Tag Archives: Brock Osweiler

Denver’s Offensive Woes Continue As the Team Struggles to 3-5 Start

Steve Balestrieri
November 8, 2017 at 12:00 pm ET

The Broncos have lost four straight and are officially on the hot seat and can watch their hopes of making the postseason blow up with another loss on Sunday night to the Patriots. Denver is limping into this one at 3-5 and the reason they’re struggling has to do with the offense.

The defense has been holding up their end of the bargain despite last week’s anomaly in Philadelphia where everything that could go wrong did. But Denver’s offense has scored just 52 points during the current four-game losing streak. And 14 of those points came in garbage time when the game was already lost in Philly. That won’t win many games and the team is struggling to find the answers to right the ship.

Here are a few of our first impressions of the Broncos before Sunday night’s matchup.

Carousel Under Center: Quarterback Trevor Siemian has been benched and the team has turned to Brock Osweiler. Osweiler started in place of an injured and aging Peyton Manning in 2015 and played well. The highlight of his career could easily be the Sunday night game where he beat the Patriots in a thrilling overtime win. However, soon after Denver’s Super Bowl win, Osweiler bristled at GM John Elway’s waffling on whether to sign the young QB to an extension or to sign Manning to a one year deal.

Osweiler bolted to Houston for a big money contract, who could blame him? But he quickly flamed out with the Texans and with them drafting DeShaun Watson, they shipped Osweiler to the Cleveland Browns. And he couldn’t make the team there, despite the woes of the QB position in Cleveland. With the injury to QB Paxton Lynch, he’s was brought back full circle to the Broncos.

He didn’t play well in Philadelphia last week, but neither did any of the other players. Now the team is hoping he can catch lightning in a bottle twice against the Patriots and hold the season together (with their defense) until they know what they have in Lynch, who Elway spent a first-round draft pick on in 2016. He’s getting healthier and if Osweiler doesn’t want to be replaced again in Denver, Sunday night is a big one.

Running Game Needs to be the Focus on Sunday: In Denver’s first few games of the 2017 season, they ran the ball down the throat of their opposition and jumped out to a 3-1 start and people were already pencilling them in for a long playoff run, thanks in no small part to their dominant defense.

A big part of their quick start was the running game. Running back C.J. Anderson was averaging 82.5 yards per game, (nearly 100 in their three wins). But during the four-game losing streak, Anderson’s production has plummeted. He’s gotten only 152 yards the past four weeks with 78 of them coming against the Giants.

But don’t dismiss the Denver running game, or in case you need a refresher for your memory, think back to that snowy game in 2015. Anderson ran for 113 of Denver’s 179 yards and that running game opened up a big game for Osweiler who passed for 272 yards.

Denver as a team are averaging 4.2 yards per rush, which is exactly what Anderson is averaging. Jamaal Charles is averaging 4.4 yards per carry and Devontae Booker is tops with a 4.6 yard per carry average. Defensively for the Patriots here is where the game will be won or lost.

The Patriots aren’t doing a great job of stopping the run and with Malcolm Brown and Dont’a Hightower out, it will make the running game a harder option to stop. When Denver has run well, they’ve won. When they haven’t, their quarterback play has suffered and they’ve lost. It isn’t hard to see where the Patriots defensive focus will be this week.

Turnovers Have Plagued the Team During Recent Skid: Like everyone else with an offense that is struggling, the Broncos can’t afford turnovers and that is exactly what they’ve been doing during the recent losing streak. Denver right now is woeful -12 in the turnover department. One of the reasons that Siemian was benched was turnovers. In the seven games that he started, he turned the ball over 15 times with 10 interceptions and five fumbles.

On the flip side of that, the Denver defense will be looking to feed off of the normally raucous crowd of their home field and force a couple of turnovers of their own. They are feeling a bit salty after allowing 51 points in Philly and the Patriots are always Public Enemy #1 for them.

Again, going back to that 2015 game, what turned the tide? A turnover. Chris Harper muffed a punt in the second half and the Patriots went from having a double-digit lead to quickly being down and having to force an overtime. Turnovers will be key to both teams this week.

Don’t Expect Defensive Meltdown At Home: Pundits are entirely too quick to throw dirt on this Broncos team, especially the defense. Even many Broncos fans on social media have been quick to predict gloom and doom this week as the two teams will meet on primetime Sunday night.

Besides giving up the 51 points last week, particularly galling for members of the defense was HOW they gave them up. Philadelphia had over 400 yards of offense but 197 of them were on the ground. Entering the game last week, Denver had allowed just 510 yards rushing or 72.8 yards per game.

Von Miller spoke about that game and how the team was approaching the rest of the season this week to ESPN.  “We are where we are right now,” Miller said. “Right now, [Sunday] … we’re not a good football team.

“We still have time. We still have time to be great,” he continued. “We’re not a great football team right now, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a great football team within us. But [Sunday], we’re not a good football team, offensively, defensively, special teams, whatever. We’re just not good right now.”

Don’t expect to see Dion Lewis running wild this week. Look for the Broncos to be much better and back to their normal selves on Sunday night.

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 Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Five Patriots Players to Watch Against the Texans

Steve Balestrieri
January 13, 2017 at 7:45 am ET

Every Game Now is a One-Week Season

The Patriots take the field in the Divisional Playoff game against the Houston Texans on Saturday night in Foxboro. Kickoff is slated for 8:15 p.m. and the weather is supposed to get cold again with temperatures in low-to-mid 20s at the start of the game.

