You didn’t have to be a football maven or comb through hours of film to chart out the Patriots’ easiest path to victory on Sunday afternoon at NRG Stadium.
Just a week removed from besting the Ravens in a primetime matchup, a suddenly rejuvenated Patriots offense had to have been licking its chops at the prospect of unleashing its patented rushing attack against the sieve that has been the Texans’ run defense this season.
Entering Sunday’s matinee, the Patriots — spurred by Damien Harris’ breakthrough season and a strong campaign from Rex Burkhead — ranked third in the league in rushing yards per game (161.1) and seventh in yards per carry (4.8), creating a serious mismatch against a Houston defense ranked last in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (167.4).
The results have often been ugly when the Texans have taken to the field against the top rushing teams in the NFL this season, relinquishing 263 yards on the ground to the Titans (sixth in YPG) in Week 6, 231 yards to the Browns (fourth in YPG) in Week 10 and 230 yards to Baltimore (2nd in YPG) in Week 2.
With the stats (and personnel) on their side, the Patriots followed a similar gameplan against Houston's porous defense, marching down the field on their opening series off of a steady diet of toss plays, screens, swing passes and a counter run that exploited the Texans' weakness on the edges.
Harris, who was handed the ball five times for 25 yards in the first drive of the afternoon, closed out the series by running untouched into the end zone from nine yards out — giving New England a 7-0 lead in the opening quarter.
It seemed like an easy gameplan for the Patriots to execute on every subsequent drive against the Texans — run, rinse, repeat.
So why then did the Patriots — who seemingly had Texans on the ropes with this mismatch — opt to abandon the run as Sunday's game progressed?