Tag Archives: DeAndre Hopkins

Patriots  Week 1 Report Card, New England Downs Texans 27-20

Steve Balestrieri
September 11, 2018 at 7:30 am ET

The Patriots took care of business at home against the Texans and they came away with the 27-20 victory that wasn’t really as close as the score would indicate. There was never the feeling that the Texans could take over and win this game and the muffed punt at the end, while it made it a one-score game, didn’t really change the momentum.

It was a good win, with plenty of positives and also plenty of negatives for the coaches to clean up before they travel to Jacksonville next week. With the NFL showing a ton of sloppy play across the board in Week 1, we’ve become accustomed to most of the teams playing below par since most of the players barely see the field during preseason. So, with that in mind, the coaches will take the victory and move on.

Overall the Patriots looked pretty good and were the better team throughout the game. The combination of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski seems to have not missed a beat and perhaps those missing OTAs sessions weren’t a big a negative as we were told to believe. There is a reason to feel much better about the pass rush this season, although the Houston OL is a bit suspect again. And the OL’s performance can only be described as a ton better than when the two teams met last year.

There were issues with the run defense, turnovers and special teams coverages on the minus side. So, with the season opener in the books, we’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.

Quarterback: B+

Tom Brady wasn’t at his very best, as he was quick to point out after the game on Sunday but he was pretty damned good. There was absolutely no rust factor involved with the offense under #12 and he was his normal cool, brutally efficient leader.

All summer we heard the same mantra we’ve heard for what now? Eight to ten years? They have no weapons…the offense will struggle…yada, yada. Brady eats that like M&Ms, (although he probably eschews chocolate). He threw a nice back shoulder throw to Gronkowski for the Patriots first touchdown where the big man then muscled his way into the end zone.

He also had touchdown passes to James White and Phillip Dorsett, who was the 69th player (Gronk approves this message) to catch a touchdown pass from Brady. And his best pass of the day was arguably the one in the fourth quarter when facing a third and long. Brady bought time, slid in the pocket and found his fourth option, FB James Develin for a key first down. He finished 26-39 for 277 yards with 3 TDs and 1 INT.

Running Backs: B

The Patriots went with Rex Burkhead and James White mainly early in the game and then brought in Jeremy Hill later. Both Burkhead, who got the majority of the work in the running game and White were their normal solid performers on the field.

Hill came on and got just a few carries but appeared quick in the running game before going down with what appeared to be a nasty injury. That hit may require the Patriots to make a roster move if he’s out for an extended period, which it appears initially to be. **Update** Hill has torn his ACL and is done for the year**

James Develin provided his always solid game in the running game as a lead blocker but also chipped in with four catches for 22 yards. Develin had six catches all season in 2017 and nearly equaled that on Sunday. That’s nice stepping up. But overall, the running game went for 122 yards on 31 carries which isn’t bad at all.

Wide Receivers: C

The wide receivers entered the game pretty thin with just four on the roster, minus STer Matthew Slater. While their numbers weren’t earth shattering they performed okay for the first game of the season but in the future, they’ll have to step it up.

The bright spot was Phillip Dorsett who had just 12 catches all of last year. He had seven catches for 66 yards and a touchdown. On the final drive before the first half, Dorsett caught the last three passes Brady threw, including the four-yard touchdown. Cordarrelle Patterson had four touches including three carries and one reception.

Chris Hogan’s day was a disappointment. He was targeted five times and had just one catch for 11 yards. Riley McCarron was targeted once and had no stats but he would figure prominently in special teams (more below). The third down conversion rate wasn’t good and it is the WRs who must step up and change that.

Tight Ends: A

Rob Gronkowski is the best, most complete tight end in the NFL and it isn’t even close. The Texans decided that they were going to take him away with an athletic linebacker and a safety. It didn’t work. Gronkowski was the most dominant player on the field on Sunday.

He caught seven passes for 123 yards and a score, despite being the guy they tried to shut down. His 22-yard touchdown was a classic Gronkowski double coverage, back shoulder throw to Brady where he muscled his way in the end zone. At the end of the half, he split two defenders on a deep seam route where he made a fantastic catch despite a defender clearly pulling on his arm.

But Gronk is a force multiplier, he is a great decoy as well. On James White’s touchdown he lined up in the slot on the right and cut left and took all of the defenders with him, White was left with a huge hole in the defense to work in. Dorsett’s touchdown was similar. The guy continues to be unstoppable.

Offensive Line: A-

The offensive line was thought to be a question mark by some even though they had four of five starters returning. They were facing one of the best front sevens in the NFL and one that has a plethora of pass rushers. And for much of the day, Tom Brady could stand flat-footed in the pocket and go thru his progressions.

Trent Brown did a tremendous job on Jadeveon Clowney all game long and the talented pass rusher was invisible for most of the game. He and Whitney Mercilus were relegated to a milk carton in the game. Marcus Cannon did a tremendous job on J.J. Watt who did get a couple of hits on Brady when LaAdrian Waddle came on the second half. The Texans did get a couple of sacks from the interior of the line late in the game.