The Pats worked hard this season to earn home-field advantage in the playoffs and the road to the Super Bowl in the AFC goes thru Gillette. They’re taking a Houston team, basically playing with house money. Until the Raiders lost two QBs, nobody gave them much of a chance of reaching this round and few of the experts covering the NFL give them much of a shot this week. That’s why they play the games on the field.

I would expect Bill O’Brien to be very aggressive this week. Look for the Texans to empty the playbook and throw as much at the Patriots as they can. 4th and 1 at anywhere near mid-field, they’ll go for it….at least they should.

With a win on Saturday, the Patriots will set another record, passing the Oakland Raiders and be playing in their sixth straight conference championship. Nothing says sustained excellence better than that. So, with that in mind….

Here are our five players from a Patriots perspective to watch on Sunday:

Quarterback Tom Brady: The Patriots QB had a tremendous season after coming off his league-imposed “vacation” for Weeks 1-4. Brady continues to amaze, even at the ripe old age of 39. In truth, he’s playing better now than he was at 29. In 2016, he set a new NFL record for touchdown to interception ratio, throwing 28 TDs to just 2 INTs. He’ll also add to his record just by taking the field on Saturday and play in his 32nd postseason game, the equivalent of two NFL seasons.

He’ll be facing a Texans defense that knows the Patriots well. DC Romeo Crennel held the same position here for the first three Super Bowls of the Patriots era. Linebacker coach Mike Vrabel played an integral part of those teams. Houston head coach Bill O’Brien was the offensive coordinator here. So, Houston knows what the Pats like to do, especially in certain downs and situations. Crennel will try to change his pre-snap looks to something different once the ball is hiked to slow Brady’s thought process down and give his pass rush that extra half-second to get home.

Of course, Brady knows this too, he’ll be ready for the shifting line just before the snap, to the secondary members shifting at the snap. It all will come down to execution. Brady will have all his WRs at his disposal this week. The team misses Rob Gronkowski, but they’ve adapted to absence the best that they can at this point. Brady will lean on his buddy Julian Edelman heavily, especially early in this one.

Cornerback Logan Ryan: The Pats corner has traditionally been tasked with covering the Texans best wide receiver and their most talented offensive player, DeAndre Hopkins in past meetings. He’ll probably get the nod there again. In two meetings between the teams in 2015 and in Week 3 this season, Ryan covered Hopkins and allowed only 5 catches on 11 targets for 96 yards with two passes defended.

Ryan began the year on the right, #2 CB opposite Malcolm Butler. But the team leaned on the 25-year old’s versatility and shifted him inside to the slot. That allowed the defense to move the bigger Eric Rowe outside with Butler. The results have been much better playing from the entire secondary. Ryan leads the team with 92 tackles and is solid in run support as well as three QB hits and a sack blitzing from the slot. He has logged 11 passes defended and a pair of interceptions on the year.

Look for Ryan to be tasked with covering Hopkins again with some over the top help and trying to bracket the Texans top receiver. He’s elevated his play down the stretch, allowing just around 40 percent of passes thrown his way to being caught.

Wide Receiver Julian Edelman: Edelman entered this season as a bit of question mark, at least physically. After his foot surgery in 2015, he re-injured it in training camp during a joint practice and things were looking a bit dicey. But after a somewhat slow start, Edelman answered the bell for all 16 games and turned in an excellent 98 catch, 1106-yard performance in 2016.

Now he’s healthy and leads the deepest group of wide receivers the Patriots have had in the Brady/Belichick era. He’ll be playing in his 13th playoff game of his career against the Texans and just needs two catches to pass Wes Welker for most post-season catches (69, you know what that means Gronk?) in Patriots history. But for Edelman, he’s like Brady and the rest of the Patriots under Belichick. Personal stats mean nothing, the only thing that matters is getting the win.

Look for him and Brady to try to get the chains moving quickly on Saturday night. Houston has a good pass defense that allowed just 201 yards per game during the regular season. The Patriots will attempt to use the quickness of Edelman to get those short, crossing routes open and create some space for the other receivers to work in.

Defensive End Trey Flowers: The Patriots defensive end has had a breakout season in 2016. After having an impressive training camp last year in his rookie campaign, he suffered some different injuries that caused him to play in just a single game. But the soft-spoken native of Alabama has really stepped up his game in 2016.

The Patriots under Belichick and Matt Patricia, like for their defensive players to be versatile and Flowers has fit the bill perfectly. He’s played defensive end and has frequently been pushed inside on passing downs as a smaller, interior pass rusher. He’s been just as good at setting the edge in the running game as rushing the QB from the edge and push the pocket from the inside. Frequently lauded by the coaches for his solid play, he’s been playfully nicknamed “Technique” by his teammates. But since the midway point of the season, Flowers has logged seven sacks, most on the team.

He’ll go against Duane Brown for part of this upcoming game. The Texans LT missed the first contest and he spearheaded an effort against Oakland last week that kept the Raiders pass rush from sacking Brock Osweiler once. Flowers will be looking to get into the pocket and disrupt the timing of the passing game. Patricia will move him around both inside and out but look for the 2nd year pro playing in his first playoff game to be a factor.

