On Sunday the New England Patriots faced off against the Houston Texans in a Week three matchup. That game marked the 21st time Bill Belichick faced a rookie quarterback as a headcoach. The Patriots were 15-5 in those contests (8-0 at home) coming into Sunday’s contest. New England barely added another notch in the win column with a 36-33 win.
Since they aren’t divisional opponents this game was the only regular season meeting for these two teams. But there is some familiarity between the Pats and Texans since they held joint practices this off-season and faced each other in a preseason game. Plus, there are multiple former New England coaches and players on the Texans coaching staff (including head coach Bill O’Brien and first year defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel). Below are some takeaways from the Patriots Week three win over the Texans.
Week Three New England Patriots Takeaways
Offensive Line Failed to Protect Tom Brady
Somehow Tom Brady threw for 378 yards on 25 of 35 attempts and tossed five touchdowns with no interceptions against Houston. But it seemed like Brady was under duress most of the day on Sunday. Coming into Week three Brady had been sacked 2.5 times (certainly room for improvement) and on Sunday the former Michigan quarterback was sacked five times and hit eight. Whitney Mercilus had one of the five sacks and on that play he forced a fumble that was recovered by Jadeveon Clowney who returned it for a touchdown.
Brady has great pocket awareness and presence but he is not the most mobile quarterback in the league. The Texans defense certainly is talented but the Pats offensive line must do a better job of protecting their signal caller going forward.
Brandin Cooks Shows His Value
The Patriots picked up Brandin Cooks this off-season after conducting a trade with the New Orleans Saints. Coming into Week three Cooks hadn’t yet found pay dirt but he did have three catches for 88 yards in Week one and in Week two he contributed two receptions for 37 yards. But what doesn’t get seen in the box score each week is the effect that Cooks has on opposing defenses. A great example of what Cooks does without the ball coming his way was on display when Chris Hogan had his second touchdown of the afternoon against Houston. The Texans safety was so concerned about Cooks on the right side of the field he started to shade over during Cooks’ route and Hogan wound up all alone and scored a touchdown.
But against Houston, Cooks also lit up the stat sheet with with five receptions for 131 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning touchdown and the subsequent two-point conversion that put the Patriots up three. Cooks has played only three games with New England but he has already proven he was a valuable pickup this off-season.
Defense Must Improve
True, the Patriots don’t have a ton of depth on the defensive side of the ball. Kony Ealy was dismissed before the start of the 2017 season, Derek Rivers tore his ACL and is out for the season and Dont’a Hightower didn’t play on Sunday due to a knee injury. But even with the addition of Stephon Gilmore (who had an interception on Sunday) this off-season the Patriots defense is still not playing like a unit capable of helping the Patriots wn the Super Bowl.
In Week one the Pats allowed Alex Smith to complete 28 of 35 passing attempts for 368 yards and and four touchdowns. New England’s defense also gave up 185 rushing yards on 27 carries (6.9 yards per carry), including 148 yards to Kareem Hunt, and two total rushing touchdowns in that Week one contest against the Kansas City Chiefs. Week two against the Saints was more of the same, particularly against the pass, as Drew Brees completed 27 of 45 passes for 348 yards and and two touchdowns.
Going into Week three a rookie quarterback had never come into Foxborough and walked out with a win while Belichick has been at the helm. That statistic held on Sunday, but Deshaun Watson did have a nice game, particularly for a rookie on the road. On Sunday the former Clemson standout completed 22 of 33 passes for 292 yards and threw two touchdowns. He did have two interceptions as well, but for only his second NFL start Watson played well and helped put his team in a position to win. The Patriots defense must make adjustments and improvements as the season continues.
New England is still one of the favorites to come out of the AFC, but if they want to be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy yet again they must get better play from their offensive line and defense.