After the Monday night game versus the Jets, there were not many positive views on what the Patriots were. Moreover any chance of them competing against the Ravens seemed gone. Especially after last year’s drubbing.
However Bill Belichick once again proved why he is among the best coaches to ever grace the sideline. Certainly Bill hasn’t been flawless this year with his decisions, but this was a masterpiece. One thing you noticed right off the bat was the Patriots being able to handle the ball despite the rain. And I mean specifically snapping, catches, holds and handoffs. Think about how much trouble the Ravens had, and then remember how seriously Bill take the weather. They routinely practice with Bill soaking the ball or playing out in the scorching heat, bitter cold, or pouring rain. Simply put, as any great coach would do, he had his team ready to dominate and make no excuses.
Most important to is with that performance the Patriots are still alive in the playoff hunt. Is it definitive? No. Will they do it? Who knows. Can they? Possibly. And keeping that chance alive realistically, is very very important to their season and goals.
Here is what’s happening in week eleven:
First Down: One really interesting thing regarding the Texans is that despite their 2-7 record, is that they do not own their first-round pick this season. That pick belongs to the Dolphins from the Laremy Tunsil trade back in the days of general manager Bill O’Brien. If you remember O’Brien also dished out a third-rounder for Duke Johnson, who likely wouldn’t have commanded more than a fifth based on other backs who project in more of a passing catching back role.
Because of that there is no incentive to tank for them. The good news for them though is they do have a franchise quarterback in Deshaun Watson, so they do not need to be in the top of the draft to snag a signal caller. Either way though that trade is a tough one to swallow for a team that is at the bottom of the standings and is experiencing lots of turmoil inside their front office.
Second Down: One really impressive aspect of the Ravens game, and that has been apparent watching the Patriots, is their rushing attack. It has been one of the elite units in the NFL all year, but it’s been especially impressive the last three weeks.
Looking at the rankings for the year, the Pats are second in the NFL in rush yards per game behind Baltimore. The last three weeks they are third in the NFL but they are averaging 12 more rush yards per game in that span (up to 173 per game).
There are a couple of reasons for the strong performances. One is that the offensive line is healthy and fully intact now and has been the same group for a few weeks in a row. It seems small, but few positions on the field require more communication than between offensive linemen. Another reason is the emergence of the finally healthy Damien Harris. Harris is a flat out stud. He is strong, determined and sure of all his cuts. Harris is averaging over five yards per carry this season. On top of that, he also 294 rush yards the last three weeks. He has been electric and has been a huge reason why they have been able to take advantage of their offensive line.
Third Down: As mentioned above the odds of New England making the playoffs isn’t super high, but things are starting to not look as gloomy. When digging deeper on their odds one thing in their favor is their schedule. The Patriots have the seventh-easiest schedule remaining in the NFL. Their toughest games remaining are the Rams, Dolphins, Bills, and Cardinals. On the other side they also play the Chargers and Jets. The schedule is certainly not impossible, and it represents a chance to beat teams ahead of them in the standings. Both are a win at this point.
The tough thing is how many teams are 6-3 or better. Currently there are nine teams 6-3 or better with only seven making the playoffs (eight if there game cancellations for Covid-19). Unfortunately that will make it really tough to leapfrog those teams, even with a strong finish.
With that many teams in contention the Patriots should be aiming to finish 5-2 or better if they want to have any shot of making the playoffs.
Fourth Down: After missing the last three games, Stephon Gilmore appears to be on the road to returning this weekend. Gilmore appeared like he may be traded before the deadline, but still remains a big piece here as evidenced by J.C. Jackson’s struggles at times against the Jets.
The real underlying issue with GIlmore is his contract. Gilmore’s average annual value of $13M per year currently ranks him 13th in his position, something he no doubt knows as the reigning Defensive Player of the Year.
Looking forward Gilmore will be back either this week (likely) or next, and will be important this year. However, think the odds are high Gilmore is moved this offseason as the Patriots look to avoid paying Gilmore before he hits the sharp decline most skill position players see in their early thirties.
No matter what the offseason holds though, Gilmore has immense value to the Pats this season, and will need him for the stretch run.
Prediction: Patriots 24, Texans 20
The Patriots are coming off as spectacular performance against one of the AFC favorites. Their run game will likely be able to control the game against Houston, who has a defensive unit that has struggled all year. That being said the Patriots have struggled to contain Deshaun Watson in the past matchups with the Texans and I expect him to have a decent game to keep his team in it. Unfortunately, the New England offensive line dominates in the trenches and the game isn’t quite as close as the score indicates as Damien Harris goes over 100 rushing yards for the second straight game.
–David Albiani is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @david_albiani.