Offensive Tackle Nate Solder: Much of the talk during last week’s Wild Card game centered around the uber talented Houston DE/LB Jadaveon Clowney. Clowney is an athletic freak who had a tremendous impact on the game, blowing plays up in the backfield, creating pressure and intercepting a screen pass in the flat. Looking to neutralize him will be Patriots LT Nate Solder.

Solder was limited to just four games in 2015 before being placed on IR. He’s returned and has played outstanding this season. But with the unexpected emergence of RT Marcus Cannon, little has been mentioned about Solder’s play. He hasn’t allowed a sack since Week 10.

This promises to be a great matchup. Clowney was limited by injuries early in his career and came on at the end of 2015. Now fully healthy, he’s been the force that many foresaw for him when he was the #1 pick in the draft. Solder will have his hands full with the talented pass rusher and if need be, the Patriots will double him up. But look for the coaches to match them one-on-one initially.

Who Do You Got This Weekend: With the Divisional Round of the 2016 NFL Playoffs here, it usually means some of the best football of the season. These games are normally some of the best to watch and this week’s slate has some intriguing matchups. Last week, I went 3-1, whiffing on the Giants and their own version of the Love Boat cruise.

So, for this week:

New England over Houston- see our breakdown here.

Atlanta over Seattle- Matt Ryan finds holes in the LOB without Earl Thomas. Seattle just hasn’t been that good on the road this season, with the exception being their game in NE.

Kansas City over Pittsburgh- This will be one of those weird games where either the Chiefs win a close one or get blown out. I see the Chiefs holding serve over an explosive Pittsburgh offense with a late field goal to win the game. The home field advantage here, being in Arrowhead is the difference. But the “X-Factor” is LaVeon Bell for the Steelers. KC didn’t have a very good rush defense, and Bell can turn the game in a hurry.

Dallas over Green Bay: Ditto for home field. The Cowboys offensive line and their running game will be the difference at home as they control the clock and limit how much Aaron Rodgers and the Pack’s offense has the ball. Word to the wise for Dallas. You’ve ridden a rookie QB all the way to home-field advantage for the playoffs. Let him do the things he’s done all season. Don’t be like the OC for Alabama and get all conservative with Dak Prescott now.

Stay tuned to PatsFans.com as well have up-to-the-minute breaking news as well as post-game analysis.

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 Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots – Texans Divisional Playoffs, Keys to the Game

Steve Balestrieri
January 12, 2017 at 5:45 am ET

The New England Patriots will play the Houston Texans in the Divisional Round of the 2016 NFL Playoffs from Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. Kickoff is scheduled for Saturday night at 8:15 p.m.

This week’s game will be televised by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4 in Boston. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Phil Simms 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 (14-2) were on a bye week after winning the top seed in the AFC. They finished off the regular season by beating the Miami Dolphins 35-14 to finish the season with a perfect 8-0 road record. Now they’re rested and ready to go

The Texans (10-7) beat the Oakland Raiders 27-14 in the Wild Card game in Houston. Brock Osweiler threw for a touchdown and ran for another and the defense led by Jadeveon Clowney shut down the Raiders offense, holding them to just 203 yards and forced three turnovers.

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 9th time as Houston entered the league in the 2002 season. The Patriots hold a 7-1 advantage in these contests while holding a perfect 4-0 advantage at home, including a 41-28 playoff win over the Texans in 2012.

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 Playoff Opponents, Five More Texans Impressions

Steve Balestrieri
January 10, 2017 at 8:35 am ET

Patriots Prohibitive Favorites in Rematch With Houston

The Patriots return after their bye week for the Divisional Round of the 2016 playoffs to take on the Houston Texans. The two teams will meet on Saturday night at 8:15 p.m. in Gillette Stadium and the broadcast will be aired by CBS.

The two teams met back in Week 3 of the NFL season with the Patriots taking a 27-0 shutout win at home with Jacoby Brissett under center. However, the Patriots, especially QB Tom Brady have been quick to point out that Texans have their respect particularly the Houston defense.

Many of the players and fans will point to the overconfidence of facing the Jets after the 2010 season and just a little more than a month after the “Butt Fumble” blowout. The Jets shocked the 14-2 Patriots that year in Foxboro.

Here are our further Five Impressions of the Texans:

Osweiller Back At QB…For Now: When the Texans signed Brock Osweiler away from the Broncos, they thought they were adding a franchise QB to the team that would lead them for years to come. It has been a rough year for the big, tall QB.

Houston was just 29th in passing in the league in 2016, averaging only 198.5 yards per game. Back in September, Osweiler was on par with those numbers completing 24 of 41 passes for 196 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. He was benched late in the season for Tom Savage, who played well. But Savage was sidelined with a concussion, and it Osweiler begins to falter, he may have a short leash.

Osweiler played well last week in the Wildcard Game against the Raiders. In the first half, he completed 12-18 for 146 yards and a touchdown and appeared much sharper than he had been for most of the season. In the second half, the Texans scaled back the offense because A. they had a lead and B. because the trust factor wasn’t there for Osweiler and they didn’t want to allow Oakland back in the game with a turnover.

This week, facing Tom Brady and the Patriots offense, they shouldn’t have that kind of luxury and Osweiler will be expected to produce far more if the Texans want to advance.

