Tag Archives: Bill O’Brien

 Patriots Week 13 Report Card, Texans Figure Out Patriots Defense

Steve Balestrieri
December 3, 2019 at 8:44 am ET

Patriots fall to 10-2, Poor Execution, Doomed Team 

The Patriots were outplayed, outcoached and for the most part out of options until very late in the game on Sunday. The Houston Texans had a great game plan, executed it to near perfection and played smart situational football throughout. I wonder where Bill O’Brien and Romeo Crennel learned those things? 

For fifty minutes or so, Houston dominated this game. And then they tried to coast and it nearly cost them. An onside kick that bounced just over Brandon Bolden’s fingertips was all that stood between the Patriots having a loss and an improbable win. But this wasn’t an epic comeback like the last time New England played in Houston. 

So, check out our grades and we’ll take one more look at the film before moving on..

Quarterback: C

Tom Brady struggled badly and was visibly frustrated starting very early in this one. And remember last week, where his pedestrian numbers we said right here were misleading? That he played much better than the numbers would appear? Well, this week is the exact opposite. 

A peek at the stat sheet and you’d say, 326 yards and three touchdown passes isn’t bad, in fact, it is pretty good… right? Wrong. 

As we mentioned above, Houston (for whatever reason) got away from what was working all game and played very soft and were allowing Brady to hit easy completions and he racked up some big garbage time numbers. Still, Houston’s gaffe nearly ended up costing them dearly, and Brady took advantage. And he had a 13-yard scramble where he didn’t resemble Lamar Jackson at all…J/K TB.

Running Backs: B+

The Patriots running game had its best game of the year running for 145 yards. The coaching staff got away from the run game early as the Texans began to stack the box and then had to almost abandon it totally when they fell far behind. 

James White must love playing here. After that epic Super Bowl performance against Atlanta, White had a huge game, with season highs in rushing (14 carries, 79 yards, 5.6-yard average), receiving (8 catches, 98 yards), and two touchdowns. The Texans had a safety on him early, but late in the game he went off and was huge for the offense. 

Sony Michel looked very good on the Patriots first drive, grinding out 33 yards on a drive that stalled deep in Houston territory and resulted in a field goal. He ended up with 45 yards on just 10 carries but was rendered to the bench. Rex Burkhead had three carries for 15 yards.

Wide Receivers: D

Julian Edelman saves this positional group from a worse grade. Edelman was bracketed all game long and still gutted his way out to a 6-catch, 106-yard night with a touchdown reception. He’s been playing hurt since the first Jets game and it baffles the mind where this offense would be without him. 

The rest of the wide receivers were …in a word, awful. No separation, blown routes, lining up in the wrong place, not catching contested passes. Did we miss anything? A couple of cases in point. Dan Orlovsky caught this first…Brady was giving a hand signal to Phillip Dorsett to go deep. Dorsett cuts his route off and Brady’s pass sails to air at the pylon. On a scramble to the right side, Brady motions for Jakobi Meyers to also go deep. He stops and the pass sails to no one. 

Dorsett and Mohamad Sanu had a combined five catches for 29 yards on 11 targets. For your #2 and #3 WRs, that isn’t going to cut it. They need a lot more from both of them, especially against a secondary that has been getting abused pretty regularly.

Meyers had three catches for 46 yards, while fellow rookie N’Keal Harry was targeted once on the pass that Brady was intercepted. Harry ran a sloppy route and didn’t box out properly, allowing Bradley Roby to jump the route and intercept the pass. Harry was sent to Siberia (or so it seemed) the rest of the game. He wasn’t targeted again. More to that later…  

Tight Ends: C

Ben Watson was only targeted once and had one catch for 23 yards, breaking a tackle and converted a big 3rd and 17 on the Pats’ first touchdown drive. Matt LaCosse played a lot of snaps and provide good blocking in run support. He had one catch for 24 yards and also had a drop. 

The offense needs to target the tight ends more down the seam and they’ll need better production from each of them in the final month of the season. 

Offensive Line: B

The offensive line played a very good game on Sunday night overall. The run blocking was the best it has been all season, generating 145 yards on the ground and averaging 5.0 yards per rush. Guards Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney were very good at opening lanes for the backs. 

The pass protection didn’t look great on the surface with Brady getting pressured on over a third of his dropbacks. But with Houston pinning their ears back in the second half with New England down by two or more scores and Brady often holding the ball for an inordinately long time (WRs not separating), it contributed to that.  

 Defensive Line: B+

The defensive line had another very good day against the Texans. Houston wanted to establish the running game with Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson and the Patriots defense stuffed them. 

Houston was able to generate 52 yards on 23 carries, 2.3 yards per rush. Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton continue their stellar play, disrupting the runs at the point of attack and getting good penetration. 

John Simon had one very good pressure and nearly sacked Deshaun Watson for a big loss. But Watson was able to slip away and got back to the line of scrimmage before throwing an incomplete pass. They, later on, that drive went the length of the field for a touchdown. 

Linebackers: B-

The linebackers (Boogeymen) weren’t very scary this week as they were victimized in coverage for two touchdowns. Watson and the Houston coaches were able to isolate Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy and they were both beaten easily.  Elandon Roberts was flagged for an interference penalty and JaWhaun Bentley was beaten in coverage a few times as well.

The linebackers did, however, generate all three of the Patriots sacks with Hightower, Van Noy and rookie Chase Winovich each notching a sack of Watson. Tackling was an issue as well at times.  Jamie Collins had a quiet evening. 

Secondary: B-

Watson went right after Stephon Gilmore and Jonathan Jones this week and DeAndre Hopkins had probably his best game against the Patriots with five catches for 64 yards. They went after Jones using their speed guys (Kenny Stills and Will Fuller) from the slot. 

Fuller beat Jones for a deep TD but upon review, Jones was able to knock the ball away. Undeterred, Watson went right back on the next snap and Stills beat Jones cleanly for the touchdown. 

Coming into Sunday night’s game, the Patriots had allowed only four TDs on the season and they allowed four more on Sunday night. Watson’s passer rating was a stellar 140.7 against a team that been allowing opposing QBs a rating of about 100 points less. 

