Hannable: Patriots question marks entering year get answered in Week 1 win over Texans

Ryan Hannable
September 09, 2018 - 11:34 pm

Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports


FOXBORO — For the first time in quite awhile, there was legitimate intrigue with the Patriots and how they would look to open the season.

In the past, it was pretty clear what the team would be like — a high-powered offense with a defense that relies on the bend, but don’t break motto. This year, nothing was certain. There were a lot of questions surrounding the team, especially facing one of the so-called contenders in the AFC this season in the Texans to open the year.

Although the Texans made things interesting late, the 2018 Patriots made a good first impression in their 27-20 win Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

The biggest worry going in was how the passing game would fare without Julian Edelman and not much depth at the wide receiver position, but that was answered in the first quarter. Tom Brady would just get more people involved, as eight different receivers caught passes on his first nine completions.

Of those eight different receivers, four players — Rob Gronkowski, Phillip Dorsett, James White and James Develin — had four or more catches. Unsurprisingly, Gronkowski led the way with seven catches for 123 yards and a touchdown, but the next productive receiver was Dorsett who had seven catches on seven targets for 66 yards and a touchdown.

With how Dorsett performed over the summer, many thought he could help the most in replacing Edelman, but he just needed to prove it.

“Phillip did a great job, got some opportunity and then came up with the plays, came up with the catches,” Brady said. “It’s kind of what he’s been doing all camp, all spring and it was good to see it show up today. So, we needed it.”

One of the other things that was unclear on offense was how would veteran Trent Brown look in his first full game with the team?

Brown dominated in training camp, but given his body-type (6-foot-8, 370 pounds) a four-quarter game is a lot different. 

The left tackle was excellent, as he went wire-to-wire and was part of the offensive line that kept Brady clean for most of the game. He also helped keep the Texans’ star defensive players like J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus from drastically impacting the game, as they had two and zero tackles respectively.

Defensively, there were a few things unknown going in, including how would the unit look in its first game with Brian Flores leading the way, and how much pressure could the defense create?

Things did seem different as the gameplan against Deshaun Watson was something we haven’t seen in a long time. New England went with a 3-4 look to help contain Watson, and it worked as the second-year player was frustrated all game long. Watson finished with just 176 yards passing.

“We did well on keeping [Deshaun] Watson contained. Last year he had a lot of scramble yards, and this year we put a huge emphasis on the defensive line keeping him contained in the pocket and for us defensive backs to plaster the receivers because we know he likes to scramble and the receivers will run everywhere,” cornerback Eric Rowe said. “We put a huge emphasis on that this week and I feel like we did a good job on it.”

It's also worth noting Flores' group did a good job getting off the field on third down, as Houston went 2-for-11 in third down conversions. This had been a major issue for the unit in the past.

The strong pass rush may have been the biggest surprise of the game, as the Patriots were able to create pressure without sending any extra players.

New England finished with three sacks as a team, but that doesn’t tell the whole story of how much stress Watson was under all game long. It came from all over, as Deatrich Wise and Trey Flowers each had 1.5 sacks on the edge, but Lawrence Guy, Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton were able to disrupt things up the middle as well.

Flores had some aggressiveness in his play-calling during the preseason, but he didn’t even need to send extra guys to create pressure on Sunday. This would be a welcomed change from recent years, as a lack of pressure has been a theme of the Patriots defense in recent seasons.

After allowing just six points the entire first half, the defense didn’t play as well in the second half, but it was still a very strong performance. Houston looked confused at times, and most of the credit deserves to go to the Patriots defense.

Even though it was just a seven-point win, given the number of things that remained up in the air heading into the game, it felt like a blowout win from an answers standpoint.

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