Miller May Be the “X-Factor” for Houston’s Offense: Back in September, we wrote here that Lamar Miller, signed as a free agent from the Dolphins was a great pickup and would be a big upgrade in both the running and passing games for the Texans.

And he indeed was, he carried the ball 268 times for 1073 yards and five touchdowns for the Texans this season. He added 31 receptions for 188 yards and a score thru the air in 14 games. He missed time at the end of the season due to an injury but returned for the Wild Card matchup and was able to boost the Houston running game. He carried 31 times and ground out 73 yards and a touchdown against Oakland last week.

Houston was the 8th ranked rushing team in the NFL this season averaging 116.2 yards per game. The Patriots were the #3 team against the run this year allowing just 88.6 yards per game. If Houston is going to pull the upset here and advance, they’re going to need a big game from Miller, both in the running and passing games to take the pressure off Osweiler. Miller had 80 yards on 21 carries in the first matchup here.

Clowney, Leads the “Big 3” For the Texans Defense: With J.J. Watt on IR this season, placed there right after the New England game, the pressure was on the rest of the unit to step up. And it started with the former #1 pick DE Jadaveon Clowney. Limited by injuries early in his career, the “Bust” label was being tossed around when discussing the athletic freak from South Carolina. But no longer.

He came on at the end of the 2015 and topped that off with a very impressive 2016 logging 40 tackles and half a dozen sacks. He’s athletic, strong, and very fast off the edge. He can disrupt and blow plays up, as we witnessed against the Raiders last week and be a game changer for this defense. He’ll be matched up against Nate Solder for much of the game and will be a handful for the veteran left tackle.

Whitney Mercilus is the outside linebacker on the left side for Houston and he leads the team with 7.5 sacks on the season. He gives the Texans bookend pass rushers that can get after the QB and disrupt the opposing team’s offensive rhythm. He’ll be going against Marcus Cannon this week.

Benardrick McKinney was singled out by Bill Belichick for praise this week, as the Patriots were very interested in the Mississippi State linebacker when he came out of college for the 2015 NFL Draft. Belichick was effusive in his praise for the big LB, stating, “He’s a very good football player,” Belichick said. “We did a lot of work on him coming out of Mississippi State. He’s the kind of player that played outside and inside linebacker.”

“He also played a little bit at defensive end, is an excellent blitzer, runs very well, is long. He’s 6’4 so he gets to a lot of plays with his length, particularly in pass coverage, a hard guy to throw over or around, a very good tackler, good range, good speed, good instincts, good wrap-up tackler… It’s very unusual to find a player with his skills that can do so many things in the running game, in the passing game, on the line, off the line. He’s an excellent player, one of the best players we’ve played against all year. He played well against us.”

In the first meeting between the two teams, McKinney logged 16 tackles and a sack of Brissett. The Patriots may look to counter the linebackers of Houston, (McKinney, Mercilus, and Brian Cushing) by putting them in space and forcing them to cover the tight ends and running backs this week.

Tight Ends Key to the Passing Game: When the Texans drop back to pass, the focus will naturally be centered around their most talented pass catcher, WR DeAndre Hopkins. But to be successful, Osweiler will need to get his tight ends involved.

Houston has two big tight end targets in the passing game and both have been effective. C.J. Fiedorowicz caught 54 passes for 559 yards and four touchdowns in 2016. Ryan Griffin made 50 catches for 442 yards and a pair of scores. When the Texans need to move the chains, Osweiler will lean on the big men in the middle of the field. The Patriots have had issues in the past at covering tight ends and these two should see plenty of targets.

Hopkins will see plenty of looks outside, he was targeted 151 times on the season, but the Patriots will look to take him away with bracketed coverage. Will Fuller the speedster from Notre Dame got off to a hot start with a pair of 100-yard games to begin the season, but more than half of his production was logged in the first four games. He will need better production this week.

Osweiler has to get into a rhythm this week, and to do so and beat a Patriots defense that will force them to work their way down the field, they’re going to need their tight ends to step up and move the chains.

If Texans Seem to be Familiar, They Are: In September, we wrote the Texans were really a Patriots-South coached team with a lot of familiar faces on the staff. The level of familiarity between the two staffs was startling. Once again…

There are a lot of Patriots connections with the Houston Texans and head coach Bill O’Brien is building himself a team on a solid foundation of New England talent.

O’Brien was the QB coach and the offensive coordinator with the Pats from 2007-2011. Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crenel started in New England as the DL coach in 1993 and became the DC here from 2001-2004, including the first three Super Bowl wins.

Texans offensive coordinator George Godsey was the Patriots tight ends coach and was here from 2011-2013. Linebacker coach Mike Vrabel is one of the hottest coaches in terms of getting top job offers. He was a standout member of the Patriots during the first three Super Bowl winning teams as a linebacker and goal line tight end. Special teams’ coordinator Larry Izzo was a standout STs player on the Patriots between 2001-2008.

And of course, the biggest Texan of them all is Vince Wilfork. The big man spent 12 seasons with the Patriots. Wilfork played in 158 games and tallied 517 tackles, 16.0 sacks, three interceptions for 48 yards, 35 quarterback hits, 28 tackles for loss, 12 fumble returns, four forced fumbles and 26 passes defensed.

