Houston Texans vs. New England Patriots: Full Roster Grades for New England
Mirroring their Week 12 victory over the Denver Broncos in more ways than just the 34-31 final score, the Patriots came out very flat. They dug themselves an early 10-point hole in the first half but quickly erased the deficit with scoring drives on each of their first five possessions in the second.
The Patriots now hold a three-game lead in the AFC East standings.
At first blush, here are grades for each of the Patriots players.
Other than an underthrown touch pass to Rob Gronkowski that was intercepted by an expectant Johnathan Joseph, Tom Brady continued to play at the high level he exhibited against the Broncos in the second half.
He ended the day 29-of-41 for 371 yards and two touchdowns, distributing the ball to eight different receivers.
As long as the Patriots defense continues to struggle against the run, Tom Brady is going to have to keep his sharp edge for New England to have a chance.
Blount finished with 12 carries for 44 yards and a touchdown, but that doesn't tell the whole story of his game. He was a bruising inside runner the Texans back seven were reluctant to tackle and—most importantly—held on to the ball for the whole game without incident.
Shane Vereen: B
Shane Vereen dropped another touchdown pass but made some important catches and runs resulting in first downs. If he can get the soft cast off of his wrist, look for his receiving issues to go away.
Brandon Bolden: C+
Bolden gained only two yards on three carries but had an important 18-yard catch on an all-out blitz by the Texans.
James Develin: A
Develin made the most of his opportunities, converting two short-yardage situations—a first down and a touchdown—as well as catching a pass.
Likely due to his fumbling issues, Ridley was inactive against the Texans. The Patriots need to get Ridley—their best inside runner—on the right track before the playoffs.
Julian Edelman: A
Who would have thought that Julian Edelman would be the most explosive and consistent receiver on the Patriots squad? He continues to impress with his elusiveness, hands and savvy route running.
Danny Amendola: A-
Five targets, five catches. Amendola was there when Brady needed him—setting up multiple easy second-down and short situations—and didn't have a drop on the day.
Kenbrell Thompkins: I
Thompkins left the game with a hip injury after making a sprawling 16-yard catch over the middle. Thompkins returned to field shortly but eventually watched the rest of the game from the sideline.
Josh Boyce: C+
Boyce made his first impact play of the season—a 41-yard kickoff return—but it was telling that he didn't get more snaps on offense with Aaron Dobson and Thompkins out.
Aaron Dobson: I
Due to a sprained foot, Dobson was held out of Sunday's game against the Texans.
Rob Gronkowski: A-
Gronkowski didn't seem to be operating at full strength—his ankle seemed gimpy even before today—but he had enough in the tank to pick up 127 yards on six catches.
However, he was targeted 12 times on the day and wasn't able to separate underneath on a few occasions, allowing smaller corners and safeties to deflect the ball.
D.J. Williams: I
Williams filled in for Gronkowski on a few plays but wasn't much of a factor. I wouldn't be surprised to see Williams released when Michael Hoomanawanui gets healthy.
Matthew Mulligan: B-
Mulligan made some fine blocks, springing backs for extra yards on a couple of occasions. Mulligan wasn't targeted in the passing game, but that really isn't his forte.
Will Svitek: B
Nate Solder: B+
Logan Mankins: B+
Ryan Wendell: B
Dan Connolly: B+
The Patriots were able to hold J.J. Watt without a sack and generally kept Tom Brady clean during the second half after a rough start to the game.
Nick Underhill from MassLive.com kept his eye on how the Patriots tried to contain Watt.
On the occasions when the Patriots did run at Watt, he was often double teamed by a guard and a tackle. By simply staying out of the storm and opening an umbrella when there was no other choice, the Patriots held Watt without a tackle for a loss.
That's no small feat considering that Watt has 34 run stuffs over the last two seasons.
Svitek has been great in relief of Marcus Cannon and looks like he will be able to fill in when needed. Nate Solder and Logan Mankins continued their solid play as of late.
Chandler Jones: C+
Jones failed to register a sack on Sunday, although he did pressure Case Keenum on a couple of occasions. In my opinion, he was dropped into coverage far too often. If I'm Matt Patricia, I want my best pass-rusher moving forward on each play.
Rob Ninkovich: B
Ninkovich got to Case Keenum on a couple of occasions but wasn't able to record a sack. He is still the most consistent player on the Patriots defensive line.
