Receivers (3.5 out of 5)
Three more drops out of this group, with two from Wes Welker (a team-leading 12). Debated giving him two more, but the passes were in tough spots. If he catches them, they’re plus catches. So, while technically not drops, they were passes Welker usually handles. That said, Welker again got his left ankle rolled up on. He’s gutting it out and it has to be affecting his consistency. Hernandez is nearly back to full strength in the pass game, but he’s not showing much interest in blocking, probably because he’s afraid to get rolled up on again. Lloyd had a very nice bounceback game when his vertical prowess was needed in the game plan. Dobbins is probably having nightmares about having to cover Hernandez and Woodhead.
Offensive line (4.5 out of 5)
Considering the 44.2 percent blitzes, exceptional end J.J. Watt (five knockdowns, two hurries, despite extra attention on 43 percent of his rushes), and that the Patriots allowed just 13.3 percent of the rush attempts to be stuffed for 1 yard or less outside of short yardage (second-lowest to 3.6 vs. Denver), this performance was right there with the Rams game for best overall effort. Center Ryan Wendell (no impact plays allowed) and left guard Logan Mankins (knockdown) were exceptional, and left tackle Nate Solder (knockdown, half stuffed run) wasn’t far behind. Sebastian Vollmer (sack, knockdown, penalty, shared stuffed run) and Dan Connolly (two knockdowns, hurry, two half stuffed runs, penalty) had a tougher chore on the right side. One thing to watch: Solder was favoring the left side of his rib cage for much of the game.
Defensive line (5 out of 5)
When Vince Wilfork and Brandon Deaderick weren’t blowing up the zone blocking scheme themselves with penetration or sheer brute strength, they were maneuvering blockers so the linebackers could clean it up. Wilfork is on a tear and keeps topping himself. On second and 14 with 7:21 left in the first quarter, great job by Rob Ninkovich shedding standout left tackle Duane Brown at the point, and then just a phenomenal athletic play by Wilfork to not only fight around a double team but to help make a tackle on a play that was run 6 yards away from him. Then, on second and 10 with 5:54 left in the first half, the Texans tried to run a wham tackle trap play against Wilfork but the only whamming was done by Wilfork against Brown on his way to a big 2-yard loss. Both were All-Pro plays. Right before Devin McCourty’s interception, Deaderick completely blew up the inside zone run that only went for 2 yards and was impressively cleaned up by Wilfork, who hurdled a cut block. There was no letup in the second half. On the first play, Ninkovich shed the tight end on a 3-yard run. On the next play, Ninkovich made Brown look bad while Deaderick dusted an excellent center in Chris Myers on a 2-yard loss. Chandler Jones looked decent but definitely rusty and a little unsure of himself in his return. He had 1.5 hurries, but his pad level was too high on the Texans’ first touchdown and he got steamrolled (and tackled by Brown). Jones started to look more like his old self with 13:12 left in the fourth quarter when he penetrated and held the edge while Ninkovich and Kyle Love cleaned up a 1-yard gain on second and 2. Justin Francis (two knockdowns) needs to settle down with the friendly fire on Kyle Arrington.
Linebackers (3.5 out of 5)
There were some coverage errors but luckily Schaub was too gun-shy to find the open guys. Jerod Mayo had a slew of impact plays (three knockdowns, three stuffed runs, half hurry), and two missed tackles and contributed to a plus-20 pass play. On McCourty’s interception, it looked like Mayo got lucky on a blitz — like the play on which he sacked Ryan Tannehill of the Dolphins — because Arian Foster leaked out of the backfield completely uncovered. Great play by Mayo to attack downhill on the second-and-10 run with 2:38 left in the first half and to avoid the block of tackle Ryan Harris to take Foster down for no gain. Dont’a Hightower (two knockdowns, hurry, 1.5 stuffs) was in the same boat with a couple of miscues. Both players are joining an obviously injured Brandon Spikes (ankle) — he was invisible and slow — in attacking linebackers. Good to see the coaches turn this group loose.
Secondary (4 out of 5)
Breaking up six passes and taking points off the board with a goal-line interception is a good day’s work for a group that obviously has benefited from a small but difference-making uptick in pressure generated in the past four games (31.1 percent of dropbacks; 24 percent in previous seven). Really nice play by Talib, whose size is a deterrent (where have you gone Ras-I Dowling?) to quarterbacks more than anything, on the pass breakup before leaving with an injury. He’s much more consistent when given a target to focus on. Arrington was again a standout with everyone else but Steve Gregory (three missed tackles, plus-20 play) extremely solid. The group’s improvement is identical to last year’s but with more (inconsistent) talent.Continued...