Special Teams: C

The Special Teams didn’t have a great night, and Sunday may have been one of their quietest games of the season. Kai Forbath (since released) missed an extra point. Jake Bailey was okay averaging 44-yards per punt. He had one bad onside kick attempt and one excellent one, perfectly bouncing the ball over the Texans front. But it bounced just a tad too high. Brandon Bolden got a fingertip on it and very nearly hauled it in. The coverage units were so-so and the return game was not good. 

Coaches: C

The Patriots coaching staff made some curious decisions. Abandoning the run when they finally got it going seemed ridiculous at the time, however, rewatching on tape, it was clear Houston was stacking the box. But the bizarre call for the two-point conversion was a head-scratcher.

Brady saw that Houston was aligned defensively with something they didn’t like. But they didn’t call timeout allowing themselves to take a penalty for delay of the game. Then they flipped-flopped, opting for the kick where Forbath shanked it left. 

And freezing out Harry, whether that is Brady, McDaniels or Bill Belichick is flat out wrong. He made a rookie blunder, but benching him there especially with the WRs not named Julian Edelman doing next to nothing? Not a good move. They should have gone right back to him allowing him a chance to redeem his confidence…ah well. 

Houston’s coaches (save for the final 9:53), definitely got the better of Belichick and McDaniels. And that doesn’t happen often. 

So we’re on to Kansas City and a home game next week. Buckle your seatbelts, its going to be a bumpy week on social media.  

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

 

Texans Dominate Listless Patriots 28-22, Observations

Steve Balestrieri
December 2, 2019 at 7:50 am ET

It appeared that the plane carrying the players suffering from the flu was the only one that landed in Houston this weekend. The Patriots looked like a team suffering from a malaise that had them as a group, a step (or two) slower than the Texans. 

Houston dominated this game completely for about 50 minutes and then went to sleep, playing soft defense that allowed the Patriots to make the score much, much closer on the scoreboard than it was on the field. They nearly gave it away as Brandon Bolden got a hand on an onside kick that bounced just out of his reach or Houston may have given the game away completely. 

But don’t let that distract from the fact that the Patriots looked terrible all game long. The offense is adrift with no identity, no separation from their receivers, no team speed, and right now no answers.

Worse, the defense, which has been the strength of this team all season long looked slow, out of sorts and out-coached on Sunday night. And if the Texans made the defense look slow, the team has Kansas City next up on the slate. They blew out the Raiders earlier on Sunday.

The ugly loss in Houston, knocked the Patriots out of the #1 seed as the Baltimore Ravens now own that, courtesy of a knock-down, drag-out last-second win over the San Francisco 49ers. But the Patriots now have to look over their shoulder in the division at the 9-3 Buffalo Bills who are now just a game back. 

Here are four main observations from the game:

The Offense is Adrift In a Sea Of Mediocrity: 

Perhaps even mediocre is a stretch right now. This offense right now looks terrible. And there aren’t any excuses anymore about guys being injured. All week, we said that there was a chance that everyone could be back (they were) this week and that the Patriots offense would have their full complement of weapons (they did) as they’d have for the rest of the season. And if this is what they have, then it is a scary proposition. 

The lack of speed on this offense right now is alarming. Opposing defenses now know that they have to double cover Julian Edelman. And because of the dearth of speed outside, they can afford to put a safety on James White, because they don’t fear any of the other receivers or tight ends. 

As a result, the number of targets successfully completed to either Edelman or White has dropped. Last night Brady was just 14 of 23 targeting those two. And yes, many of those came in garbage time. The secondary players have to step up and make the defense pay. They haven’t and last night was a microcosm of what this offense is suffering from. The remaining receivers were targeted 23 times by Tom Brady and he completed only 10 of those. 

Phillip Dorsett and Mohamad Sanu were targeted 11 times and they combined for 5 catches for 29 yards. That just isn’t going to cut it in any way, shape or form. That is averaging just 2.6 yards per target and under 6 yards per reception. 

And it isn’t like the Texans have some sort of juggernaut defense. They entered the game with a suspect run defense and a pass defense that had been burned for most of the season. The shut down the receivers and blanketed them far too easily.

Coaching Staff Made Some Curious Decisions:

The Patriots usually are the ones who make the opposition crap their pants and make decisions that go a long way toward New England coming away with a win. In Houston, it was their turn to wear the propeller hat.

Down 14-3 late in the first half, they faced a 4th and 10 from the Houston 39-yard line with just 26 seconds to go. A first down would have given them a chance to at least kick a field goal to go into halftime with a bit of momentum and the opportunity to double score. 

Instead, they opt to punt conceding a scoring chance, which says a lot on how they feel right now about this offense and the lack of trust they had last night with the defense being able to stop Houston with 20 seconds to go. 

In the second half, they seemed to abandon the running game far too quickly, rendering Sony Michel to the bench. We thought that they would be able to run the ball against the Texans defense and in the first half, they did so, fairly effectively. This put even more pressure on a moribund passing game. 

James White ran effectively later in the game, but much of that had to do with Houston just trading space for time after they opened up a big lead. 

Then in the second half, after they scored a touchdown, they lined up to go for two. Seeing something they didn’t like with the Houston alignment on defense, instead of calling a time out, they took the five-yard penalty and then flipflopped, opting to kick the extra point. Kai Forbath then hooked it badly left…Ugly. 

And Then There is Harry:

Patriots 1st round draft pick N’Keal Harry was used as a blocker on the early drive and performed well, showing the willingness and ability to use his size and physicality to their advantage.  Then came Brady’s interception.

Harry ran a slant from the left side on a 3rd and 4 and allowed Bradley Roby, who gave him a slight tug on the jersey, to get inside and pick off Brady. Harry slowed his route, something he can’t do and didn’t use his body effectively enough. It was a rookie mistake and one that has to be corrected. 

But that was it essentially for Harry for the night. He had played 12 snaps up to that point. He wasn’t totally benched but only played 10 snaps the rest of the game. And wasn’t targeted again. We’ll have to rewatch the tape, but I didn’t see him in the second half. 