Andre Carter: B
Carter didn't make a tackle—I only saw him in the nickel and dime packages—but his big hit on Keenum resulted in an interception for Logan Ryan.
Sealver Siliga: C-
Isaac Sopoaga: C
Chris Jones: C
Joe Vellano: C-
The Texans averaged 4.3 yards per carry, totaling 121 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. The interior of the Patriots defensive line struggled getting off of blocks and keeping its gap integrity.
Sopoaga and Jones each made a play rushing the passer, resulting in their slightly higher grades.
Dont'a Hightower: C-
Hightower was effective early on—he did lead the team with seven tackles—but his run fits got sloppier as the game progressed.
Nobody is going to expect a linebacker of Hightower's size to cover well in space, so the Patriots coaching staff is going to have to clean things up schematically to prevent putting Hightower in situations that emphasize his weaknesses.
Troy Brown of CSNNE.com also questioned Hightower's motor. "If you give up a play, get there man. Finish the play. Make it. Chase somebody down. Run across the field like [Luke] Kuechly out of Carolina. Finish the play. Be a high-motor guy like that."
Brandon Spikes: C-
Spikes totaled five tackles and a pass deflection, but he contributed to the problems covering receivers crossing the middle of the field. Seeing Spikes and Hightower struggle in coverage—that isn't why they were brought in—really drives home how much the Patriots miss Jerod Mayo.
As much as they miss Mayo, Doug Kyed brings up a great point about who else they might be missing—Vince Wilfork.
Mayo shed his fair share of blocks at the second level last year, Hightower/Spikes are dealing with OL upfield on almost every snap.— Doug Kyed (@DougKyedNESN) December 2, 2013
Dane Fletcher: C
Jamie Collins: C
With a different scheme in place for Houston, Fletcher and Collins didn't seem to be as big a part of the defense. They each played snaps in sub-packages, but neither were able to make an impact play.
Devin McCourty: C+
McCourty had another missed tackle today, and as the leader of the secondary, he has to take some blame for all the breakdowns in communication.
Aqib Talib: B
Talib had another tough assignment, following Andre Johnson for much of the day. When matched up in man coverage, Talib held his own. However, zone coverage seemed to befuddle Talib. It looked like he left his assignment on multiple plays.
Kyle Arrington: B
Arrington is going to get knocked by fans for his one very bad play—beat deep by DeAndre Hopkins—but he was solid for the remainder of the game. Arrington might be the most underrated player in this secondary. He was only targeted one time on the day, which speaks to his play on the day.
Logan Ryan: B+
Ryan tallied another interception on the day—although he should give a lot of the credit to Andre Carter—making that three for the season. He filled in admirably for the injured Alfonzo Dennard.
Duron Harmon: C+
Steve Gregory: B-
Back from injury, Gregory split time with Harmon at strong safety. The duo combined for five stops on the day. It will be interesting to see on All-22 film review where the blown coverages originated. Gregory and Harmon rarely have been out of position this year.
Stephen Gostkowski: A+
Yeah, well, we have confidence in Steve, we have confidence in that whole unit. We tried one in the first half from 50, whatever it was, 57, 58. That was probably a bad decision on my part, we would have been better off punting that ball. Just on the distance, it was a tough kick. But he hit it good, he gave it a shot, but we have confidence when we send him out there and he’s come through, really all year for us.
Danny Aiken: A
Aiken was perfect today after a couple of tough outings. Belichick continued his praise for the long snapper, holder and entire unit.
They’ve been consistent all year and our field goal team has been consistent protection-wise. They’ve done a good job. Haven’t had a lot of close calls on the rushes. But their timing and execution was on, and it needed to be because those were, like you said, those were hard kicks.
Ryan Allen: B+
Allen had a bad touchback on a punt where the Texans had no returner but redeemed himself with a perfect punt downed within the 5-yard line, effectively ending the Texans' final chance to score with seven seconds remaining.
Matthew Slater: B+
Michael Buchanan: B+
Nate Ebner: B
Despite one long return by Keshawn Martin, the Patriots coverage units were up to the task against the Texans. Michael Buchanan was disciplined and had a nice open-field tackle on Martin in the second half.
All statistics courtesy of NFL.com and the Patriots Media Relations Department.