down try much earlier in the game.
• NE knew it had an unfavorable matchup going into this game with their WR group vs. a talented HOU secondary. NE wisely gameplanned around this, and early in the game utilized their backs and played very conservatively – we didn’t track a throw to a WR until into the second quarter.
• NE’s special teams units bear watching – Belichick’s personnel decision to use a green WR, Riley McCarron, in a crucial punt catch situation backfired on him. The coverage unit teams also did not perform well, except for one downed punt at the HOU 1.
• HOU coach O’Brien made a good in-game adjustment going up-tempo; it opened the running game and HOU’s backs performed well.
• O’Brien may have made a clock management error when he did not call timeout on a controversial catch call by TE Rob Gronkowski. Alternatively, credit the Pats and their coaching in this situation; they knew to rush to the ball to quickly get a play off before the booth might have called for a review – it’s the little things like this that matter.
• HOU QB DeShaun Watson clearly performed better in a RPO look; when he went under center for certain play-calls, the HOU offense just did not execute as well.
• NE’s defensive gameplan to not rush too hard upfield vs. HOU QB Watson was brilliant; NE largely kept Watson contained in the pocket and eliminated the possibility of long gains on the ground.