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When you talk to scouts, coaches, and executives from teams who have or will play the Patriots, the conversation inevitably will include something along the lines of:
“Well, at the end of the day, the Patriots have Tom Brady.”
The Texans are probably saying that as well after the Patriots’ 42-14 Monday night beatdown.
The Patriots certainly have more than their share of talented players on each side of the ball, but this game perfectly illustrated where all but a few teams fail to measure up against the Patriots: quarterback.
Texans quarterback Matt Schaub entered the game without a signature victory. It was his time to state to the rest of the league that he had arrived.
The Texans probably left privately questioning whether Schaub is ever going to be more than a good game manager.
We were able to get a fairly equal comparison between Brady and Schaub because both of the defenses brought nearly relentless pressure to gain an edge.
The Texans sent more than four rushers at Brady on 44.2 percent of his dropbacks. That’s the second-highest rate on the season and the most since the 51.2 percent the Rams threw at Brady in London (not coincidentally, a 45-7 Patriots win).
The Patriots were even more aggressive, bringing extra pressure against Schaub on 52.5 percent of his throws. That’s the most since at least the start of the 2010 season.
Cornerback Aqib Talib’s man-to-man coverage ability doesn’t seem to have much of an impact on the Patriots’ pressures. The Patriots blitzed on 38 percent of the throws before cornerback Aqib Talib left with a hip injury and 68 percent after he departed — despite a 21-0 advantage.
This was clearly a game plan choice by the Patriots, similar to the approach taken against the Bruce Arians-coordinated Colts (this season) and Steelers (the previous two). Both the Texans and Arians rely on play- action and deep drops by the quarterback to threaten the defense vertically.
The difference between the Texans and Patriots in this game was how the quarterbacks and offensive lines fared against the pressure.
The Texans’ offensive line allowed 2 sacks, 5 hurries, and 9 knockdowns (16 total quarterback pressures) for a 40 percent pressure rate.
Schaub was 10 of 18 for 96 yards with a sack and interception (47.5 passer rating) against the Patriots’ pressure. By the tail end of the first half, Schaub was playing with wildly happy feet in the pocket and didn’t see some wide-open receivers as he rushed to get the ball off.
The Patriots’ line allowed just 1 sack, 2 hurries, and 7 knockdowns (10 total quarterback pressures; three before it was 21-0) for a pressure rate of 23.3 percent.
Of course, a lot of it had to do with Brady and his ability to interpret the look from the defense and know where to go with the ball. He released the ball in a season-low 2.25 seconds on average, which was more than a quarter of a second faster than Schaub (2.54). It might not seem like much, but it is against NFL defenses.
And Brady was 13 of 16 for 159 yards and three touchdowns against the Texans’ blitzes (147.7 rating).
The difference seems clear to us.
Here are the positional ratings for the Patriots against the Texans:
Quarterback (4.5 out of 5)
This was one of those games in which Brady’s statistics (outside of the four touchdown passes) didn’t tell the whole story because of all the different pressures he had to deal with. There were certainly some throws he would like to have back, and Brady probably would have liked to change a few runs into bad fronts, but that’s the perfectionist in him. Nobody finds matchups for his receivers better than Brady. Great job by Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels — who is really in a groove now that he’s comfortable with the personnel — getting the linebacker on Aaron Hernandez out of the backfield on the first touchdown. The Patriots will take that every time. How good was Brady’s play fake on a 13-yard pass to Hernandez on the second drive? Blitzing linebacker Tim Dobbins tackled Stevan Ridley while Brady still had the ball. It was the same play (different personnel and alignment) in which the Patriots scored on the very next play with Brandon Lloyd. Looks like McDaniels has been doing a lot of work with Ryan Mallett on his mechanics because his one pass — dropped by Visanthe Shiancoe for an interception — showed an improved and quicker release of the ball. We’d like to see more.
Running backs (2.5 out of 5)
This rating is strictly for Ridley and Danny Woodhead fumbling once each because, even though the Patriots recovered both, those are the types of mistakes that will quickly end a season. Some really good inside running from Ridley and Shane Vereen, who has greatly improved in this area from the start of the season. Really nice 9-yard run by Vereen on the opening drive of the second half. Despite Hernandez getting blown up on his wham block by Connor Barwin — Hernandez did get in the way, so still a “good” block — Vereen smartly read the cutback lane and then undressed safety Quinton Demps for another 5 yards.Continued...