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19 observations from Texans vs. Patriots

We all knew that it would be a tough afternoon in Foxboro to start the season and it lived up to the hype, if you will. It was sort of a weird afternoon and at the end of it, the Texans fell to the defending AFC champs in their building 27-20.

Here are my observations from the day.

1. Safety Tyrann Mathieu was a dude on Sunday. He made key tackles in run support throughout the day. Yet, it was an interception and a fumble recovery that put the Texans in position to score points. Just watching him throughout the day, it’s clear how much better he makes this defense in the back end. I can’t thoroughly tell you how much I love having him here in Houston.

2. The Patriots drives in the second half…Fumble, field goal, field goal, punt and punt. Again, the Texans held up in the second half, in particular, against Tom Brady and company. The one drive that’s going to haunt this defense after the fact is that touchdown drive before the half. It seemed as though the Patriots would just run the clock out after a few runs but Jeremy Hill broke off two runs that moved the ball to the New England 41-yard line. That gave the Patriots some breathing room to go after some points.

3. Just prior to that Patriots drive, the offense got the ball with 4:24 left in the half and moved out to the 47-yard line at the two minute warning. I can imagine that Bill O’Brien wanted that exact situation - score right at the end of the half and get the ball to start the second half. So, any points there to run out the half and going into the locker room at 14-13 or 14-9 with Texans get the ball to start the second half. However, the Pats got the stop and turned it into a 21-6 game at the half, instead.

4. Defensive back Kareem Jackson played one of the best games of his career. If this is how the move to safety will go, look out. He made one stellar tackle after another, forced a huge fumble on a Rob Gronkowski catch (Gronk's first fumble since 2012) and made a couple of strong plays in coverage. He also made a tremendous play on third and one late in the game, throwing himself into fullback James Develin who in turn knocked over Rex Burkhead to keep him short of a first down. That stop helped give the Texans one final shot to tie the game at 27.

5. Rookie safety Justin Reid made his presence felt with an excellent breakup when he was matched up one-on-one on Gronk. With those three, Mathieu, Jackson and Reid, the Texans safety position is as good as I can remember it.

6. I truly thought the defense’s 3-and-out to start the day was going to be a harbinger of things to come, but the fumble on the first offensive play was a buzz kill. Look, it happens, but it sort of felt like the Texans were grinding uphill the rest of the day. I’ve been here for four games and the Patriots have scored first every game. There’s something to that, especially in the opening game of the year.

7. Man, the running game really got cranked up today. Lamar Miller has been outstanding since the first day of training camp. He told me after the game that his patience was really key because he stayed on track to let blocks develop and then would hit the gas to burst through the holes. He nearly topped the 100-yard mark with 98 yards on 20 carries.

8. Fellow running back Alfred Blue posted a 7.2 yards-per-carry average on five carries and one touchdown. Overall, the running backs ran for 134 yards on 25 carries. The Texans will win a ton of football games in the future doing that. On one run, Blue had a massive hole from his offensive line, but he also powered through tacklers on runs as well. His third-and-short run provided a shot in the arm at a much needed time, not to mention that the Texans have struggled in short yardage situations in the past.

9. Why did the run game excel? Well, the interior was excellent at times. I saw guard Zach Fulton destroy a poor linebacker on one of Miller’s runs. I mean, he lifted him right off his feet and Miller cut just off his backside for a significant gain.

10. The Texans lost right tackle Seantrel Henderson early in the game which forced rookie Martinas Rankin into the game at left tackle (Julien Davenport moved over to right tackle to allow Rankin to go to left). There were some shaky moments for each guy, which is to be expected as one guy is a rookie and the other is starting for the fourth time in his career. I don’t imagine we’ll see Big Trel back anytime soon, so this group is going to have to work together that much better as the Texans move on to Tennessee next week.

11. On special teams, returner Tyler Ervin gave the Texans a shot in the arm throughout the day. He averaged over 31 yards per kickoff return and 10 yards per punt return. After his six returns, the Texans started drives at the 27-yard line, the 37-yard line, the 30-yard line, the 28-yard line, the 32-yard line and the 31-yard line. Overall, the average start after an Ervin return was the 32-yard line. This offense will generate a ton of points in the future with that kind of return success. Furthermore, each and every return seemed to raise his confidence throughout the day.

12. All in all, the defense held its own. It forced six Ryan Allen punts. It generated two turnovers. It held the Patriots under four yards a carry. It held the Patriots to four of 14 on third-down conversions. The secondary held Chris Hogan to one catch. The difference, really, was Tom Brady throwing to Rob Gronkowski. Period.

13. If linebacker Dylan Cole plays like he did today, he should see more time on the field in the future. There were at least two times that I saw when he heard Brady change the play or call the play at the line of scrimmage and he told the defense where it was going. Then, he went and found the ball and made the play. He ran down Cordarrelle Patterson on a reverse that looked like it potential to break wide open.

14. J.J. Watt got rolling in the second half, which was a great sight. He was held at least three times that I can remember, one of which he was incensed with the officiating crew after the play. He had a beef. But, his get off was on point coming from the outside once he really got his bearings. One time he was so fast coming off the ball that the Patriots right tackle couldn’t even touch him.

15. Defensive lineman D.J. Reader had one of his best ball games that I can remember. He finished with two sacks although the second of which will eventually be shared with Watt, in my opinion (Watt had Brady by the ankle after forcing Brady to step up in the pocket into Reader). Watt said earlier this year in training camp that Reader was the best nose tackle in the league.

16. Fellow defensive lineman Angelo Blackson had the tipped pass that led to Brady’s only interception of the day - Tyrann Mathieu’s INT in the first half.

17. We finally got to see tight Jordan Thomas get loose in the passing game with a big reception that led to a field goal. That is one big dude and when he’s loose in the secondary, oh wow. I’ve got to go back and watch his blocking on tape, but that catch was just the start of him being a significant weapon in the passing game in the future.

18. The Texans touchdown drive in the third quarter was the way I know this offense wants to play - up tempo with the physical run game mixed in. They ran seven times for 37 yards and Watson was 3-for-3 for 36 yards. Balance with tempo certainly had the Patriots back on their heels throughout that entire drive.

19. Back to the defense…last year, the defense gave up seven plays of 20+ yards or more. Today? Three.

As I watch the game back again, I’ll see some more and have some more for you during the week, but it’s time to move on to Tennessee. See you next week, everyone.

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