It doesn’t matter whose decision it was, Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels, Brady, but this is the kind of situation that needs to be looked at. Granted Harry made a mistake, but for him to get completely frozen out for the rest of the game over it? Ouch. And it wasn’t like the rest of the receivers were lighting it up making him expendable. 

Where do we go from here? Good question…

Texans’ Coaches Had the Patriots Defense Figured Out: 

This was a great coaching job by Houston and flawlessly executed by QB Deshaun Watson. The Patriots were a bit passive early and dropped back in zone coverage, respecting their speed at wide receiver and Watson’s ability to move in the pocket. 

When the Patriots played that way, Watson immediately targeted the middle of the field in the sweet spot and was hitting on those passes easily. Or they’d isolate a linebacker in coverage with Duke Johnson out of the backfield, which was a mismatch. 

When they switched to man coverage and specifically to their Cover 0 technique, the Texans went deep. Their speed (unlike New England) was on full display, DeAndre Hopkins, Kenny Stills, and Will Fuller gave them problems in this look.

The pass rush wasn’t much of a factor for much of this game, which hurt. And then when it did get home, Watson escaped with a great move and kept a drive alive which resulted in a Houston touchdown.

Give a ton of credit to Houston’s offensive game plan, they knew what they wanted to do and executed it extremely well. 

So, the Patriots return home at 10-2 with the Chiefs coming into town with many more questions than answers on this snowy Monday morning.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

Patriots – Texans Week 13 Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
November 29, 2019 at 8:00 am ET

The Patriots head back out on the road in a big Sunday Night Football matchup with the Houston Texans.   

The Patriots are trying to stay ahead of the Baltimore Ravens for the top spot in the AFC while trying to keep some distance between themselves and the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East. The Texans are in first place in the tightly contested AFC South at 7-4, a game ahead of the Colts and Titans. 

With a win on Sunday night, the Patriots would win the 11th game of the year, marking 10 straight seasons with at least 11 wins, which is an NFL record.

This week’s game will be broadcast by NBC and can be seen locally on NBC 10 Boston. Al Michaels will handle play-by-play duties with Cris Collinsworth as the color analyst. Michele Tafoya will work from the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (10-1) are coming off another tough, defensive victory, beating Dallas 13-9 in a windy, rain-swept Gillette Stadium.

The Texans (7-4) are coming off of a big 20-17 win over the Colts last Thursday night which gave them the division lead. 

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2019 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Texans have met 11 times, twice in the playoffs and it is a series that has been dominated by New England, holding a 10-1 overall lead. The Patriots and Texans have met for the past five seasons and New England has won the last eight meetings including a 27-20 win last year in Foxboro.

 

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Texans Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Push

The Patriots running game finally showed some signs of breaking out of their year-long funk last week against Dallas. Did that have to do with the return of Isaiah Wynn to the starting left tackle position? It certainly didn’t hurt. Sony Michel ran very well, hitting the holes quickly and showing the ability to both make some defenders miss and to break some tackles as well. 

As we pointed out in yesterday’s quick look at Houston, their run defense is middling, 17th in the league and allowing 108 yards per game. With Jadeveon Clowney in Seattle and J.J. Watt on IR, the Texans are struggling across the board on defense. 

Look for the Patriots to establish the running game and set up play-action. Michel gained 85 yards a week ago and if he can hit the hole with that kind of burst the Patriots should be in good shape. But the Texans linebackers remain the strength of this unit.         

Patriots WRs vs Texans Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots passing game really missed Mohamad Sanu (ankle) and Phillip Dorsett (concussion) last week against Dallas, but the rookies stepped up and played fair well. Julian Edelman continues to play banged up but he had a very productive game a week ago. Wynn’s return definitely helped in the pass protection for Tom Brady.

Houston’s pass defense has been struggling all year. Their pass rush has generated 22 sacks and is 28th in sacks per pass play. They allow 260 yards per game through the air (25th) and allow the third-down conversions at 41 percent, 31st in the league. The secondary has been a revolving door due to injuries and they’re struggling to find answers. 

Look for Josh McDaniels to test the Texans secondary by mixing things up with lots of crossers and quick to intermediate plays testing the middle of the field. It would be nice to see Sanu and Dorsett back this week, but we’re seeing the growth of rookies Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them get increased roles. I believe the Patriots will try to target the Texans linebackers in space. 

Next up the Texans offense:

Texans RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Houston

The Texans have a very good tandem in Duke Johnson and Carlos Hyde with QB Deshaun Watson an able runner that can make plays with his legs. The Texans run more of that read-option offense, mainly with Hyde and Watson that has given the Patriots some issues. 

The Patriots run defense did a good job of defending the run last week against the Cowboys and Ezekiel Elliott, although he got 86 yards on 21 carries, he didn’t have the impact of really influencing the game and they limited his effectiveness in the red zone.

Look for Houston to run some of the similar looks to what Baltimore did against the Patriots a few weeks ago. It will be up to the linebackers to set the edge and get some penetration to force Watson into obvious passing situations. And the big men up front, Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton must get some penetration upfront to disrupt the flow of the running game. 

Texans WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge New England

The Houston passing game with Deshaun Watson throwing to DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, and Kenny Stills at WR is a tough matchup for the New England secondary. They also have Daniel Fells at TE and Johnson out of the backfield. The passing offense is much more dangerous when Fuller is healthy. Problem is, he’s been banged up quite a bit and is not quite 100 percent with a hamstring issue now.

Hopkins is obviously the key here. He has 81 catches for 839 yards and 8 TDs this season. But the Patriots have done a good job of limiting his production when facing Houston. In five career games against New England, he has 24 catches for 339 yards and zero touchdowns. 

The Patriots secondary’s coverage has been simply outstanding and it begins with Stephon Gilmore, who has been the best in the game for the past two seasons. He’ll be matched up with Hopkins, Fuller will be covered by a combination of J.C. Jackson and/or Jason McCourty. While Jonathan Jones draws Stills. Houston’s OL has allowed 32 sacks, so the pressure on Watson will be interesting to monitor.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Push

The Patriots special teams lost Nick Folk to appendicitis this week and he’s been replaced on the roster by Kai Forbath, the 4th kicker on the season. Jake Bailey has been outstanding this season as has the coverage units. Matthew Slater is having an outstanding season and blocked a punt last week versus Dallas. The return game has been so-so all season. 