When looking at the organization that O’Brien is building around him in Texas, it is easy to see where the emphasis on creating a winning atmosphere is coming from.

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

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 Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Film Review, Patriots Execution Excellent in Houston Win

Steve Balestrieri
September 24, 2016 at 12:41 pm ET

All-22 Film Shows Team Execution Was Spot On

Reviewing the game film from a Patriots game is always a good barometer to see how the team performed in a given game. After a 27-0 white-washing of an AFC playoff team, you can be sure that there was plenty of good execution by the offense, defense, and special teams to go around as it was a very impressive victory.

Going back and watching the game a few times in the past two days, it was very apparent the Patriots had done their homework and were extremely well prepared for the task of facing Houston on a short week.

The coaches studied the Texans’ tendencies and put together an excellent game plan. They put the players in a good position to win and the execution in many instances was flawless. Bill Belichick will no doubt have plenty of film that will show otherwise when the players have their meetings, but overall this was an excellent team win.

We’ve picked out a couple of different plays this week and we’ll take a look at how the team did.

Jacoby Brissett 27-yard TD Run: What can you say about a rookie 3rd string QB who is pressed into service and gets the victory on a short week with just two walk-thru practices to prepare? He did an admirable job and while his numbers aren’t going to jump off a stats page, he did exactly what the team needed from him. And the first touchdown was a fantastic call by Josh McDaniels and perfectly executed all around.

The Patriots align in “11 personnel” with three WRs, one TE, and one RB. They’re showing a run to the left side with Martellus Bennett aligned just off the tackle, Julian Edelman in the slot and Chris Hogan out wide. Malcolm Mitchell is the sole WR aligned to the right of the formation. LeGarrette Blount is the lone RB aligned behind Brissett who is under center.

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The Patriots sell the run to the right with everyone on the left moving like Blount is running a sweep or over the left tackle. McDaniels pulled out a new play with QB option run here. Brissett pulls the ball away from Blount and runs back against the grain to the right. Houston was aggressive in trying to stuff the run, J.J. Watt shoots the gap between Joe Thuney and Nate Solder on the Pats left and would have been in excellent position to hit Blount in the backfield.

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Benadrick McKinney lined up as the left OLB, tries to shoot inside to run down the play from behind. ILB Max Bullough flows to the right and takes himself out of position. Marcus Cannon sees Whitney Merciless pushing inside to the right and rides him right out of the play, Shaq Mason pulls out and cuts McKinney, giving Brissett time to reach the edge.

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Once Brissett reaches the edge there is a ton of real estate for him to run, he eludes the safety Andre Hal at the five-yard line and Mitchell who was taking CB Jonathan Joseph with him deep down the field easily blocks him out of the play for the score. Joseph and Hal won’t want to review this play in the Houston film room.

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Malcolm Mitchell 27-Yard Reception: The Patriots rookie WR isn’t making a ton of grabs in the early going this year, but he’s making an impact when he does. On this play in the first half, the Patriots are again in “11 personnel”, Mitchell is split wide left, Edelman wide right. Bennett is line up as an in-line tight end on the right side. Hogan comes in motion from left to right. James White is the lone back directly behind Brissett who is under center. Houston is showing pressure with five men aligned on the line of scrimmage with one deep safety. They’re playing off the receivers at the line which gives them a small cushion.

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At the snap, Mitchell runs a quick slant and gets inside position on Jonathan Joseph where Brissett gets him the ball quickly. Joseph whiffs on the tackle and Mitchell is off. In a poor show of tackling, SS Quentin Demps then misses as well and a simple 5-yard slant turns into a 27-yard gain. Good execution by the Patriots, poor play by the secondary of the Texans.

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Jabaal Sheard Sack: Sheard had two sacks on the day but his first is a great example of what Chris Long has frequently stated as “playing team defense”. The play of Jamie Collins makes this play possible followed by a great individual effort by Sheard.

Houston is lined up going four wide, with two receivers split wide and aligned closely on each side of the formation. Jonathan Grimes is the lone back and he’s on QB Brock Osweiler’s right side. The Patriots are matching up in man coverage outside. But at the line, New England only shows two interior down linemen. DEs Long, Sheard, and LB Jamie Collins all stand and are showing pressure. Houston brings Stephen Anderson in motion from right to left and as he gets to the line, the ball is snapped and he runs a slant, presumably into the middle of the field where they believe Collins is vacating.

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But Collins drops into coverage and is right in the window where Osweiler wants to go with the ball. Grimes tries to slip out into the right flat but gets caught up in the wash. Sheard puts an outside move on Derek Newton and beats him to the outside, where he flushes Osweiler and eventually gets enough of his shirt to throw him down. It is a good example where when all of the pieces are working in concert, good things happen. Collins movement forced Osweiler to hold the ball, just long enough for Sheard to reach him for the sack.

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Blount 41-yard Touchdown: The Patriots offensive line did a very good job of run blocking in this game, opening enough holes for the team to generate 185 yards on the ground. On the final scoring play of the night, they once again show some nice execution.

The Patriots are lined up with their “21 personnel” package with 2 RBs, 2 WRs, and 1 TE.  Edelman and Hogan are lined up wide right, Bennett is on the right side in-line. Blount is the deep back in the “I-formation” with James Develin as the fullback. Houston is expecting the run to the right and has a heavy formation package favoring the exact spot where New England want to run.