The only picky thing we can find is that the run blocking was just okay but not great. The team averaged just 3.9 yards per carry, again okay but not where they want to be. However, they did rush for 122 yards on that front seven, so we’re not going to harp on that at all.  

Defensive Line: B

It was a mixed bag for the defensive line on Sunday. They were outstanding at getting after the quarterback and (this time), containing him in the pocket. Trey Flowers had a tremendous game, he’s always an under-the-radar guy. Flowers logged 1.5 sacks, two tackles for loss and three QB hits. Deatrich Wise, in a limited role, due to the rotation, had 1.5 sacks, 1.5 tackles for a loss, and three QB hits. All in just 22 snaps

Unlike a year ago, the Patriots were for the majority of the afternoon, able to keep Deshaun Watson in the pocket and stop him from gaining the edge and making plays with his feet. The rotation of DEs was working and they kept fresh legs out there with Adrian Clayborn and newcomer Keionta Davis playing well too.

Lawrence Guy is the most underrated player on the Patriots. Guy had a great game and provided solid run support as well as pushed the pocket. He forced Watson’s throw that was picked off by Gilmore.

The run defense overall was not good, the Texans were running at Malcom Brown and Adam Butler and that will have to be tightened up. In the second half, however, it looked like the team was going to a smaller box and playing more two deep safeties, but we’ll have to rewatch the tape and see if some of the issues were by design.

Linebackers: B

Kyle Van Noy, rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley, and Dont’a Hightower played the most snaps. Bentley was really good for the most part and moves all over the field pretty well for a big man. He was out of position, however, on the 31-yard run by Lamar Miller in the first half. Elandon Roberts came on in the second half and had one really bad series, where Alfred Blue and the Texans gashed them on the ground. Roberts has a penchant for filling the wrong gaps at times and that series was not good.

But in covering the backs and tight ends, the linebackers had a very good game. The running backs had just two catches and TE Ryan Griffin was shut out. It was a pretty good start to the season, while they have a lot of room for improvement, it was light years better than the start to 2017.

Secondary: A

Stephon Gilmore continued the outstanding play that he’s demonstrated since the midway point of last year. He had a strong spring and summer and he was matched up with one of the best WRs in the game with DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins had his catches, he ended up with eight for 78 yards but he wasn’t a difference maker in the game. The Texans were trying everything in their power to get him the ball but Gilmore blanketed him all game.

His interception was a phenomenal play. Gilmore ran from the other side of the field when he saw Eric Rowe in single coverage and covered a tremendous amount of field with the ball in the air and went up, high pointed the ball and snagged the interception out of the hands of Rowe.

Rowe had a pretty solid game as well, while Ellington had just four catches for 37 yards. The safeties did a very good job of communication (the opposite of 2017) and the bunch formations that gave the team fits in 2017 didn’t phase them this time around.

Special Teams: C-

The normally solid Patriots special teams coverage units laid a clunker against the Texans who were one of the worst STs units in the league last year. Houston averaged 31.2 yards per kickoff return, not what I would consider anywhere near the Patriots par. But it was the first game of the season and the team did lose a couple of their core special teamers in Brandon Bolden and Jordan Richards while Jacob Hollister missed the game due to injury.

Riley McCarron muffed a punt which allowed Houston to score on a short field to cut the score to a touchdown late in the game, but it was also his first NFL game. He’ll hear it from the coaches this week.

On the plus side, Stephen Gostkowski was perfect on three PATs and both FG attempts. And Ryan Allen had six punts for a 46.8-yard average. Included in that was his last-minute punt that went 55 yards and was downed on the one-yard line.

Coaches: A

Bill Belichick had the team ready to go this season. The Texans tried to replicate their game from last year where they bunched their formations and got the Patriots secondary confused but this time, it didn’t work. The defense was well prepared for it plus the movement of Watson in the pocket.

Dante Scarnecchia had the OL extremely well prepared to face the Texans pass rush and stout front seven. The offense knew they were thin at WR but they worked up a game plan that got everyone involved. Josh McDaniels was still able to find ways to attack the secondary and the Patriots were still balanced in the running and passing games.

Brian Flores and the defense earn high marks of the week. The Patriots defense looked much, much better this week than they did at this time last year. Overall, very high marks for the coaching staff, but an even tougher test awaits this week.

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Players To Watch Patriots Take on the Texans in Regular Season Opener

Steve Balestrieri
September 7, 2018 at 8:07 am ET

Familiar Faces, Familiar Opponents Face Each Other Again

The New England Patriots open the 2018 regular season against the Houston Texans on Sunday afternoon and the conditions are supposed to be nearly perfect. The blistering heat wave that rolled thru the East Coast is moving off and it is supposed to be replaced by much cooler, drier air which brings a fall feel to the game.

The Patriots and Texans have faced each other often in recent years and very familiar with one another. In 2017, the two teams shared joint practices together before playing a preseason game and then met again in Week 3 of the regular season. Now they’ll renew the competition as each team has sights set for the postseason.

