No Tom Brady. No Jimmy Garoppolo. No Dont'a Hightower. No Jonathan Cooper. No Rob Ninkovich. No Sebastian Vollmer. No Dion Lewis. Really, no Rob Gronkowski.
With four quarters left until the conclusion of Tom Brady's four-game suspension for his "role" in Deflategate, the Patriots have proven why they should be considered one of the best franchises in professional sports. The Patriots have defeated two 2015 playoff teams in their climb atop the AFC East, and the NFL, at 3-0 with a second-string quarterback that has never taken a meaningful snap, a third-string rookie quarterback and a plethora of key pieces missing on all sides of the football.
In last night's game, the offensive line surprisingly shined the entire night. Nate Solder specifically dominated the Texans' defensive line and showed glimpses of why the Patriots payed him to be a franchise left tackle. They kept Jacoby Brissett (1 sack) out of harms way and opened up holes for LeGarrette Blount (105 yards, 2 TDs). Instead of lining up in shotgun and slinging the ball around the field, in order to keep JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney at bay, the Patriots favored Brissett's mobility and ran the triple option at times. When Brissett did throw the ball, McDaniels showcased his lively arm with throws down the field and behind the line of scrimmage in an effort to gain significant yards after the catch.
Defensively, the Patriots dared Bill O'Brien to continue to run the ball with a Cover 2 scheme with two deep safeties. Unfortunately for the Texans, Lamar Miller was not able to consistently run the ball with any type of effectiveness. This forced quarterback Brock Osweiler to hold onto the ball and try to make plays. As a result, Brock Osweiler relinquished an interception to linebackers Jamie Collins and two sacks to Jabaal Sheard. Alan Branch was able to clog up the middle, while Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler locked down two of the more dynamic receivers in the NFL in DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller. After two tough second-half performances against the Arizona Cardinals and the Miami Dolphins, the Patriots defense played a full 60 minutes and shut out the Texans, who were unable to score a point for the first time in a game since 2003.
While the offense and defense were dynamic and effective all night, in typical Bill Belichick fashion, I believe the special teams unit won the Patriots this game. With a rookie quarterback, punter Ryan Allen and kicker Stephen Gostkowski were going to be relied upon heavily to help even the playing field by giving the Texans poor field position and putting points on the board. And they did just that. The Texans average starting field position was at their own 16-yard line, and, according to ESPN, Ryan Allen's seven punts put the Texans at their own 4, 5, 10, 10, 11, 14, and 20-yard lines.
The Patriots were without their first-string and second-string quarterbacks, their best defensive player in Dont'a Hightower, their starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, their starting running back in Dion Lewis, perhaps a starting guard in Jonathan Cooper, and the best tight end in all of football AND THAT STILL WASN'T ENOUGH TO BEAT THEM. SUCK ON THAT GOODELL.