The 2018 NFL season is finally upon us. And not a moment too soon. To say the offseason was overly long and contentious would be an understatement. But for a few hours on Sunday, we get to forget all of that and revel in the fact that the football season, with the games that count, is back amongst us.
The Patriots 2018 season begins with a very familiar foe coming to Foxboro. While the Houston Texans play in the AFC South, they’ve been a familiar foe for the Patriots who it seems, play the Texans every season, including a couple of playoff games in Foxboro.
Last year, the teams had a barn-burner with Tom Brady engineering a late drive with a perfect throw to Brandon Cooks for a game-winning touchdown with just seconds left. The 36-33 win by NE overshadowed the excellent game by Deshaun Watson who looked phenomenal for Houston in the 36-33 loss. Watson only played in seven games before tearing an ACL, but is now healthy and will start on Sunday.
So, here are our first impressions of the Texans of 2018…
Front Seven One of the Best in the NFL: The strength of the Texans is their defense and when they’re healthy, (they are right now), they are one of the best front sevens in the entire league. Led by J.J. Watt, this unit can really get after the passer. Watt is healthy after a two-year slew of injuries forced him onto the shelf. Watt, Whitney Merciless, Jadeveon Clowney and newcomer Duke Ejiofor from Duke gives them a ridiculous embarrassment of riches in the front seven.
Benardrick McKinney is the Mike linebacker and Zach Cunningham is the sideline to sideline linebacker on a front seven that has no weaknesses. Romeo Crennel will move these pieces around to where they feel they have the most advantageous matchups.
In the game, last season, the Texans, sacked Brady five times for 41 yards. Bill Belichick minced no words on how good the front seven is for Houston on Monday.
“They have a group of outstanding players. I mean, they’re among the very best in the league,” said Belichick. “So, very challenging and they have good depth, so they rotate some players through there that are maybe not quite as good as some of the other ones, but they’re still really good players.”
“They’re front four or front seven – however you want to look at it because some of those players are a little bit interchangeable – are very good, and one of the things that the Texans do a good job of is they don’t always line up in the same place. So, sometimes finding them or identifying where they are is a little bit of a problem – not that you can’t find a guy, but depending on what you have called and where he’s located, then that might change what your anticipated matchup on the play is and then what it really is could be two different things, and they do a good job of creating problems on that.”
Watson Ready to Turn It Back On: One of the better stories of the early part of the 2017 season was the play of rookie QB Deshaun Watson. He was positively electric in the early going before tearing an ACL in Week 7 that ended his and the Texans season.
Houston’s QB play was terrible after that and the injuries along the defense decimated what many thought would be a playoff team. But Watson is healthy now and despite a very limited preseason, he’s deemed ready to go for 2018.
Last season in Foxboro in Week 3, Watson threw for 301 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions and rushed eight times for 41 more yards. He had one play on a second and 22 where he looked like he was about to sacked twice, by Trey Flowers and Lawrence Guy, but spun out and left each holding air before delivering a strike downfield for 31 yards.
Whenever they face a mobile QB, the Patriots preach containment, which means the edge players must set the edge and not allow the QB to get outside of their rush lanes. If Watson does it again, like he did a year ago, he’ll put up big numbers again and has his favorite target, De’Andre Hopkins who caught 96 passes for 1378 yards and 13 touchdowns while dealing with awful quarterback play after Watson went down.
The Patriots defense will have their hands full on Sunday.
Big Turnover in Texans Roster: Things are constantly changing in the NFL landscape and the Texans roster is no stranger to that. Not only does Houston have the 7th youngest roster in the NFL at 25.6 years of age as the average, they’ve had a massive turnover in personnel.
Of the 53 players on the roster for the final regular season game of 2017, 31 of those players are gone. Of course, Houston had a rash of injuries last year with 24 players placed on IR. That, among other things, is why the team finished 4-12 and out of the playoffs. But this year’s team is expected to be much improved.
Still, it is different to see a Houston roster without so many mainstays including inside linebacker Brian Cushing, punter Shane Lechler, guard David Quessenberry and tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and others gone.
Safety Will Be an Area to Watch on Sunday:
Houston has some uncertainty with the defense and it centers around the safety play. Kareem Jackson is making the transition from corner to safety after the 8-year veteran has played in 116 games as a cornerback. The Texans safeties struggled mightily and it is hoped that Jackson will be a stabilizing force there.
The team signed the “Honey Badger” Tyrann Mathieu as a free agent this year after he’s been bitten by the injury bug the past few seasons. When he was healthy, Mathieu was one of the more dynamic players in the league.
The team drafted rookie Justin Reid in the 3rd round of the 2018 NFL Draft this spring and it is expected that he’ll be a starter and soon but for now, he’ll back up the other two. Being the first game of the season, there may be some communication issues back there once the game planning takes place. Especially with two new faces there.
Foreman Begins Season on PUP: The Texans talented second-year running back D’Onta Foreman will begin the season on PUP after it appeared that he may be ready to start the season after tearing his Achilles tendon last year.
The big 6’1, 235 bruising running back from Texas played a big part in the Texans offense a year ago in Foxboro. Although he rushed for just 25 yards on eight carries, he had two huge receptions out of the backfield for 65 yards, one for 34 and one for 31.
“Honestly, it was a little tough, but it wasn’t that tough,” Foreman said about being placed on PUP. “We’re looking out for my best interests and the team’s best interests. I don’t want to be put out there (when) I’m not 100 percent and not at my best. That would be hindering the team (and) hindering myself. It was the best decision to make.”
With Foreman on the shelf until Week 7 against the Jaguars, look for Alfred Blue to get the majority of the snaps behind starter Lamar Miller.
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