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At the snap Nate Solder pushes Merciless to the outside, McKinney shoots the gap but can’t bring down Blount. Now the advantage goes to New England, they have the numbers and Blount has plenty of room to run. Develin gets downfield and seals off the backside pursuit. Hogan and Edelman do a great job of blocking downfield and seal off their men. Edelman in particular pancakes SS Quentin Demps. Blount, once he gets up a head of steam isn’t an easy man to bring down and scores the easy TD.

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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 Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Week 3 Patriots Report Card, High Marks in Shutout Win

Steve Balestrieri
September 23, 2016 at 11:27 am ET

The Patriots are 3-0 and one has to wonder how in the world doesn’t Bill Belichick ever get any consideration for Coach of the Year. This team perennially wins a dozen games and is always in the mix, yet he’s always snubbed as the coach du jour wins the coach of the year award. With the job he’s done thus far, to quote Celtics legend Larry Bird, “who is playing for second?”

So how did the Patriots grade out? Still missing Brady, Hightower, Ninkovich and Lewis, Jimmy Garoppolo joined the ranks of the missing Thursday night as he was scratched due to a sprained AC joint in his throwing shoulder.

So we’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.

Quarterback: A-
Jacoby Brissett got the start in place of Garoppolo, in lieu of Brady….and played with the poise that belied his lack of experience. The coaches came up with a masterful game plan that made his throws easier and relied on the running game, but it didn’t matter. Brissett did exactly what they were hoping for.

While his numbers weren’t anything special, 11-19 for 103 yards, he did rush 8 times for 48 yards and a huge 27-yard touchdown, it was what he DIDN’T do that stood out. The mantra from the coaches all week was “Don’t turn the ball over.”

He didn’t and ran the offense efficiently and made some plays with his feet when the protection broke down. He just missed on a couple of deep throws where the Pats had single coverage looks.

Running Backs: A
LeGarrette Blount followed up a big game against Miami with another big one just four days later against the Texans. Blount had a huge second half as he scored twice while rolling up 24 carries for 105 yards overall.

Blount was stopped for little gain in the first half but his value comes in with the team sticking with the run as he’s a closer and gets better on the 2nd and 4th quarters. Those one and two-yard runs in first half become much better as the game progresses. Blount in the second half carried 17 times for 94 yards and two touchdowns.

The team has leaned on him during Brady’s absence and he’s responded in a very big and positive fashion. Blount has already carried the ball 75 times for 298 yards and four touchdowns. His numbers play out over a 16 game season to nearly 1600 yards.  While those numbers won’t continue especially once Brady returns, it shows just how effective a runner he’s been.

Wide Receivers: B
This wasn’t a big game for the wide receivers as the coaches didn’t game plan a lot of throwing, in general, limiting Brissett to just 19 passes overall. Julian Edelman led the way with 4 of the 8 passes that Brissett completed to the wide receivers. Edelman also chipped in with three runs in the running game and acted as a decoy a few times in the backfield.

Malcolm Mitchell only caught one pass but it was a big 27-yarder and it perfectly symbolized the Texans frustration as he broke numerous tackles on the way to pick up the big first down. Amendola and Hogan each chipped in as well but one thing they all did well was to block in the running game, a must in the Patriots system.

Tight Ends: B
Martellus Bennett had another strong game in run support with his blocking which has been stellar all season. He too chipped in the passing game with a couple of catches as well as a run on a sweep where he picked up six yards.

Rob Gronkowski made his first appearance of the 2016 season and he appears that he’s far from 100 percent physically. He stayed in to block for the most part and was targeted in the passing game only once.

Offensive Line: A-
The story line this week (which Bill Belichick is waiting for), was the ferocious Houston front seven and how they were going to try and fluster the rookie QB into making mistakes. We bought into that line of thinking as well.

Well, the Patriots offensive dominated in the trenches last night. How many times did we hear J.J. Watt’s name on Thursday night? Jadaveon Clowney? Whitney Merciless? None of the big three for Houston had any impact or impactful plays during the game.

The Patriots rushed 39 times for 185 yards, which was good for a 4.7-yard average and three touchdowns. Houston didn’t get much pressure on Brissett and sacked him only once. It was Dante Scarnecchia’s charges best game thus far on the season.

Defensive Line: B+
The Patriots defensive line was very impressive on Thursday night. With their alignment, they basically dared Houston to run the ball. But while the Texans rushed for 109 yards in the game, they were generally ineffective doing so.

While rushing just four for the majority of the game, the Patriots were able to get enough pressure on Brock Osweiler to influence many of his throws. Jabaal Sheard, one of our pre-game players to watch had two sacks in a very strong game. Chris Long and Trey Flowers also had productive games at pushing the pocket and setting the edge.

The interior players, Alan Branch, Malcolm Brown and to a lesser extent Anthony Johnson and Vincent Valentine were stout at the point of attack. The Texans were trying to establish the run to set up play-action deep down the field and didn’t happen.

Linebackers: A-
Jamie Collins had his best game of the season. One of our other pre-game players to watch was a presence all over the field, had 14 tackles and an interception. Without Hightower in the lineup, Collins had to step up and he did in a big way. When Collins is playing like that, it is easy to see why he’s considered one of the better inside linebackers in the game.