The Texans kicking game has been as unpredictable as the Patriots. Ka’imi Fairbairn has missed five field goals (all from 40+) as well as five PATs. Bryan Anger is back with the team and doing an outstanding job at punting. Houston’s coverage teams have been tremendous, allowing only a 2.7-yard return average. The Texans return game hasn’t been strong either. 

Next up, who wins and why…

The Patriots are looking to improve to 11-1 and it is a very important game for both teams with big playoff implications on the line. Bill Belichick always likes to say that you don’t get a real feel for a team until after Thanksgiving. Well, here we are. 

Keys to the Game from a Patriots Perspective:

No Big Chunk Plays Against the Run- Look for the Patriots defense to play a similar game plan like they did last week against the Cowboys, Hyde, Johnson and Watson will get their yards, but don’t let them dictate the pace and tempo of the game and stop them from consistently getting into those 3rd and 3 or less. 

Houston has consistently gotten those big chunk plays of 20 yards or more this season, their currently fourth-best in the league. The way to slow down this offense is to take those away and force them to confront your strength on defense, the secondary. 

Win On 3rd Down and the Red Zone – The Patriots offense has struggled on both 3rd down and the red zone this season. So has the Houston defense. Here is the chance for the offense to make some inroads with both of those issues. 

Here is where N’Keal Harry’s selection can start paying dividends. We saw a glimpse of what he can do with his 10-yard TD last week. Hopefully, we’ll see more of him targeted in the red zone moving forward. This seems like a big week to see either Rex Burkhead or James White in the pattern against the linebackers.

Time to Round Into Form  – This is the time of year for the Patriots that they traditionally begin to really play well and begin to build up for a postseason run. Sunday night will be the first game for that to start. That means for the offense to begin to find an identity and become more productive. If that means more Harry and Ben Watson, then they need to get it done. 

They’ve always risen to the occasion under Belichick. Facing a playoff team on the road for a Sunday night nationally televised game, is an opportunity for the team to make a statement, that they’re far from done.

**  Shameless Self-promotion** Our 3rd key last week was for the STs to step up. 

Look for them to go after a punt or two this weekend to help out the struggling offense. Justin Bethel or Brandon Bolden may be a key contributor this week.

___________

Prediction: 

This should be a very good Sunday night matchup. The Houston offense with Watson, Hopkins, Fuller, and Stills is a marquee matchup for the Patriots secondary. But never underestimate the power of doubt. The talking heads (usual suspects) have begun to throw dirt on Brady once again. 

Nothing fires up the 42-year old QB and brings out the best in him than doubt. Look for Brady to make a big statement on Sunday night.  Patriots  27-13

The “Knocking on Sevens’ Door” tour returns to Foxboro next week for a huge game against the Kansas City Chiefs.,.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and breakdown game analysis

Patriots 2019 Opponents, The Texans Are a Familiar Foe

Steve Balestrieri
November 28, 2019 at 6:57 am ET

Happy Thanksgiving! Here’s a quick look at the Patriots’ next opponent, the Houston Texans while you wait for your turkey to cook. 

The Patriots head back out on the road this week for a prime-time game against the Houston Texans on Sunday Night Football. At 10-1, the Patriots own the #1 seed in the AFC and still hold a two-game lead of the Bills in the division. 

The Texans are a familiar foe and it seems like they are almost a divisional opponent. The two teams have faced each other at least once in the past five seasons and former NE offensive coordinator and Texans coach Bill O’Brien conducted joint practices with the Patriots in 2017. 

So the familiarity and respect are there on both sidelines as the two teams meet up again.

Prime Time Watson Something to Watch:

John McClain the Texans’ outstanding beat writer penned a very intriguing piece on Houston QB Deshaun Watson this week and his ability to turn it on in prime time games. Watson has appeared in seven prime time games in his career and is 5-2 in those contests. 

Watson has tossed 18 touchdowns and just three interceptions. His quarterback rating is 118.6. Also included in those games, he’s rushed for 272 yards with three more touchdowns. And this week, under the bright lights, Watson and the Texans will be playing at home. 

Bill Belichick spoke about Watson early this week and the difficulties of trying to match up against Watson on Sunday night.

“He’s very, very good,” Belichick said. “He’s a very accurate downfield passer. He’s made some great throws on double-moves, seam routes, post patterns, go routes, things like that.

“And, of course, we all know he’s a very athletic guy with the ball in his hands. He can score from anywhere at any time. It’ll be a big challenge for us for 60 minutes. Any game’s a long way from being over if he has his hands on the ball.”

Big Three (Watson, Hopkins, Fuller) Present a Difficult Opponent :

The Houston offense features Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller presenting a very difficult trio to defend against. Fuller has had injury problems in his career and is nursing a balky hamstring right now. But when he’s in the lineup, opponents can’t focus on just stopping the outstanding Hopkins outside. 

In the last three seasons, the Houston offense has had that trio on the field for only 19 games. But in those games, they’ve lit it up offensively, averaging 28.6 points and nearly 400 yards of offense. 

And Watson’s numbers? (Courtesy of McClain) In those 19 games, Watson has thrown 45 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions. He’s completed 8.8 yards per attempt, and his rating is 104.2. Hopkins has 124 receptions for 1,715 yards and 17 touchdowns. Fuller has 86 receptions for 1,372 yards and 14 touchdowns. Besides the big three, Watson also has Kenny Stills, TEs Darren Fells, and Jordan Akins as well as Duke Johnson out of the backfield. 

The Patriots secondary which has been nothing short of outstanding this season faces another big challenge this week. 

Revamped Running Game Is Playing Well:

Houston has a new 1-2 punch at running back with Duke Johnson and Carlos Hyde replacing the tandem the Patriots saw in Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue. Houston has had very good balance this season churning out 136.9 yards per game, good for 7th in the league. 

Hyde has rushed the ball 174 times for 836 yards, good for a 4.8-yards per rushing attempt with 4 touchdowns. Johnson has rushed 65 times for 349 yards (5.4-yard avg) with a touchdown. Watson has rushed for 301 yards on 58 rushes (5.2-yard avg) with a team-leading 5 rushing touchdowns.

