Pick Six:  Observations from Game One

New England won their first game of the 2018 season 27-20 against the Houston Texans in Foxboro. The Patriots pushed out to a 24-6 lead midway through the 3rd quarter and then held on for the win. New England’s defense landed 12 quarterback hits, so credit to the Texans’ quarterback Deshaun Watson for surviving the assault and giving his team a chance to win at the end.

Six Observations from Game One

1. Despite all the offseason intrigue about his future, Rob Gronkowski showed on Sunday that he’s still got “it.” Gronk pulled in a Tom Brady pass threaded between safety Kareem Jackson and linebacker Zach Cunningham and stretched out for the score in the 1st quarter. Midway through the 3rd, Brady found his big tight end again between Jackson and Cunningham for a 30-yard gain up the right seam. Right before halftime another catch in double coverage look questionable, and the Patriots, uncharacteristically, were able to rush to the next snap before the Texans, or the replay officials, stopped the action on the field. As my wife noted, “They never do that!”

2. After watching Tom Brady and Brandin Cooks struggle to connect on slant patterns last season, it was refreshing to see Phillip Dorsett snag a quick slant and run for a first down to start the Patriots’ third drive. The former first-round draft pick was New England’s second best pass catcher on Sunday, including a touchdown out a three-receiver “bunch” formation right before half time. Moments before the score, Dorsett got wide open on an out pattern for a red zone catch. The receiver showed his leaping ability when he snagged a ball apparently intended for an up field Chris Hogan in the 3rd quarter.

3. Early in the 3rd quarter, Kareem Jackson stripped the ball from Gronkowski after a reception. In the ensuing melee, fullback James Develin inadvertently hit Jeremy Hill’s leg, and the running back sustained a significant leg injury. Develin also accidentally tackled teammate Rex Burkhead on his critical third-down run in the game’s final two minutes. Speaking of chance occurrences, Houston safety Tyrann Mathieu was fortunate twice: First having Kareem Jackson’s stripped ball bounce to him and second for being in the right spot to catch the Tom Brady pass that defensive end Angelo Blackson tipped into the air.

4. CBS’s broadcast crew pointed out that the Patriots’ backfield was effectively passing off receivers after the snap. Midway through the 1st quarter, Houston receiver DeAndre Hopkins ran a crossing route and New England cornerback Stephon Gilmore passed him off to safety Duron Harmon who had good coverage near the goal line. In the 2nd, Gilmore rotated mid-play from playing his corner to get back and help corner Eric Rowe’s coverage of receiver Vyncint Smith. That play ended with a Stephon Gilmore interception, snuffing out a Texan’s drive in Patriots’ territory. Gilmore also made an outstanding play earlier in the 2nd, staying with DeAndre Hopkins on a Texans’ play action, and then dislodging the ball to force the incompletion. Late in the contest Gilmore was flagged twice for illegally impeding Hopkins on pass plays.

5. Defensive lineman Lawrence Guy was hitting quarterback Deshaun Watson as he released the ball on the aforementioned 2nd quarter Gilmore interception. Also in the 2nd, fellow lineman Keionta Davis beat Houston left tackle Julie'n Davenport to the outside, and in the process of taking down Watson right tackle Seantrel Henderson sustained a serious leg injury. Midway through the 4th, defensive end Trey Flowers beat Davenport – now playing right tackle – drew a holding call against the offensive lineman, and still got to Watson for the sack. In the 1st, defensive lineman Malcom Brown overpowered right guard Zach Fulton and tackled Watson as he was throwing the ball.

6. The last three punts of the game helped define the final score. The Patriots’ Ryan Allen punted his team out of their territory with a 55 yarder with about five minutes remaining in the game. After New England’s defense held Houston to a three-and-out, Coach Bill O’Brien elected to punt, and returner Riley McCarron muffed the ball, allowing the Texans to take over at the Patriots’ 16. Following Houston’s touchdown, and a stalled New England drive, Allen kicked -- and Johnathan Jones covered -- a perfect punt down at the Texans’ one yard line with about 45 seconds left in the game.

Originally posted on PatsPulpit.com

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