Jonathan Freeny saw the most snaps in lieu of Hightower as he’s clearly earned the trust of Belichick. Shea McClellin and Barkevious Mingo played sparingly.

Secondary: A-
What a difference a few days makes. After getting gashed in the second half by Miami, the secondary, especially the cornerbacks turned in a fantastic performance. The plan was to take away the deep ball by having the cornerback’s undercut the routes of DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller and having over the top safety help in a Cover-2 shell. It worked perfectly.

Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler stuck with Hopkins (4 catches, 56 yards), and Fuller (3 catches for 31 yards) and even when they did make a catch, they were in a position to contest everything. It was a night and day scenario from Sunday.

McCourty, Chung, and Harmon did a great job of giving over the top safety help. Although they played far off the line, they did come up in run support. The leading receiver for Houston (by design by Matt Patricia), was the TE Griffin who caught 8 passes for 52 yards. The Patriots will take that all day long.

Special Teams: A
Punter Ryan Allen was fantastic on Thursday night…what a difference again from Sunday. He averaged 47.6 yards per punt and had six downed inside the 15-yard line. He more than anyone else, influenced field position all night long.

Stephen Gostkowski was perfect on five kicks (3 PATs, 2 FGs) and his mortar kickoffs were directly responsible for the Patriots for generating two turnovers. The only downgrade was rookie returner Cyrus Jones putting the ball on the ground twice. One of which got called back by the officials.

Coaches: A+
Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels, Matt Patricia and Joe Judge all get the highest grades possible. They put together a fantastic gameplan, saw the team see it thru perfectly and totally had their counterparts in Houston on the ropes all night long. Belichick put on a coaching clinic on Thursday night and to enter the game with a 3rd string rookie QB and win by 27 points is a testament how one-sided this game was.

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 Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots Shut Out Texans 27-0 on Another Belichick Masterstroke

Steve Balestrieri
at 6:05 am ET

Michael Irvin May Be Onto Something

Bill O’Brien is a really good coach. And he’s surrounded himself with a very good staff and football team. They will no doubt be a playoff team in 2016 and will probably win their division again. But they, as a unit got taken to the woodshed on Thursday night by Bill Belichick and the Patriots as New England dominated in all four phases of the game, offense, defense, special teams and coaching in a 27-0 win on Thursday Night.

The Patriots were led by rookie QB Jacoby Brissett who ran for a 27-yard touchdown, LeGarrett Blount who turned in another 100-yard performance with a pair of touchdown runs, a fantastic performance by their special teams who caused two huge turnovers and a stifling defense, the Patriots improved to 3-0.

New England came in short-handed and Houston was actually favored in this one. With Tom Brady, Rob Ninkovich, Dion Lewis, Dont’a Hightower out and Rob Gronkowski just easing his way back on the field, Houston saw an opportunity to wrest control of the AFC with a signature win. Even backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo was out with a shoulder injury, prompting 3rd string rookie Brissett to start his first game. Instead, the Texans fly back to Houston wondering what the heck happened again as they were smoked badly.

Belichick on a very short week, came up with a masterful game plan that played to the strengths of his young QB and made his transition and throws easier. They leaned on their running game and veteran LeGarrette Blount. He also did what he always does, he took away Houston’s biggest weapons on offense and defense and forced you to beat him somewhere else with different players.

After a near melt-down by the secondary on Sunday, all the hand-wringing over what the talented Houston wide receivers would do on Thursday went for naught. The Patriots played a two-deep safety look against the Texans, essentially bracketing their talented pair of WRs in DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller with the cornerbacks covering underneath and safeties over the top.

As a result, the Texans penchant for throwing the ball deep was taken away right off the bat. The Patriots dared the Texans to run and then did a great job of stuffing them when they tried to take advantage. The defense frustrated and harassed QB Brock Osweiler who finished with the pedestrian numbers of 27 of 41 for 192 yards, 0 TDs, and 1 interception. Hopkins was blanketed by Logan Ryan all night and made just 4 catches for 56 yards. All of which were contested and forced him to make some acrobatic catches.

Houston didn’t even enter Patriots territory until there were less than a minute and a half left in the third quarter. They never seriously threatened to score as the Pats, playing outstanding team defense, stymied and frustrated them time and again.

On defense, J.J. Watt, Whitney Merciless, and Jadeveon Clowney were all relegated to a milk carton as they were missing all night. Houston’s best player on defense was former Patriot Vince Wilfork who was a force in run support.

Houston’s STs, as we pointed out in our keys to the game, was a problem area and the Patriots exploited them causing two turnovers that turned into points. The first, after a Pats FG, came on the ensuing kickoff. Brandon Bolden ripped the ball loose from Charles James and Duron Harmon recovered. Brissett two plays later ran a bootleg around the right side as Watt crashed inside into thin air and the rookie waltzed in for a score to make it 10-0. Punter Ryan Allen had one of his best games in a Patriots uniform. He downed punts inside the Texans 15-yard yard line six times and averaged 47.2 yards per punt.

O’Brien and Osweiler should have recognized what Belichick was doing to them defensively and opted to take the patient approach. There was room underneath for the Texans to work the ball to the tight ends and backs. They weren’t going to find any kind of room for those deep chunk passes down the field. But they continued to force the ball into tighter and tighter windows and Osweiler threw his fourth pick of the season. He tried to force a pass into double coverage and Jamie Collins picked him off for his second INT in two weeks.