Hyde is the early-down back and getting the lion’s share of the rushes with Johnson coming in for third downs and getting more of the receptions out of the backfield. Watson is a threat to make plays with his feet at any time. 

Texans Defense Missing Clowney, Watt Down the Stretch: 

The Texans’ defense has been middle of the road to slightly below in most defensive categories in 2019. Houston has allowed 22.6 points a game, which is 17th in the league. On the ground they’re allowing 108.0 yards per game, also 17th while through the air, opponents are getting 259.3 yards per game passing which is 25th in the league.

They really miss Jadeveon Clowney who is now in Seattle as well as J.J. Watt who is on IR in their pass rush. Their strength remains the linebackers,  Whitney Mercilus, Bernardrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham, Bill Belichick called them among the best in the NFL. 

They’ve also made changes in the secondary. CB Jonathan Joseph and S Justin Reed remain but now they’ve got Bradley Roby at the other corner slot and Tashaun Gipson at safety. 

We’ll have our keys to the game and key matchups later tomorrow. Stay tuned… 

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

 

Patriots Reportedly File Tampering Charges Against Texans in Caserio Pursuit

Steve Balestrieri
June 13, 2019 at 9:30 am ET

Et Tu, Jack, Billy?

The New England Patriots have filed tampering charges against the Houston Texans for attempting to hire team executive Nick Caserio as general manager, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Wednesday.

Schefter reported that the NFL is expected to gather relevant information and open its own investigation against Houston. The league will look into this situation and try to determine whether any tampering was done and if so, what punishment is appropriate.

At the center of the controversy is former Patriots character coach Jack Easterby, who left the team this spring and is working for the Texans now. Easterby was at Robert Kraft’s home on Thursday night for the Patriots ring ceremony. It is rumored that while there, Easterby made overtures to Caserio about the Texans GM position.

The next day, the Texans fired general manager Brian Gaine after just one season on the job. Caserio, who has been New England’s director of player personnel since 2008, once again became Houston’s leading target. Houston tried to hire Caserio last spring and asked for permission to interview him, but the Patriots blocked that attempt.

Caserio is close with both Easterby and Houston head coach Bill O’Brien who was a member of the Patriots coaching staff from 2007-2011.

Pro Football Talk took it one step further stating on Twitter that:

Replying to @ProFootballTalk

Evidence of potential tampering come from photos, videos, other proof of interactions between Texans exec @JackEasterby and Caserio at last Thursday’s Patriots ring ceremony, which happened the night before the Houston G.M. job became vacant.
113
5:31 PM – Jun 12, 2019

So, if the rumors are true, how did the Patriots find out that Easterby was beginning the pursuit of Caserio again by Houston? Were they overheard? Did Caserio report it himself? (doubtful). It adds another layer to the intrigue.

The Texans have requested permission to interview Caserio for their GM job but have not been granted permission to date. And judging from the Patriots reaction, that permission isn’t forthcoming.

The NFL’s policy on tampering is stated as “Any interference by a member club with the employer-employee relationship of another club or any attempt by a club to impermissibly induce a person to seek employment with that club or with the NFL” is impermissible.

Bill Belichick has stated many times that what Caserio does is far beyond his scope as just the Director of Player Personnel.

“He’s certainly involved in all of the personnel aspects of his job, college, pro, free agent workouts, waiver, everything,” Belichick said back in 2017. “But you throw all of the coaching stuff on top of that, the week-to-week role in the press box and on the practice field. I mean, he does a tremendous amount. I can’t think of any other personnel person that would even come close to that. I don’t know who it would be. I don’t know what everybody else does, but I don’t know anybody.”

The league rules state that a team can’t block a person from interviewing for a position that is above their current level. The Patriots will take the stand that Houston’s GM position is, in essence, a lateral move, which by Caserio’s job title only, it is not.

As both Mike Reiss (ESPN) and Doug Kyed (NESN) have stated, the one way the Patriots can block this is to give Caserio a promotion and a raise that would pay Caserio to the level more consistent with the duties.  

While the Patriots as a whole tend to eschew personal job titles, (see offensive/defensive coordinator roles), this might be the perfect time to reverse that trend for Caserio, who is very deserving. And a healthy jump in pay would sweeten the pie as well.

The team can ill-afford to lose Caserio at this juncture of the season. Give him the title (as Kyed suggested) of VP of Player Personnel and a raise, which would elevate him to the level of a GM. That will keep Caserio around for the foreseeable future and create an ascendancy plan for when Belichick decides to retire.

But in terms of Easterby and O’Brien, the reception they get in Foxboro from here on out may not be as warm as before. C-ya in December.

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Patriots – Texans Week 1, Key Match Ups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
September 6, 2018 at 7:30 am ET

The New England Patriots will meet the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. Kickoff is scheduled for Sunday afternoon at 1:00 p.m.

This week’s game will be televised by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4 in Boston. Their top announcing crew will cover the game with Jim Nance, who will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will work the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (13-3 in 2017) are looking to get 2018 off on a winning track. Tom Brady on the opening day of the season is 12-3, the best record for a QB during the Super Bowl era. The Patriots record in the past 10 years is 123-37, the best in the NFL

The Texans (4-12 in 2017) are healthy and looking to get back in the playoffs. They have a lot of their starters returning healthy after a disastrous 2017. Deshaun Watson was off to an electric start of his career before being placed on IR. They are looking to win in New England for the first time.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2018 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Texans will be meeting for just the 11th time as Houston entered the league in the 2002 season. The Patriots hold a 9-1 advantage in these contests while holding a perfect 5-0 advantage at home, including a pair of playoff wins over the Texans in Gillette.

The Patriots needed a vintage 4th quarter Tom Brady drive to beat Houston 36-33 last year in Week 3. Deshaun Watson was outstanding under center for Houston, passing for 301 yards and a pair of scores and the defense sacked Tom Brady five times.

Despite that, Brady passed for 378 yards and five touchdowns in the huge comeback win. The Pats defense didn’t have a great day but produced two interceptions of Watson.

