Friday, September 23, 2016

Allen, Special Teams Lead Patriots' Punking Of Texans

 If Ryan Allen isn't named the special teams player of the week, then there is no justice in the National Football League.

Oh, wait...

Regardless of how one feels about the brand of justice dished out by the league office, it's difficult to envision any punter having a better game than Ryan did against the hapless Houston Texans on Thursday night, his effort helping the seriously short-handed New England Patriots hammer the favored Texans by a tally of 27-0.

Brandon Bolden celebrates his forced fumble
It was weird game, which is to be expected when the Patriots were starting a rookie third-stringer at quarterback with his backup being an ex-college quarterback turned receiver who has thrown exactly one pass in the NFL, and also considering that the New England defense was coming off of a horrific second half against the Dolphins just four days earlier... it goes to figure that head ball coach Bill Belichick would devise a game plan to grind time off of the clock on offense and task his defense to take away Houston's top offensive threats -  both things made exponentially easier by Allen's clutch performance.

The left-footer was called on seven times on Thursday night and averaged a stout 47.6 yards per kick, but the sheer quantity of punts - the seven was one more than he had for the season, combined, coming into the game - took a back seat to the quality of the kicks.

Each of his kicks pinned the Texans inside their 20 yard line, and all but one inside their 15, forcing Houston quarterback Brock Osweiler to start drives deep in his own territory, needing thirty-to-forty yards just to get into Patriots' territory which, thanks to a stifling defensive effort, the Texans didn't accomplish until there was a buck-thirty left in the third quarter.

In fact, so determined was the effort from the punt unit and the Patriots' defense, who forced one turnover themselves, that the deepest the Texans penetrated into New England territory was the Patriots' 35 yard line.

In contrast, the Patriots' offense enjoyed excellent field position all evening.

Five times rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett started drives inside Houston territory, finding paydirt on three of those occasions - but Brissett also led two drives resulting in field goals that started deep in Patriots' territory and, most importantly, ate up over eleven combined minutes of game clock in the process, including a 13 play, 71 yard drive to start the second half that sucked any life the Texans thought they had right out of them, chewing up nearly seven minutes.

That drive produced the second of kicker Stephen Gostkowski's field goals, giving New England a thirteen point edge - the Texans fumbled away the ensuing kickoff,  and six plays later running back LeGarrette Blount found the end zone from a yard out and the rout - the unimaginable rout - was on.

Blount put the game away just minutes later with a 41 yard sprint to the end zone, the only drama remaining after that was whether or not the New England defense could preserve the shutout - which they did as Ryan pinned the Texans down deep in their half of the field twice more, the defense also holding Houston on two consecutive fourth down conversion attempts.

Brissett was efficient, going 11 of 19 for 103 yards through the air, but the biggest damage the rookie did was on the ground, rushing six times for 48 yards (not including kneel downs), including a razor sharp 27 yard scamper off of the boot option for a touchdown, completely undressing Texan's safety Andre Hal with an inside feign at the five yard line, then diving into the end zone to give the Patriots a 10-0 lead that they would carry into the room at halftime...

...Blount scoring twice in the second half as he wore down the Houston defense with a 24 carry, 105 yard effort in spite of the Texans knowing what was coming.  In fairness the Houston defenders were stout against the running game early in the contest, but offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels stuck with his game plan to run right at the Texans, and it eventually paid off as Blount found more and more room to run as the game wore on.

The running game actually produced more yardage than the passing game did for McDaniels' charges, as the Patriots involved their receivers on the ground with Julian Edelman and tight end Martellus Bennett each getting carries in addition to their minimal contributions through the air - in fact, the Patriots' 185 yards on the ground on 39 carries was the most for a Patriots' team since the 2014 season, when former-Patriot Jonas Gray and then Blount went off on Indianapolis in consecutive meetings.

The effort also marked the third straight game with at least 100 rushing yards, a string that hasn't happened in four seasons which, combined with the first shutout for the Patriots' defense in five seasons, made this game a rare treat for Patriot fans, a treat that probably would not have been possible without the clutch performance by Allen.

But that wasn't all for the special teams, who also forced two fumbles on kickoff returns that the limited Patriots' offense translated into fourteen points, more than enough to hold off a clearly overmatched and outcoached Texans' team who fell from the ranks of the undefeated with the loss and now has ten full nightmare-filled days to think about how they were man-handled once again by the Patriots...

...and New England has the same time frame to come up with a game plan to take on the Buffalo Bills, who are a cumulative train wreck on defense - so whether the quarterback is going to be Brissett or Jimmy Garoppolo, who was inactive on Thursday night due to a sprained AC joint in his throwing shoulder, it's beginning to look a lot like the Patriots are going to ride out Tom Brady's four-game suspension undefeated.

And that, just like everything else about this New England squad, would be surprising - even if it shouldn't be...

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