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Who are the Players to Watch, Patriots at Texans

Steve Balestrieri
Steve Balestrieri on Twitter
8 years ago at 8:53 am ET
Posted Under: Patriots News

Who are the Players to Watch, Patriots at TexansMark L. Baer - USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots are in unfamiliar territory having lost two games in a row and with those back-to-back losses have dropped to #3 seed in the AFC playoff race. Now they look to get back on the winning track against a resurgent Houston team on Sunday Night Football.

The Texans, like the Eagles last week are very much in the hunt for not only a Wild Card berth but their division lead despite a 6-6 record. They had their four-game winning streak broken last week with a 30-21 loss against the Bills and will be looking to also get back on the winning track.

We already broke down this game with our Key matchups breaking down the offensive, defensive and special team’s units for this week.

Now it is time for our players to watch for this week:

James White: The Patriots have struggled on 3rd downs since the injuries to Dion Lewis, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski have decimated the receivers for Tom Brady. From humming along at about 50 percent, the past few games the team is struggling at a 15 for 58 conversion rate, which is nearly half of what they were doing earlier in the year.

During their recent four-game winning streak, the Texans were allowing only 21.2 percent of third downs while racking up 16 sacks. This is going to be a key area to monitor on Sunday night.

With Amendola back, albeit not at 100 percent, Brady has to go back to what the Patriots do best, which is to move the chains and not take so many deep shots down the field with players that aren’t suited for that role. Running back James White is a player that can help them get back closer to that percentage and keeping drives alive.

White has proven to be a good blocker in pass protection and one way to slow down opponents’ pass rushes is to hit them with some screen passes to the running backs. In the second half of the Eagles game, the team used him much more. They should take some of the shackles off of him and give him plenty of work in the short passing game and get back to what they do best.

Key Stat: White caught 10 passes for 115 yards on Sunday with a touchdown. If the team starts using him more, it will take some of the burden off of Brady.

Brandon LaFell: LaFell is having a rough 2015 after a particularly strong finish to last season’s Super Bowl run. After missing all of the spring and summer workouts, he’s struggled to get back in sync with Brady and drops have plagued him since his return.

Without Edelman and Gronkowski, the onus was being placed on both him and Scott Chandler and thus far he hasn’t answered the bell. Last week he caught just four passes for 27 yards against the Eagles and drops and not properly running of routes was particularly costly.

LaFell has had just one game in 2015 with more than four catches; he’s not a #1 type receiver but he’s going to have to step up much more in the coming weeks. One thing they can do is get to him running some slants that can take advantage of his size. Those have been there for the taking and cut back on the deep routes that they’re asking him to run all too frequently.

Getting him more involved will not only help in the short term but make the offense that much tougher to stop once Edelman and Gronkowski do make their return to the lineup. Facing a good defense in the Texans on primetime is a great place to start.

Key Stat: LaFell has been targeted 56 times in 2015 without scoring a touchdown. That is the most in the NFL.

Chandler Jones: The Patriots talented 4th year defensive end is having one of the best years in his career and is currently 3rd in the league with 10.5 sacks. His improved play against the run this season has been one of his biggest jumps in 2015.

This week however, the Texans running game hasn’t been overly effective since Arian Foster went down with a season-ending injury. They’ve been attacking the field with the passing game and it is here where Jones will have to step up this week.

Jones and fellow edge players Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard will have to put some pressure on Brian Hoyer this week to take away those deep shots to DeAndre Hopkins. Consistent QB pressure is the key this week and Jones will be looked at to lead the way this week. His next sack will tie his career high with 11.5.

Key Stat: The Patriots are one of only four teams without a defensive or special teams touchdown in 2015. With the offense struggling the past few games, this would be the time for Jones to turn that stat around.

DeAndre Hopkins: The Texans talented wide receiver is rapidly becoming one of the best in the league at his position. The 6’1, 218 lb receiver accounts for 27 percent of the Texans offensive output in 2015. They have faith in him even when he’s blanket covered that he’ll be able to go up in contested areas and come down with passes.

He’s caught 86 passes for 1169 yards and 10 touchdowns this season and has outstanding speed, catch radius and hands. He’s Hoyer’s most frequent target in the passing game and has more than double the receptions of their next receiver (Cecil ShortsIII – 40).

Whether the Patriots use Malcolm Butler, who they’ve used to cover many of the top receivers in the league or Logan Ryan, they’ll probably bracket Hopkins with some over the top safety help. They won’t shut him down…no one has. But the plan has to be from limiting him from having a huge game….it will be a tough task.

Key stat: Hopkins has been targeted 152 times second most in the NFL in 2015

J.J. Watt: The Texans uber-talented defensive lineman has been on a roll since the Texans started their resurgence. He leads the NFL with 13.5 sacks and has had two seasons with 20 or more.

The Texans like to move him around a lot and find a spot where he can take advantage with most of his opportunities. He must be liking his chances this week of adding to his total facing a Patriots offensive line that has been banged up and in flux all season long.

Watt broke his hand in practice this week, and missed practice both Thursday and Friday but plans on playing Sunday night. How much his hand will affect his game will be an area to watch.

Key stat: In the last three games against New England, Watt hasn’t been much of a factor, albeit against a healthy offensive line. His stat line in those three games: 8 tackles, one forced fumble and .5 sack, far below his normal production. Limiting his effectiveness will go a long way in gaining an edge this week.

Brian Hoyer: The Texans starting QB served as Tom Brady’s backup for the first three years of his career and he’s used those formative seasons as a stepping stone to the success he’s having in 2015.

Bill O’Brien pulled the plug on him too early in the first game of the season and the team went to Ryan Mallett who is no longer with the club. Since Hoyer’s return to the starting lineup, he’s playing much better and has got the offense under control. They’re not a juggernaut but his play has been steady.

For the season Hoyer has completed 188 of 307 for 61.2 percent, good for 2202 yards with 18 touchdowns and just six interceptions for a passer rating of 94.4.

Key Stat: Hoyer has taken great care of the ball inside the red zone in 2015. His RZ numbers include 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions. When they get inside the 20 yard line, he’s not making any mistakes that would take away a chance at points.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Posted Under: Patriots News
Tags: 2015 NFL Season 2015 Patriots Season Bill Belichick Bill O'Brien Brandon LaFell Brian Hoyer Cecil Shorts III Chandler Jones Danny Amendola DeAndre Hopkins Houston Texans J.J. Watt Jabaal Sheard James White Julian Edelman LaGarrette Blount New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers picks predictions Rob Gronkowski Rob Ninkovich Romeo Crennel Social Media Tom Brady

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