So here are our Keys to the Game, and who gets the Razor’s Edge in the matchups. First up is the New England offense…

Patriots RBs vs Texans Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Houston

The Patriots running game once again made big changes during the offseason. Dion Lewis, Mike Gillislee and Brandon Bolden are gone. Jeremy Hill is in with James White. Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead have knee injuries and while they’ve been practicing again, it is probably doubtful both plays this week.

The Texans front seven is very good and despite the myriad of injuries they suffered last season, they were very good (13th) against the run. The Patriots could only muster 59 yards a year ago. Can Hill and White muster more than that? We say no this week.

Patriots WRs vs Texans Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots passing game is thin at WR with only four on the roster plus Matthew Slater. But here’s where the chess match gets interesting. The Texans have a ridiculous plethora of pass rushers, J.J. Watt, Whitney Merciless, Jadeveon Clowney as well as promising rookie Duke Ejiofor and sacked Brady five times last year. But Brady torched them across the middle of the field to the tune of 378 yards a 5 TDs.

Look for lots of two RB, and two TE sets to offset the lack of WRs. James White and Rob Gronkowski will be moved around a lot in motion, splitting out wide to get favorable matchups. Houston has two new safeties, Tyrann Mathieu (Honey Badger) and converted corner Kareem Jackson who are 5’9 and 5’10 respectively. Look for Brady to test them in coverage against the much bigger Gronkowski. Burkhead, if he’s available is the “X-Factor” for the Patriots passing game.

Next up the Houston offense

Texans RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

Lamar Miller remains the workhorse for the Texans running game. He lost weight in the offseason to get back some of the explosiveness that was missing a year ago. However, second-year RB  D’Onta Foreman is on PUP for the Achilles he suffered last year. Watson burned the Patriots last year with his ability to scramble. After barely playing in the preseason, will he be given the green light to do it again?

The Patriots made some changes up front from last year, bringing in Danny Shelton who should anchor down the middle, in a rotation with Lawrence Guy, and Malcom Brown. Dont’a Hightower returns from his season-ending injury and should really help in the run defense which was porous last year. Houston has totally revamped their offensive line, which is still a question mark at this point.  

Texans WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Houston

Watson had the Texans offense exploding once he took over at QB last season, averaging nearly 40 points per game. He has one of the best WRs in the game in DeAndre Hopkins who caught 96 passes a year ago, most of the season with awful QB play. Will Fuller has been hurt but is supposed to play this week and he gives Watson a pair of extremely talented wide receivers. Tight End Ryan Griffin could be the “X-Factor” this week.

Last year the Patriots did a terrible job of containing Watson in the pocket, and if he gets out to the edge where he can run or throw, the defense will get gashed again. But unlike last year, when they went to a smaller, safety-centric look, I believe, they’ll go bigger here and look to anchor the edges and push the pocket from inside. The edge rushers, led by newcomer Adrian Clayborn, Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise, Derek Rivers, and Keionta Davis will have their hands full. Can they bring pressure without losing containment and force Watson to get rid of the ball early? We’ll see.   

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen are back and very solid. Allen, in particular, had an outstanding summer after being pushed in training camp by some competition. The Patriots coverage units are always solid although they’ll be missing two of their stalwarts from the past few years in Jordan Richards and Brandon Bolden. But they get back Nate Ebner and Matthew Slater and have added one of the most dynamic kick returners in the league in Cordarrelle Patterson. Who return punts at this juncture remains a mystery.

The Texans special teams were just awful a year ago, especially their kickoff coverage. But they brought in former Patriots ST coach Brad Seely to right the ship. Long-time punter Shane Lechler was released, beaten out by rookie Trevor Daniel. Kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn has a very strong but inaccurate at times leg.   

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

The first game of the season is always the most difficult to predict. Because the element of the unknown is still out there. The starters for the offenses and a bit on defense haven’t played an entire game since last season and there are always new moving parts on both teams.

The key for the Texans is to get Watt untracked and early. If he’s his normal explosive self, the Texans’ Romeo Crennel will move him around and disrupt everything. A healthy Watt just makes Clowney, who is becoming an elite edge rusher and Mercilus, that much better rushing the QB. The Texans inside backers Benardrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham, who is a sideline to sideline player will play key roles for them this week, trying to take away Gronkowski’s domain inside.

The Patriots will try to move their backs and tight ends around to create mismatches for Tom Brady to exploit. James White will probably be the most targeted member of the offense on Sunday. How well the offensive line holds up is always a key for the Patriots and especially against this excellent Houston front seven.

Defensively for New England, they try to match up against the Texans top two WRs but how well they do against the backs and tight ends will have a lot to say how this game goes. Containment of Watson in the pocket is key for Brian Flores group.

The Patriots are at home, which is always a big advantage for Brady and the offense. This one won’t be as high scoring as last year’s game, but Brady, White, and Gronkowski do enough to come away with a win.  Patriots 27-21

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Patriots 2018 Opponents, First Impressions of the Texans

Steve Balestrieri
September 4, 2018 at 7:30 am ET

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.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news.

Patriots Fourth And Two Podcast: Panthers vs. Patriots Preview

Russ Goldman
September 26, 2017 at 12:16 pm ET

In this episode, we first looked back at the dramatic Patriots victory on Sunday against the Texans. Later on, we previewed the upcoming game against the Panthers.

Patriots and Texans Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
September 21, 2017 at 10:26 am ET

The New England Patriots will meet the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. Kickoff is scheduled for Sunday afternoon at 1:00 p.m.

This week’s game will be televised by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4 in Boston. Ian Eagle will handle play-by-play duties with Dan Fouts as the color analyst. Evan Washburn will work the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (1-1) were back on the winning track with a 36-20 thumping of the New Orleans Saints on the road. Tom Brady was laser sharp throwing for 447 yards as New England rolled up 555 yards of offense.

The Texans (1-1) also were back on the winning side of the equation. Led by a 49-yard touchdown run by rookie QB Deshaun Watson and a stifling defense, the Texans beat the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday Night Football 13-9.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2016 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Texans will be meeting for just the 10th time as Houston entered the league in the 2002 season. The Patriots hold an 8-1 advantage in these contests while holding a perfect 4-0 advantage at home, including a 34-16 playoff win over the Texans in Gillette in January.

