Ryan Allen holds for Stephen Gostkowski on a field goal attempt during the third quarter against the Texans Thursday. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)
Bill Belichick has always been a huge proponent of emphasizing the significance of special teams.
On Thursday, that attention to detail paid off in huge dividends as Ryan Allen pinned the Texans inside their 15 six times with punts and the kickoff coverage team forced two turnovers that led to two of New England’s three touchdowns on the night.
“Tremendous, tremendous. Field position was phenomenal,” Belichick said immediately after the game. “It seemed like they had to go 90 yards every time they had the ball. Our kickoff team, once again, came up big with field position; two turnovers. That’s a very aggressive unit. I think Joe [Judge] and Bubba [Ray Ventrone] have done a great job.
“They have a lot of leadership on that unit, a lot of pride. We punted well, we covered well, we covered our kicks well, we had a couple of chances in the return game, we converted our scoring opportunities. The entire special teams unit, the coaching staff, they did a tremendous job tonight. We obviously needed that tonight and they really delivered it.”
Allen knew coming in that with rookie Jacoby Brissett starting, one way to take some pressure off would be flipping the field and making the Texans go a long ways while keeping the field shorter for the Patriots. It worked. Houston’s average starting field position was its own 16. New England’s was its own 40. Playground slides aren’t tilted that much.
“Really at the end of the day there has been times where I, I think I’ve learned that. Steve and I have talked a little bit about that,” Allen said. “You never really know how games are going to go. There’s sometimes at the beginning of the game we’ll make a comment or two about how we feel, where we’re at as a team right before we play and we’re totally wrong most of the time. So you just really like assume you never really that’ll get you anywhere and you have to just be prepared and when you’re called go out there and do the best you can. So I think it was a good collective effort tonight.”
Allen smartly deflected the praise to the rest of the team when asked what it meant to be one of the big stars of the 27-0 shutout.
“Well the defense played lights out, Jacoby and the offense, LeGarrette [Blount] ran great. It’s a collective effort. It was a great team win,” Allen said.
On Friday, Belichick elaborated on two members of Allen’s punt team that helped dominate the punt game. Captain Matthew Slater and fellow gunner Jonathan Jones were racing down the field on every punt, winning their one-on-one battles nearly every time. When the punts landed in the hands of Tyler Ervin, there was no where for him to go because Slater and Jones were in his face. To wit, five of Allen’s seven punts were fair catches. The Patriots were so much in the head of Ervin that he inexplicably fair caught the final punt of the night at his own 4.
“That’s what their job is and that’s a great thing when they can do it then really the other people on the team don’t have to cover,” Belichick said of Slater and Jones. “Again, part of that is going back to just team football. I mean they do a good job. Slater and Jones both do a good job out there. They work well off of each other, which there’s a lot of coordination with those two positions relative to each other and also the rest of the coverage.
“But that’s all part of Ryan doing a good job with the placement on the ball and helping the gunners so they know where the ball is and they know how to get to where the ball is, putting the ball up in the air so that there’s enough hang time for them to get to it. And obviously especially last night, protection was a definite issue for us as many times as they tried to rush the punter. Again, the whole punting play, unless the ball goes out of bounds, the whole punting play is really a well-coordinated, if it’s done right, a well-coordinated team effort between the protection, the punter and the coverage unit.
“If the gunners can get down there and make the play before the rest of the interior people get down there then that’s great. That saves you a lot of – I’d say those guys – a lot of coverage responsibility. We know that’s not always going to happen although we hope it happens as much as possible, but then those guys have to cover the field in their lanes and do their job. But yeah, Jonathan and Matthew have done an excellent job for us in that and kickoff coverage and also in the punt return game. So, Jonathan has been a really good addition to that core group of special teams players.”