Texans vs. Patriots: Takeaways from Houston's 34-31 Loss Against New England
Circling this game on the calendar was a pretty safe bet.
With revenge in mind, even with a 2-9 record, the Houston Texans came to play on Sunday and found themselves in a shootout with one of the AFC's best.
It was the composure of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski that won in the end, but that shouldn't take away from the heart the Texans showed. When the time came to answer, guys like Case Keenum and Ben Tate stood strong, and there was finally some decent play-calling from the sidelines.
Here are the takeaways from the Texans' Week 13 loss.
Last week, the Texans' running game was nothing. Against New England, Ben Tate rediscovered himself and ran for 102 yards and three touchdowns.
It's taken so long to say this, but finally, the Texans saw some good blocking on Sunday. The running lanes were open for Tate to see, and for most of the game, Gary Kubiak had the Patriots defense thinking pass, only to run it the opposite way toward the end zone.
Keenum did a good job of setting things up for Tate. Passes downfield created some short-yard situations, and the Texans made sure they ran the ball more toward the left hand side of the line, where more of their Pro Bowl players were positioned.
New England's run defense has struggled all year, ranking 31st in the league. Tate made sure he took full advantage of that.
The partnership of Brady and Gronkowski is ultimately what won the game for the Patriots.
On New England's final drive to set up the go-ahead field goal, Brady targeted Gronkowski a lot, and the Texans secondary struggled to keep up.
At times, there were linebackers playing on Gronkowski, and it didn't work. He wound up with 127 yards and a touchdown, while the Texans secondary had a tough time simply bringing him to the ground after the catch was made.
Draft a Quarterback? Hold That Thought...
It was another game of Keenum doing all that he could. He found Andre Johnson early and often and again showed the presence of mind to scramble out of the pocket and make some plays on the run.
By far the most impressive part of Keenum's day was his touchdown run in the third quarter. While the Patriots were so focused on the pass, Keenum put up a nice fake and received a good block from Duane Brown to roll in for the touchdown on the left hand side.
Of course, the final drive of the game wasn't pretty, but it was hardly Keenum's fault. The offensive line failed to stand up, completely collapsing on 4th-and-15. Dropped passes earlier on didn't help the cause either.
Overall, though, Keenum did a much better job than Matt Schaub ever could have.
No one got so much as a hand on Brady all game long.
For the first time all season, J.J. Watt had a very quiet game on Sunday, as Brady was allowed all kinds of time in the pocket to set up his throws. Early in the game, he was afforded the luxury of around half an hour in the pocket, where he set up Gronkowski over the middle for an easy touchdown.
The Texans defensive line was outmuscled for most of it and probably struggled with the pace of New England's offense overall. Once the second half began, it appeared New England upped the pace a little. On a touchdown drive in the third quarter, it took only three minutes for Brady to drive down the field.
It's hard to fault Andre Johnson after the effort he put forward in this game. But when everything was on the line, the Texans as a team had way too many dropped passes.
On the second-to-last drive of the game, a short pass to Garrett Graham was dropped, and on the very next play, Johnson dropped one that was in the bread basket. It's not like Keenum was throwing balls near their bootlaces, so someone has to be held accountable for the amount of dropped passes on offense.
It seems like, every week, there is some kind of different drive-killer for the Texans. If it's not penalties it's no run game, and now it's dropped passes.
Rusty Run Defense
As good a game as Tate had, the Patriots' three running backs also put on a pretty good show. Shane Vereen, James Develin and LeGarrette Blount combined for 86 yards and two touchdowns, which doesn't seem like much, but the plays counted when it mattered.
The Texans' efforts to stop these three guys wasn't great, and with Watt having a silent day, there was a distinct lack of tackling—one that was evident on Develin's impressive touchdown that required four different Texan players to try and bring him down.
When the Patriots weren't running, they were still pretending to but instead throwing quick darts to guys like Danny Amendola. It was a good mix of run and pass from Bill Belichick that won this game for New England, and Wade Phillips' normally impressive run defense had one of its worst days of the season.
It's time again to pick on Kareem Jackson, unfortunately, as he had another fizzler on Sunday that he'd probably like to forget.
Jackson had the tough job of covering Brady's new favorite target, Julian Edelman, who finished the game with 101 yards. He was burned on several routes, including one deep down the sidelines that brought the ball into the Texans' own 20 and later set up a Shane Vereen touchdown run.
For most of the year, Jackson has struggled on his assignments, and Sunday was no exception. At the line of scrimmage, Edelman blew right by him on separate occasions, making things even harder for the safeties.
Luckily, Johnathan Joseph had a great game and kept Brady honest.
Finally, Some Play-Calling
The Texans lost, but the play-calling was 10 times better than it was in the past few games.
All year, the Texans have been guilty of trying to mix it up, only to see it fail and result in interceptions. On Sunday, though, they mixed it up the right way and it resulted in perhaps their best drive of the 2013 season early in the first quarter.
The best part of Kubiak's play-calling this week was the running game. Running the ball to the strongest side of the offensive line made sense, instead of trying a bunch of runs to the outside that result in nothing.
It was also good to see other wide receivers, like DeAndre Hopkins, utilized more. Andre Johnson has been the go-to man for the past month, and, as we saw last week against Jacksonville, it's become pretty predictable for defenses.
Kubiak may be as good as gone by season's end, but at least Sunday showed something different.