The Patriots dominated the Texans 27-0 in Week 3 of the 2016 season with Jacoby Brissett, the Pats rookie 3rd string QB at the helm. The defense shut down and shut out the Texans that night forcing three turnovers while rushing for 185 yards.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Texans Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Houston

The Patriots running game made some big changes this season bringing in Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead to go along with James White, Dion Lewis and James Develin. Gillislee has been productive scoring four touchdowns in his first two games but Burkhead is banged up and may miss this one.

The Texans front seven is very, very good with one of the best in the business in JJ Watt to go along with Whitney Mercilus, Benardrick McKinney, and Jadeveon Clowney. After a Week 1 aberration, they were back to being their normal stout self against the run, doing a bang-up job of stuffing the Bengals running game.

The Patriots will have to do a good job of mixing things up to keep them off-balance this week but it going to be tough running consistently on this group. Look for the backs to make their presence felt in the passing game.

Patriots WRs vs Texans Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots passing game was clicking on all cylinders last week against the Saints despite being severely shorthanded with only three healthy wide receivers. Brady used his running backs to great effect and this week will be another case of that, although the team will probably get Danny Amendola back which will be a huge help in the slot.

Houston has the pass rush which can rush either three or four and still get to the QB. Watt, Clowney, and Mercilus are outstanding at getting home and keeping #12 upright will be a huge test for an offensive line that wasn’t great a week ago.

Brady and NE get the slightest of edges here. They’re at home and Houston’s CBs are banged up. Both Jonathan Joseph and Kevin Johnson left last week’s game. Joseph should play this week but Johnson will be out a few weeks. Look for Brady to force the linebackers into coverage with the running backs this week to keep that pass rush at bay. This is why they picked up Brandin Cooks. He could be a big factor here as he’ll face single coverage at times this week and they have to pick their spots and make them pay. *Interesting tidbit* Houston hasn’t allowed a 300-yard passer in 30 games.

Next up the Houston offense:

Texans RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

Lamar Miller remains the workhorse for the Texans running game. They also have the good-looking rookie RB from Texas D’Onta Foreman who shined in the preseason game against the Patriots. Alfred Blue may be back for this one but the issue has been the offensive line play. They’re banged up and not opening holes. Watson the rookie QB could be the X-Factor in the running game this week.

The Patriots were much better stopping the run last week allowing just 81 yards on the ground and 28 coming on the final play of the game in garbage time. Dont’a Hightower was back at practice on Wednesday so he has a chance to play. But David Harris, who played just one snap in New Orleans could be a bigger factor here this week. Elandon Roberts and Kyle Van Noy had a much better game in Week 2 along with the defensive line which held firm in run support.

I’m looking for New England to try to stop the run and force the game into Watson’s hands throwing the football. If they can do that, with his depleted weapons around him, then they’ll be in good shape.

Texans WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge New England

Tom Savage’s turn in the barrel lasted all of one-half as Bill O’Brien went to the talented rookie QB Watson who came on in the Week 1 loss in the second half and started last week in Cincinnati. He was missing all three tight ends last week (concussion protocol) as well as WRs Will Fuller and Bruce Ellington and was forced to rely solely on the uber-talented DeAndre Hopkins. He gets Ellington back this week as well as TE Ryan Griffin who caught 50 passes a year ago which will help. Look for them to try some trickery this week to ignite a passing game stuck in neutral.

The Patriots secondary continues to have some issues in communication. Specifically the rub-routes and pick plays have been giving them fits. But with a limited cast of weapons at his disposal, they have the advantage in the secondary. Look for them to play Hopkins underneath with a corner with over the top safety help. The pass rush focus this week will on keeping Watson in the pocket and forcing him to throw from there. If he begins making plays with his feet then, they’ll have troubles. The pass rushers, Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise will have to stay disciplined against a Houston offensive line having some issues.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Push

The Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski missed his first extra point on Sunday but made the rest including three field goals, his kickoffs, however, continue to pin teams deep. Ryan Allen didn’t have the best game a week ago but is solid with excellent directional kicking and hang time. The Texans are going with Kaimi Fairbairn this year as their kicker with solid long-time veteran Shane Lechler as their punter.  

Houston’s coverage units were awful in 2016 and last week gave up a 33-yarder to Adam Jones. The question for New England is who will return the kicks? Dion Lewis returned a kickoff for a TD against them in January….he may get the nod again.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This is going to be an interesting chess match. Bill O’Brien knows that Bill Belichick will try to force the game into Watson’s hands. WIth limited weapons and averaging just 4.85 yards per pass, he still has a long way to go. The Patriots are banged up offensively and the Texans will try to put pressure on Brady to take away that short passing game in the middle of the field.  The keys to the game from a Patriots perspective are:

  •         Don’t Turn the Ball Over: Houston is a very limited offensive team, especially in the passing game. Don’t make their job any easier by handing them a short field and letting their offense get some easy points. In a close low-scoring game, the Patriots, at home have the edge here. Making the Texans move the length of the field to score a small piece at a time will be their plan this week.
  •         Start Quickly and Put Pressure on them to Keep Up: Brady and the Patriots have the ability to score quickly and often and getting off to a quick start is a great way of putting pressure on both Houston’s defense as well as their offense.With a limited offensive arsenal, a quick start like last week will be exactly what O’Brien doesn’t want. It will force Watson into throwing and Belichick and Matt Patricia will show the rookie some different looks to try to confuse him and force a turnover or two.
  •         Stop Miller in the Running Game and Force the Ball into Watson’s Hands: This has been the Patriots M.O. forever against young QBs. If they can stuff the run and consistently get the Texans into obvious passing situations then they’ll be in good shape. The communication has to be better and they’ll have to bracket Hopkins and take their chances with Braxton Miller and Ellington. If they beat you…so be it. But they don’t want Hopkins having a big game.

