The Patriots return to the national stage with a Sunday Night Football matchup against the Houston Texans. The game will be played at NRG Stadium at 8:30 p.m.
The Texans (6-6), lost on Sunday 30-21 to the Buffalo Bills. Tyrod Taylor hit TE Charles Clay for a 40-yard touchdown pass with 1:53 left for the winning score. The loss snapped a four-game winning streak for the Texans. Brian Hoyer completed 26-43 passes for 293 yards with three touchdowns and an interception in the loss.
The Patriots (10-2), lost for the second straight week 35-28 to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Patriots gave up a blocked punt, an 83-yard punt return as well as a 99-yard interception return for touchdowns. Tom Brady had three touchdowns but two very costly interceptions in the game.
The game will be televised by NBC with their top announcing crew of Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth and Michele Tafoya. It will also be carried by the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 FM the SportsHub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak.
Here are our five first impressions of the Texans:
Do These Texans Look Familiar? They Should: Head coach Bill O’Brien was the offensive coordinator here for the Patriots and has adopted much of the same playbook. Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel held the similar post here and was the architect along with Belichick of those excellent defenses of the early 2000s. Texans LB coach Mike Vrabel was a standout player for the Patriots during three Super Bowl runs. Offensive Coordinator George Godsey was a tight ends coach for the Pats.
QB Brian Hoyer was Tom Brady’s backup in New England. And of course Vince Wilfork now plays for the Texans after anchoring the line for more than a decade for the Pats. Big Vince was a key member of last season’s Super Bowl winning squad.
There won’t be much the Patriots can do or show that the Texans won’t in some capacity have seen before. It comes down to matching up, winning the one-on-one battles and production.
Watt Is Human After All: One of the key factors facing a Texans defense for the Patriots this week will be accounting for J.J. Watt. After a slow start where the Texans started 1-4, Watt was a big reason that the Texans turned their season around and once again leads the NFL with 13.5 sacks.
Last week, facing a banged up Buffalo Bills offensive line with backups starting at both right guard and tackle, it was assumed Watt would ride roughshod over the Bills. But it didn’t happen; RT Jordan Mills making his first NFL start and backup RG Kraig Urbik both had solid games. They stuck with their assignments and the Bills utilized a running game that gained 187 yards on the ground and largely negated Watt’s effectiveness.
Watt finished the game with a single tackle for a loss and just four tackles overall and at times was clearly frustrated. Jadaveon Clowney did have one of his best games of the season however with 2 TFL (tackles for loss) a sack and a pair of QB hits. Now that he’s getting healthy, he can be a disruptive influence opposite Watt.
Crennel Has Defense Playing Aggressive: Part of the reason for the early season struggles was the play of the cornerbacks. Romeo Crennel had little confidence in them and they played seven to eight yards off the line and passively. Now they play Jonathan Joseph and Kevin Johnson up close to the line with Kareem Jackson in the slot. Andre Hal took over for Rahim Moore at safety and the results have been very positive. Johnson is a rookie but playing very well.
By playing more aggressively, the Texans have really improved in YAC (yards after catch). They’ve gone from 24th in YAC to 12th. Those wide open passes underneath are now contested ones and they’re generating more turnovers as a result. They forced eight turnovers in the third quarter of the season after forcing just six in the first six weeks.
ILBs Brian Cushing and Eddie Pleasant have been good at covering the underneath passing game. Pleasant replaces run-stuffer Benardrick McKinney on passing downs. Quentin Demps is still somewhat of a liability at times in coverage and will be a target for Tom Brady this week. He was targeted on the Bills go-ahead touchdown by Charles Clay.
Texans Getting Creative Offensively: With the game on Sunday night, don’t be surprised to see O’Brien and the Texans to open up the play book against the Patriots to secure a big win and further their own playoff chances.
Houston has used direct snaps, Wildcat formations, option passes to keep opposing defenses off-balance. O’Brien would love to catch Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia flat-footed for a few plays this week.
They used Cecil Shorts to throw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Alfred Blue against the Jets which gave them a 17-10 lead in the fourth quarter. Speaking of Shorts, he took a big hit in the Buffalo game but is not in the concussion protocol and should be good to go for the game on Sunday night.
Hoyer, Hopkins playing at a high level: Houston QB Brian Hoyer and DeAndre Hopkins have settled in nicely with the Texans under Bill O’Brien and their play has been improving as the season moves on. Hoyer spent the first three years of his career as Brady’s backup but now he’s coming into his own as the Texans battle for a playoff spot.
Hoyer on the year has completed 61.2 percent of his passes for 2202 yards with 18 touchdowns and six interceptions for a 94.4 passer rating.
Hopkins is becoming one of the top receiving threats in the NFL and has 86 receptions for 1169 yards, good for a 13.6 yard average and 10 touchdowns. His latest touchdown, a 19-yarder from Hoyer against the Bills on Sunday broke the franchise record set by Andre Johnson. Against the Bills on Sunday, he had 5 catches for 88 yards and a touchdown. He’ll be the guy to watch in the passing game Sunday. He’s made some incredibly acrobatic catches as his one against Cincinnati can attest.
— NFL (@NFL) November 17, 2015
Big Vince Slowing Down: This season hasn’t been a great one for former Patriots standout NT Vince Wilfork. It seems that the big man is finally starting to slow down and hasn’t been the disruptive run stuffer he’s been in the past.
Wilfork hasn’t been able to shed those double teams inside that he was so adept at for years with the Patriots and has been getting pushed back a lot inside.
As a result, Houston has been playing him right over the nose at 0-technique and having him shoot one of the gaps on either side of the center. But with Vince’s lack of speed, there are big avenues available for cut-back runs inside. It is one reason the Texans have been only so-so against the run this season.
It will be interesting to see if the big man gets his game elevated to the next level against his former team on Sunday night.