Thursday Night Has No Shortage of Intrigue
The Patriots take the field in the second of a three-game home stand to face the Houston Texans on Thursday Night Football. There is no shortage of story lines to focus on the game as both teams enter the contest 2-0 and look to continue early season success.
Not the least of which is who exactly will be quarterbacking the Patriots in Foxboro this week? With Tom Brady suspended and Jimmy Garoppolo suffering a sprain of the AC joint in his throwing shoulder, it looks like rookie Jacoby Brissett will get his first NFL start just two weeks after Garoppolo had his.
Houston has retooled a playoff team on the fly and added a number of good additions to their offense. But they’ve been winning with a stout, underrated and tough defense. Former Patriots coordinator Bill O’Brien is putting together a good team in Houston and they’re looking to take that next step.
Of course, the NFL will unleash the latest in uniform abominations with their “Color Rush” scheme for New England in an attempt to hide the generally weak product that passes for NFL competitions on such a short week.
Here are our five players from a Patriots perspective to watch on Thursday Night:
Quarterback Jacoby Brissett: My, my how quickly things can change in the NFL. Less than a week ago, all of the talk was on how would Garoppolo handle the success he had in Week 1 and would he be able to duplicate it. Now he’s injured and the rookie from NC State is thrust into the spotlight for the first time.
He’s big, strong and athletic, things the Patriots liked about him when they scouted him during the draft process this spring. They took him in the 3rd Round of the draft with the 91st overall pick. He can scramble out of the pocket and can throw the ball down the field with ease. His accuracy on his short-medium throws is inconsistent, something we witnessed first-hand during minicamp and training camp this summer.
But what the Patriots like about him is his poise, his calm demeanor, and his smarts. With a very limited workload this summer, something that is not all that uncommon for 3rd string QBs, he’s gotten a crash course in running the offense on a short week. It will be a daunting task and the Texans will try to make life very difficult for him. One person who’ll be watching and rooting for the rookie will be former Patriots and Giants coach Bill Parcells. Parcells met Brissett in Florida and has been a mentor of sorts for the QB.
“I am glad that he is with Bill Belichick,” Parcells said to MMQB. “Because I know that gives him the best chance for success. I’m not going into an exposé about that. I’m just telling you I’m glad he is there, and I think Bill gives him an excellent opportunity to be successful.”
Running Back LeGarrette Blount: One of the lightning rods for criticism among Patriots fans, Blount, or LG as he’s known among the players and coaches is off to a good start in 2016. He had a solid game in Arizona and followed that up with an impressive performance against Miami as the Patriots have leaned on their running game in Tom Brady’s absence. Right now he’s on pace for 1544 yards for the season. While maintaining those numbers is unrealistic, it is worth noting how he’s played into the coaches planning, this early in the 2016 season.
Blount may be leaned on even more this week as with Brissett getting his first start. The coaches will want to ease the play calling for him by establishing the ground game while giving the rookie QB easier throws to complete. Obviously, Blount would be the big back to accomplish the first part of the equation.
While the front seven for the Texans is stout, there are some runs to be had against this group. One key area to watch is, after carrying the ball 29 times on Sunday, how fresh will Blount’s legs be just four days later?
Defensive End Jabaal Sheard: The Patriots defensive end opposite Chris Long has been quietly off to a decent start of the season. After missing the final few games of the preseason due to a knee injury, (MCL sprain) Sheard is rounding into form. He had four hurries and a QB hit on Sunday. Those hurries should be turning to sacks soon.
When the two teams met in Week 14 a year ago, Sheard had a big game garnering two sacks and two forced fumbles. And he’ll line up on the edge against backup LT Chris Clark because Duane Brown is out with an injury. Clark himself is dinged up a bit with ankle and elbow injuries although he was listed as a full participant in the team’s injury report.
In passing situation sub-packages, Sheard may kick inside and line up against left guard Xavier Su’a-Filo and center Greg Mancz. The Patriots will be leaning on their defense this week in an attempt to take the pressure off of their rookie QB. One way they can level the playing field is to have their front seven pressure the QB and possibly force a turnover or two and take away the deep passing game of the Texans. Sheard will be one of the key players to watch this week.
Honorable Mentions: Chris Long on the other edge going against banged up (knee), RT Derek Newton.
Cornerback Logan Ryan: After a particularly awful second half on Sunday against the Dolphins, the Patriots secondary is looking to rebound. And the Pats cornerback will be one of the key players to lead that turnaround this week. Ryan is likely to draw Houston’s best, most dangerous wide receiver in DeAndre Hopkins.
A year ago, the Patriots put Ryan on Hopkins with either Devin McCourty or Duron Harmon as safety help over the top. They held him to a single catch but it was a 40 yarder down the sideline. Even so, that was still looked upon as a win for Ryan and the secondary after Hopkins had been lighting it up prior to that contest.
But that was with the limited options Houston had at WR as well as their QB situation. They’ve upgraded both this year so it will be an intriguing chess match to see who rates the safety help as Will Fuller, the speedster from Notre Dame has been lighting it up as well.
Ryan has been very solid for the Patriots and arguably their biggest ball hawk in the secondary. Osweiler has thrown three picks thus far, and Thursday night would be a great time for Ryan to add to that total. He’s going to have to be very good on Thursday night as Osweiler and the Houston coaches no doubt watched the tape of the Miami game and will be looking to challenge the Pats corners.
Jamie Collins: Yes, another member of the defense has to step up this week, are we seeing a tendency here? For the Patriots to pull off the win here, as we’ve said, the defense is going to have to be the catalyst. We said that the first two weeks as well but it was the offense and not the defense that took the day.
Collins has been good but not great the first two weeks of the season. He did get an interception last week when Chris Long pressure Ryan Tannehill and Collins was in perfect position to haul it in. This week, he’ll need to be better than good. With Lamar Miller in the running game and an offensive line that has struggled to provide good holes for him to run in, Collins must be that downhill, explosive type player that is blowing up plays at the line of scrimmage or the backfield.
With Clark on the left side filling in for Brown, there will be some gaps that can be had for the blitzing Collins to influence things in a big way this week. The Texans don’t have a big tight end receiving threat. C.J. Fiedorowicz has caught just two passes for seven yards. Look for Collins to aid the pass rush this week.
Stay tuned to PatsFans.com as well have up-to-the-minute breaking news as well as post-game analysis.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2016 NFL Season 2016 Patriots season Bill Belichick Bill O'Brien Brock Osweiler Chris Hogan Danny Amendola DeAndre Hopkins Dont'a Hightower Houston Texans Jabaal Sheard Jacoby Brissett Jamie Collins Jimmy Garoppolo JJ Watt Julian Edelman LaGarrette Blount Logan Ryan Malcolm Butler New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers Rob Gronkowski Tom Brady Trey Flowers Will Fuller