Bottom line, New England holds serve at home but Brady will have a much rougher go this week against that stout defense. Look for James White and Dion Lewis to be targeted often in the passing game, trying to force the Texans linebackers in coverage. It should be a close one with New England pulling away with a late score. No style points this week.  Patriots 24-14

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New England Patriots 2017 Opponents, 5 First Impressions of the Texans

Steve Balestrieri
September 20, 2017 at 6:30 am ET

Patriots Favorites in Rematch With Texans

The Patriots return home after the first road trip of the season and a successful one down in New Orleans. Their next opponent may not have the explosive offensive potential of Drew Brees but the Houston Texans have one of the better defenses in the NFL and they’ve constructed it with beating the Patriots in mind. The teams met twice last season, a Thursday Night Football game in Week 2 when Tom Brady was still under suspension and in the Divisional Playoff game in Foxboro, both won by New England.

The Texans like the Patriots played very poorly in Week 1, getting beat at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball by the Jacksonville Jaguars who sacked Texans QBs 10 times. They rebounded nicely and put together a much better performance, especially on the defensive side which was dominant in their 13-9 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday Night Football. Rookie QB Deshaun Watson stepped in and played well.  He protected the ball and gave the Texans a chance to win the game. The Texans, also like the Patriots have been hit hard by the injury bug. They were without three tight ends in Cincinnati, lost both starting corners during the game and has to deal with LB Brian Cushing serving a 10-game suspension.

Here are our further Five Impressions of the Texans:

Watson Is In At QB…For Now: When the Texans drafted Deshaun Watson, they knew they were getting a big-time playmaker, as anyone who watched the college national championship game against Alabama can attest to. It is just that no one expected him to be starting this early in his career.

Head Coach Bill O’Brien ran an open QB competition this spring and summer and it was won by Tom Savage. But during the opener, O’Brien used the hook on Savage quickly, benching him after only a half when the entire team not just Savage played poorly. Those kinds of benchings can do irreparable damage to a young QBs confidence level.

Watson came on in the second half in the loss to Jacksonville and got the start against the Bengals. He played well and ran five times for a team-high 67 yards including a highlight reel 49-yard touchdown, the only score of the game and completed 15 of 24 passes for 125 yards with no interceptions and three sacks.

If Watson begins to struggle at some point and all rookie QBs do, how will O’Brien handle the very talented rookie? Don’t be surprised if O’Brien tries to cook up some trickery with the rookie since there is very little tape to study with him yet.

Miller and Foreman make for an Ideal 1-2 Punch: The Texans signed Lamar Miller away from the Dolphins a year ago and he has become their #1 back and was backed by big back Alfred Blue. But this season, the Texans drafted Texas running back D’Onta Foreman and he seems to be on the fast track to becoming the #2 back in the rotation as well as pushing for reps away from Miller.

Miller has gotten the lion’s share of the reps in the first two weeks, carrying the ball 35 times for 126 yards, good for only a 3.7 yard per carry average. Foreman, the 6’0, 233-lb back is only averaging 3.4 yards per carry. The problem isn’t with the two backs who are both very good, it has been the offensive line which has struggled to open lanes for them to run.

We were very high on Foreman coming out in the 2017 NFL Draft and thought he’d be a great fit here. Our draft profile on Foreman can be found here: During the preseason game in August, Foreman took a pass from Watson 63-yards against the Patriots defense.

Watt is Back and Leads the Texans Defense: With J.J. Watt back this season, the Houston defense has one of the best players in the NFL back to help an already very good defense. Watt leads a group of four excellent players on the front seven for Houston including Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus, and Benardrick McKinney.

The excellent front seven is difficult to contain as they have so many impact players it is difficult to double-team any one player as opponents have to account for all of them. They can rush three and drop eight into coverage and still bring pressure on the quarterback. In the playoff game a year ago, they brought continuous pressure up the middle on Brady and flooded the middle of the field, taking away the short passing game across the middle. Julian Edelman had a big game against them in January. It will be interesting to see how the Patriots try to attack their defense this time around.

After a very lackluster opening game and allowing 155 yards on the ground, their defense was resembling the Texans defense we all recognize against the Bengals. They allowed just 82 yards rushing and kept the Bengals out of the end zone, allowing just three field goals in a very impressive showing. Expect the Texans defense to be sky high for this one on Sunday afternoon.

Fuller Returns to Practice: Texans WR Will Fuller broke his collarbone during training camp on August 2 and was expected to miss 2-3 months. But the fact that the Texans didn’t place him on IR to begin the season spoke to the belief that they’d have him back sooner rather than later. And with the release of WR Jaelen Strong this week, it seems that it will indeed be sooner. Fuller returned to practice on Tuesday.

Fuller is now in his second season with the Texans after being drafted in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft out of Notre Dame. Fuller finished his rookie season of 2016 with 47 catches for 635 yards and two touchdowns.

If he’s able to return on Sunday to play against the Patriots, it would be a huge boost to the passing game. Because right now their biggest threat is De’Andre Hopkins and not much else.

Houston was without all three top tight ends, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Ryan Griffin and Stephen Anderson against Cincinnati. All three suffered concussions against Jacksonville in the opener. We won’t know until later on Wednesday when the injury report comes out if the three are going to be available on Sunday.

Texans Sign Cornerback Jonathan Banks in a Depth Move: In the Thursday game against Cincinnati, Houston lost both starting cornerbacks Kevin Johnson and Jonathan Joseph to injury. Joseph is expected to be back on the field this week in New England. However, Johnson is expected to miss about three weeks so the team added former Buccaneers corner, Jonathan Banks, to bolster their depth.

Kareem Jackson who came in for Johnson and played well is expected to get the start but the addition of Banks gives the Texans a much-needed boost of depth in their secondary.

The 27-year-old Banks was a second-round pick of the Bucs in 2013 out of Mississippi State. Banks was traded to the Detroit Lions in November of 2016 for a seventh-round pick. He was then released the next month and then signed with the Bears. He was just released by the Bears earlier this month.  He has recorded a total of 136 tackles, 17 pass deflections, seven interceptions and one touchdown during his NFL career

In a corresponding move, the team released TE Evan Baylis who was signed off the practice squad this week to fill in for the three tight ends who were out due to concussions. If Baylis clears waivers, he’s expected to be signed back to the practice squad.  

Check back with us later in the week as we’ll break down the key matchups for the game right here on PatsFans.com.

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