Although the Texans have never won in Foxboro, they are a team that gets great respect from the Pats. If you’ve ever attended a training camp session and watch those coaching assistants wave those big tennis rackets around when Tom Brady throws in drills? That is the J.J. Watt effect, because the uber-talented, but lately oft-injured defensive lineman has a penchant for knocking down passes at the line.

So, from a Patriots perspective, here are our Players to Watch on Sunday:

Tom Brady:

The Pats quarterback is entering his 19th season in the NFL and despite being 41 years old, looks as good as ever, winning the MVP of the league at 40 and then throwing for 505 yards against a very good Eagles defense in the Super Bowl.

Brady lost trusted targets in Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks this offseason and then skipped the OTAs to spend more time with his family. Now with a wide receiver core that is thinner than what they’re used to working with, until Julian Edelman returns, all eyes will be on Brady to see if he can continue to keep the offense clicking.

Houston has a formidable pass rush and sacked Brady five times last year, with a new left tackle (Trent Brown) and a right tackle just getting off an injury (Marcus Cannon), the Texans will be looking to disrupt things and Brady will have to be sharp, move the ball around to multiple targets and get it out quickly. Brady takes a lot of the pressure off of his tackles by getting rid of the ball very quickly and this season begins with a big test to see if the rust is gone from a long offseason.

Phillip Dorsett:

Dorsett was brought over from the Colts last year and was pretty much an afterthought in the offense for most of the year. With Amendola and Cooks gone, Edelman suspended for the first month, and Kenny Britt, Malcolm Mitchell and Jordan Matthews released, the onus of much of the wide receiver production is being pushed on his plate.

Dorsett began the summer hot and was looking like he was ready for the challenge, but as camp wore on, he faded a bit and wasn’t a big factor in the first two preseason games. That changed in the third game as he and Brady seemed to be working on their timing and chemistry against the Eagles.

Now the games are for real and a lot of eyes will be following Dorsett as the tries to be the go-to guy and a reliable chain mover for the Patriots offense along with Chris Hogan and the newcomer Cordarrelle Patterson.

Dont’a Hightower:

The Patriots big middle linebacker is back and looks healthy after missing most of last season. While Hightower isn’t an All-Pro, he is for this Patriots defense and his absence in the Super Bowl had more to do with them losing than Malcolm Butler’s absence did.

Hightower will have to control the running game inside and help out when Lamar Miller or Alfred Blue try to stretch them to the edge or head out in the passing game. With the scrambling ability of Deshaun Watson, the Patriot defenders on the edge will have to contain the mobile QB and keep him in the pocket. If he tries to run up the middle, Hightower will be tasked with minimizing the damage.

Having the big, physical Hightower back in the middle of the field is a huge boost for a Patriots defense that was woeful against the run in 2017. Everything with a Bill Belichick defense begins in the middle. Having Hightower back where he belongs is a big first step.

Eric Rowe:

The Patriots corner behind Stephon Gilmore has taken an undeserved bad rap from Patriots fans and will get a chance this season to erase a lot of those. With Malcolm Butler now in Tennessee, Rowe gets elevated to the top two slot. And despite the perception, he’s ready for the challenge.

The bigger, taller  (6’1, 205) Rowe who is beginning his fourth season has earned the right to be the starter. He had a very good spring and summer and fended off all competition from veterans and rookies alike to earn his way into the starters role.

This week he faces Will Fuller of the Texans who will play opposite DeAndre Hopkins and whose responsibilities fall to Gilmore. But an interesting footnote on Fuller, who is recovering from a hamstring issue and may not be 100 percent. Fuller and Watson developed a great chemistry last season. With both Hopkins and Fuller in the lineup with Watson under center, the Texans averaged nearly 40 points per game last year. Rowe’s season opener will have him facing a tough matchup. It should be a fun one to watch.

Rex Burkhead:

The Patriots brought back Burkhead this season after an injury shortened one in 2017. But there is no doubt when he was healthy and on the field, he was an integral part of the Patriots offense. That should not change in 2018 and in fact, his role may actually increase in the first month of the season with Edelman out.

Burkhead missed the Texans game last year after having a big game the week before against the Saints in the passing game. Look for Josh McDaniels to use Burkhead and James White as movable chess pieces in the backfield. The two will serve as slot receivers at times as they’ll put them in motion and try to create matchup problems.

In our key matchups, we said Burkhead may be the “X-Factor” in the game on Sunday. The Texans will be looking to put a lock on Rob Gronkowski and with him and the WRs clearing out some space, it could mean a big day for Burkhead.

Adrian Clayborn:

The Patriots signed the veteran edge player this spring and he was expected to show the veteran leadership role that befits someone of his standing. Clayborn has been the consummate pro since arriving, always being one of the first players on the field and helping the younger players

The Patriots pass rush and their play along the edge in 2017 was a big issue all season. Now, by adding Clayborn to Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise and getting Derek Rivers and Keionta Davis back from injuries that robbed their rookie seasons, the team is optimistic that they’ll be much improved.

But it all begins with Clayborn. He’ll be expected, and rightfully so, to lead the way on Sunday against a very good, young, mobile quarterback. It would do wonders for the confidence of a young group to get off to a good start this season.

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

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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 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

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.

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.

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.

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.