The Patriots head back out on the road in a big Sunday Night Football matchup with the Houston Texans.
The Patriots are trying to stay ahead of the Baltimore Ravens for the top spot in the AFC while trying to keep some distance between themselves and the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East. The Texans are in first place in the tightly contested AFC South at 7-4, a game ahead of the Colts and Titans.
With a win on Sunday night, the Patriots would win the 11th game of the year, marking 10 straight seasons with at least 11 wins, which is an NFL record.
This week’s game will be broadcast by NBC and can be seen locally on NBC 10 Boston. Al Michaels will handle play-by-play duties with Cris Collinsworth as the color analyst. Michele Tafoya will work from the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.
The Patriots (10-1) are coming off another tough, defensive victory, beating Dallas 13-9 in a windy, rain-swept Gillette Stadium.
The Texans (7-4) are coming off of a big 20-17 win over the Colts last Thursday night which gave them the division lead.
We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2019 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.
The Patriots and Texans have met 11 times, twice in the playoffs and it is a series that has been dominated by New England, holding a 10-1 overall lead. The Patriots and Texans have met for the past five seasons and New England has won the last eight meetings including a 27-20 win last year in Foxboro.
Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.
First up is the Patriots offense:
Patriots RBs vs Texans Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Push
The Patriots running game finally showed some signs of breaking out of their year-long funk last week against Dallas. Did that have to do with the return of Isaiah Wynn to the starting left tackle position? It certainly didn’t hurt. Sony Michel ran very well, hitting the holes quickly and showing the ability to both make some defenders miss and to break some tackles as well.
As we pointed out in yesterday’s quick look at Houston, their run defense is middling, 17th in the league and allowing 108 yards per game. With Jadeveon Clowney in Seattle and J.J. Watt on IR, the Texans are struggling across the board on defense.
Look for the Patriots to establish the running game and set up play-action. Michel gained 85 yards a week ago and if he can hit the hole with that kind of burst the Patriots should be in good shape. But the Texans linebackers remain the strength of this unit.
Patriots WRs vs Texans Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England
The Patriots passing game really missed Mohamad Sanu (ankle) and Phillip Dorsett (concussion) last week against Dallas, but the rookies stepped up and played fair well. Julian Edelman continues to play banged up but he had a very productive game a week ago. Wynn’s return definitely helped in the pass protection for Tom Brady.
Houston’s pass defense has been struggling all year. Their pass rush has generated 22 sacks and is 28th in sacks per pass play. They allow 260 yards per game through the air (25th) and allow the third-down conversions at 41 percent, 31st in the league. The secondary has been a revolving door due to injuries and they’re struggling to find answers.
Look for Josh McDaniels to test the Texans secondary by mixing things up with lots of crossers and quick to intermediate plays testing the middle of the field. It would be nice to see Sanu and Dorsett back this week, but we’re seeing the growth of rookies Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them get increased roles. I believe the Patriots will try to target the Texans linebackers in space.
Next up the Texans offense:
Texans RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Houston
The Texans have a very good tandem in Duke Johnson and Carlos Hyde with QB Deshaun Watson an able runner that can make plays with his legs. The Texans run more of that read-option offense, mainly with Hyde and Watson that has given the Patriots some issues.
The Patriots run defense did a good job of defending the run last week against the Cowboys and Ezekiel Elliott, although he got 86 yards on 21 carries, he didn’t have the impact of really influencing the game and they limited his effectiveness in the red zone.
Look for Houston to run some of the similar looks to what Baltimore did against the Patriots a few weeks ago. It will be up to the linebackers to set the edge and get some penetration to force Watson into obvious passing situations. And the big men up front, Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton must get some penetration upfront to disrupt the flow of the running game.
Texans WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge New England
The Houston passing game with Deshaun Watson throwing to DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, and Kenny Stills at WR is a tough matchup for the New England secondary. They also have Daniel Fells at TE and Johnson out of the backfield. The passing offense is much more dangerous when Fuller is healthy. Problem is, he’s been banged up quite a bit and is not quite 100 percent with a hamstring issue now.
Hopkins is obviously the key here. He has 81 catches for 839 yards and 8 TDs this season. But the Patriots have done a good job of limiting his production when facing Houston. In five career games against New England, he has 24 catches for 339 yards and zero touchdowns.
The Patriots secondary’s coverage has been simply outstanding and it begins with Stephon Gilmore, who has been the best in the game for the past two seasons. He’ll be matched up with Hopkins, Fuller will be covered by a combination of J.C. Jackson and/or Jason McCourty. While Jonathan Jones draws Stills. Houston’s OL has allowed 32 sacks, so the pressure on Watson will be interesting to monitor.
Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Push
The Patriots special teams lost Nick Folk to appendicitis this week and he’s been replaced on the roster by Kai Forbath, the 4th kicker on the season. Jake Bailey has been outstanding this season as has the coverage units. Matthew Slater is having an outstanding season and blocked a punt last week versus Dallas. The return game has been so-so all season.
The Texans kicking game has been as unpredictable as the Patriots. Ka’imi Fairbairn has missed five field goals (all from 40+) as well as five PATs. Bryan Anger is back with the team and doing an outstanding job at punting. Houston’s coverage teams have been tremendous, allowing only a 2.7-yard return average. The Texans return game hasn’t been strong either.
Next up, who wins and why…
The Patriots are looking to improve to 11-1 and it is a very important game for both teams with big playoff implications on the line. Bill Belichick always likes to say that you don’t get a real feel for a team until after Thanksgiving. Well, here we are.
Keys to the Game from a Patriots Perspective:
No Big Chunk Plays Against the Run- Look for the Patriots defense to play a similar game plan like they did last week against the Cowboys, Hyde, Johnson and Watson will get their yards, but don’t let them dictate the pace and tempo of the game and stop them from consistently getting into those 3rd and 3 or less.
Houston has consistently gotten those big chunk plays of 20 yards or more this season, their currently fourth-best in the league. The way to slow down this offense is to take those away and force them to confront your strength on defense, the secondary.
Win On 3rd Down and the Red Zone – The Patriots offense has struggled on both 3rd down and the red zone this season. So has the Houston defense. Here is the chance for the offense to make some inroads with both of those issues.
Here is where N’Keal Harry’s selection can start paying dividends. We saw a glimpse of what he can do with his 10-yard TD last week. Hopefully, we’ll see more of him targeted in the red zone moving forward. This seems like a big week to see either Rex Burkhead or James White in the pattern against the linebackers.
Time to Round Into Form – This is the time of year for the Patriots that they traditionally begin to really play well and begin to build up for a postseason run. Sunday night will be the first game for that to start. That means for the offense to begin to find an identity and become more productive. If that means more Harry and Ben Watson, then they need to get it done.
They’ve always risen to the occasion under Belichick. Facing a playoff team on the road for a Sunday night nationally televised game, is an opportunity for the team to make a statement, that they’re far from done.
** Shameless Self-promotion** Our 3rd key last week was for the STs to step up.
Look for them to go after a punt or two this weekend to help out the struggling offense. Justin Bethel or Brandon Bolden may be a key contributor this week.
This should be a very good Sunday night matchup. The Houston offense with Watson, Hopkins, Fuller, and Stills is a marquee matchup for the Patriots secondary. But never underestimate the power of doubt. The talking heads (usual suspects) have begun to throw dirt on Brady once again.
Nothing fires up the 42-year old QB and brings out the best in him than doubt. Look for Brady to make a big statement on Sunday night. Patriots 27-13
The “Knocking on Sevens’ Door” tour returns to Foxboro next week for a huge game against the Kansas City Chiefs.,.