FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- One of the themes that came up multiple times from New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick after Sunday's 27-6 win over the Houston Texans was how the defense was taxed based on all the personnel groupings and multiple formations it was facing.
Belichick said that no team in the NFL has more personnel groupings/multiple formations than the Texans, and because of that, the Patriots had specific personnel packages to counter them.
For example, when the Texans opened the game in a three-receiver grouping with tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and running back Chris Polk, the Patriots countered in a different-from-the-norm base 4-3 defense with speedy linebacker Jon Bostic playing over the burlier Jonathan Freeny, and a secondary that had three cornerbacks and just one safety.
Then on the Texans' second drive, when they opened in a two-receiver, one-tight end, one-fullback, one-running back grouping, the Patriots countered with a more traditional, bigger base 4-3 defense as Freeny replaced Bostic at linebacker, and the secondary was once again conventional with two cornerbacks and two safeties.
And on and on it went throughout the game -- whatever combination the Texans presented, the Patriots had their specific package to match it.
One notable aspect of this chess match for the Patriots was that linebacker Jerod Mayo was part of almost every package, outside of the dime. Mayo played 41 defensive snaps, his second highest total of the year, and it was arguably his best game of the year.
Considering Mayo entered the game averaging 18.5 defensive snaps per contest, the change in his workload was notable.
Part of that was the Patriots playing without linebacker Dont'a Hightower (left knee) for the second week in a row, while the other part was the coaching staff deciding Mayo's smarts were too valuable to keep on the sideline in this type of X's and O's matchup.
Belichick explained it this way during his weekly interview on sports radio WEEI: "Jerod did a good job for us, as he always does. He prepares well, has a lot of experience, understands our defense, and is a smart, instinctive player in terms of knowing what the offense is doing. Particularly against a team like Houston, whose offense is similar to ours, Jerod was able to recognize some things and make some adjustments, and disguise some of our defensive looks to make it as hard as possible on the offense. Nobody puts more into it or is better prepared than Mayo."