FOXBORO -- On a short week leading up to a Thursday night game, time is of the essence. Coaches have to be mindful that there is only so much they can install for their upcoming opponent, and players have to sort through a wealth of information on a compressed schedule. Practice time is almost non-existent.
That's what makes what the Patriots did against the Texans so impressive. Without any real practice reps to speak of -- they held walkthroughs on Tuesday and Wednesday -- they installed plays they had never run before. Not only did they work, but one of them helped break the game open.
Jacoby Brissett's 27-yard touchdown run in the first quarter came on a play that the team wouldn't call for Tom Brady. And if they felt like Jimmy Garoppolo could run it, it was one they hadn't installed and run for him. But given the combination of Brissett's athleticism, his ablity to execute play-fakes, and the look the Patriots thought they might get from the Texans, Belichick and his staff believed they could make it work.
Even though there was no opportunity to run it in a live practice setting.
When the time came, Brissett faked a run to the left for LeGarrette Blount, the Texans defense bit, and Brissett smoothly changed direction to run around the right edge. Patriots guard Shaq Mason sought out linebacker Bernardrick McKinney, who Belichick has called one of the best young 'backers in football, and cut him down. That cleared more than enough running room for the rookie third-rounder.
Because Houston corner Jonathan Joseph was in man coverage on receiver Malcolm Mitchell, he turned and ran with Mitchell up the sideline and only finally turned around to see Brissett coming at him when it was too late. Brissett made a move to avoid free safety Andre Hal and dove into the end zone to give the Patriots a two-score lead.
"It was just we felt like we could get what we ended up getting," Belichick said. "We thought we could get outside, and there wasn’t really anybody left out there but the corner who was in man coverage and it’s just a question of – once we got outside – it was just a question of when the free safety would get there or if an inside linebacker would be able to get there quick enough. But because LeGarrette flowed across the formation that dragged the linebackers with him . . . there was, as you saw, nobody left."
Belichick credited players with being able to take the concepts given to them with that play and executing despite their limited time with it.
"The timing of the play between Jacoby and Shaq was really perfect, which is remarkable considering the fact we’ve never run the play other than just a walkthrough," Belichick said. "But Shaq cut McKinney down at the perfect time as Jacoby was getting outside of him. McKinney just didn’t really have a chance to recover."
There were other plays that were new to the Patriots for Thursday's game, both offensively and defensively; the counter option out of a two-back pistol set is one we have not seen from the Patriots this year in a regular-season game or a training camp practice. But they were able to hit on them successfully, which Belichick explained was a nod to the work that both the starters and the scout team did in walkthroughs that week.
"We gave them a lot of new things," Belichick said after the game. "We ran some plays that we haven’t run all year. We put them in and walked through them. We never got a chance to really run them, and a couple of those hit big. Defensively we tried to do some things that we just didn’t even practice them. All we could do was walk through them. It’s just not the same as repping them, but they understood . . . They’re a smart group. They’re an astute group. They understood how it needed to try and fit against the Texans and then we got out there on the field and they executed it very well tonight.
"Just a tremendous credit to those guys – the players on the scout team, our defensive and offensive scout teams, to try and replicate the Texans’ plays so we could at least walk through them. Again, we didn’t really run them at any tempo but at least we walked through and they give us a great look, and some of the communication that we needed to be able to execute those plays was really as a result of the scout team giving us the opportunity to practice it, and if we made a mistake correct it in practice and get it right tonight.
"It was really a great, great team effort over the last four days. The guys that played, a lot of guys that didn’t play, like I said, the coaching staff, not just the coordinators, the assistant coaches. We had a lot of guys really work hard this week. It’s gratifying to see those kinds of results. Not that we don’t work hard every week, but this is a tough week."