Brissett Does His Job: What can you say about the rookie QB’s baptism of fire on Thursday night? His passing numbers weren’t eye-popping, 11-19 for 103 yards, and added eight runs for 48 yards and a score but he did what the coaches asked of him. And most importantly he didn’t turn the ball over. He showed remarkable poise for a young player who got very little work during training camp and the preseason.

2016-week-3-jacoby-brissett-zzdnf-250x250Belichick’s mantra to his young QB all week was don’t give the ball to them (Texans), keep it for us. So after his 27-yard touchdown run, Brissett wanted to show the coach he indeed was following the game plan and trotted off the field and promptly handed the ball to Belichick. The coach made sure that the ball found its way back to the QB.

“He’s just a hard-working kid that is really dedicated to doing what’s right for the team and trying to improve on anything that you tell him,” Belichick said. He just wants to do what the coach tells him to do. I’m glad we have him. Yeah, I was just holding the ball for him. That’s his ball. That’s his first touchdown ball, so that’ll go up in his trophy case.”

Blount Answers the Bell Again: Is there a guy happier to be in New England more so than the Patriots big running back? It is debatable. But just four days after carrying the rock 29 times against Miami, Blount carried it 24 more times for 105 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Just like Sunday, Blount’s runs in the first half didn’t net much in the way of yardage. He gained just 11-yards on seven rushes in the first 30 minutes. But those runs bear fruit in the second half. Houston’s defense is tough but not deep and the more Blount rushed, the better he got. His second half numbers, 17 carries for 94 yards and two scores. The second of which was a classic Blount breaking free and racing 41 yards to put the game away.

In Brady’s Goodell-enforced absence, we thought the Patriots would lean on the running game and Blount to ease the onus on the QBs. Thru three games, Blount has carried the ball 75 times for 298 yards and four touchdowns. Mission accomplished. He’s earned himself some ice-tub time this weekend.

This is the defense envisioned this summer: What a great overall performance by the Patriots defense. After an admittedly bad second half against Miami, they faced the team that throws the ball deep more than any other team. What did Houston do in the deep passing game? Nada, zilch, nothing. No chunk plays of 20+ yards downfield.

The corners, Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler contested everything and even when Osweiler completed a pass to Hopkins or Fuller, they were contested and there were zero yards after the catch.

In our players to watch piece, we highlighted Jabaal Sheard and said he was due for a breakout game. He notched a pair of sacks and had his best overall game of the season. Jamie Collins had a tremendous effort as well even without Hightower beside him at linebacker. They limited RB Lamar Miller as he was really ineffective at key points of the game. He did end up with 80 yards but many came in garbage time when the outcome was no longer in doubt.

Earlier this week, Michael Irvin from the NFL Network said that if the Patriots beat the Texans on Thursday night with their 3rd string QB that he’d change the names on his Lombardi Super Bowl trophies to Belichick. While a tad premature, maybe Irvin better get that engraver on speed dial.

So the Patriots are (right now), the only 3-0 team in the NFL. They’ll enjoy this victory over the weekend and on Monday, get right back to work. Rex Ryan and the Bills come to town next weekend. We’re on to Buffalo.

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 Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Five Patriots Players to Watch for Against the Texans

Steve Balestrieri
September 22, 2016 at 8:34 am ET

 

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.

martin-brissett

Jacoby Brissett will be under the spotlight for the first time as a starter in the NFL (SBalestrieri photo)

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.

Jabaal Sheard

Jabaal Sheard is looking for a big game on the national stage this week. (SBalestrieri photo)

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.

Jamie Collins slips his block

Jamie Collins will look to have this type of penetration in the Texans backfield this week. (SBalestrieri photo)

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.

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 Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Podcast: Patriots Victory Review And Texans Preview

Russ Goldman
September 21, 2016 at 11:25 am ET

In this episode, we discussed the victory for the Pats against the Dolphins, and also previewed the upcoming game against the Texans. During the show, we also discussed the play of Jimmy Garoppolo and his injury during the last game.

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

Steve Balestrieri
at 9:17 am ET

The New England Patriots will play the Houston Texans on Thursday Night Football at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m.

The game will be televised by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4 in Boston. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Phil Simms 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 SportsHub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (2-0) defeated the Miami Dolphins 31-24 on Sunday in Foxboro. New England jumped out to a 31-3 lead in the third quarter with Jimmy Garoppolo having a strong game. But after his injury, the Dolphins rallied and the Pats needed a Duron Harmon interception in the end zone with two seconds left to seal the victory.

The Texans (2-0) beat the Kansas City Chiefs 19-12 on Sunday. The Houston defense was stout, allowing just four field goals and holding the opponents out of the endzone for the past six quarters. J.J. Watt who had offseason groin and back surgeries looks healthy to start the season. Against KC, he had 1.5 sacks, five tackles, and a fumble recovery.

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 8th time as Houston entered the league in the 2002 season. The Patriots hold a 6-1 advantage in these contests while holding a perfect 3-0 advantage at home, including a 41-28 playoff win over the Texans in 2012.

The Patriots dominated the Texans 27-6 just a year ago in Houston but that team that faced New England especially offensively is vastly different than the one they will put on the field on Thursday night.

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

First up is the Patriots offense: