Tag Archives: Mike Vrabel

New England Patriots News 4-17, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
April 17, 2016 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news 4-17 notes and what’s happening around the AFC East.

WR? Patriots Have Had Issues Finding a Penetrating DT:
With the release of former 1st round pick Dominique Easley this week, it brings to light the struggles have had finding that elusive interior defensive lineman who can rush the QB. While much has been made about the Pats inability to develop wide receivers, the interior pass rushing presence has been missing for quite some time.

The Patriots whiffed on DT Ron Brace who they spent a 2nd round draft pick on back in 2009. They instead got a little production from Mike Wright and Gerard Warren. They tried CFL DT Armond Armstead but health problems prevented him from ever taking the field. Ditto for free agent Jonathan Fanene. Tommy Kelly got off to a good start with the team but a knee injury derailed his season and he was cut loose a year later.

They drafted Easley with that thought in mind, a slightly undersized DT that can penetrate and disrupt the passing game with explosion off the snap. Although both of his seasons in a Patriots uniform were cut short due to injuries, he flashed some of that known explosion in his time here.

So it is back to the drawing board (NFL Draft) for the team. They can expect 2nd-year player Malcom Brown to provide more production there but the rest of the tackles, Alan Branch, Terrance Knighton, Markus Kuhn, Frank Kearse and Joe Vellano are all more of the ‘big bodied run stuffers’ than penetrating pass rushers. We’ve profiled some of the draft possibilities and the Pats will be sure to look for help with this draft class which is considered very deep.

Patriots Also Release DL Jones and Kitchen:
The Patriots also released two more interior defensive linemen this week cutting Chris Jones and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen.

While Kitchen was viewed as mainly a depth player, Jones logged some quality snaps. He played in 28 games (23 starts), over the 2013-2014 seasons with the Patriots and notched 83 tackles, nine sacks and a big blocked field goal against the Jets. He added nine tackles and one sack in four postseason games. In 2015, Jones spent the entire year on the reserve/physically unable to perform list. 

His base pay was due to jump from $585,000 to $1.67 million in 2016 so the team may have decided that the value wasn’t there for that kind of money. In which case he could very possibly return at a reduced hit against the cap.

Jones could occasionally push the pocket from the inside and while they sometimes push their defensive ends inside in obvious passing situations, the need for an interior pass rusher has resurfaced. Bringing back Jones would be a small band-aid.

Easley Story Takes More Twists: The release of Easley unleashed some very “unPatriot-like” behavior with some of the players. When we learned of his trip to Germany ostensibly to seek alternative treatment for his ailing knees, we knew his career wouldn’t be a long one. The rumor was that his release wasn’t only an injury related one. Tom E. Curran from CSNNE spoke at length about how Easley “wasn’t always on the program” and that the timing wasn’t entirely unexpected.

But here is where some things go awry, usually the Patriots players toe the line and flash the party line but Ben Volin of the Boston Globe reported that one unnamed Patriot player called Easley “a locker room cancer.” On Saturday, Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald had another un-named Patriot player call Easley “a great teammate.”

No one really knows the entire story, perhaps the Germany trip was a deal breaker. When we learned of it, we reached out to an insider and asked if the Patriots were onboard with this treatment. The insider stated that although it was known Easley would seek alternative treatment for his knees, he knew nothing (which probably means the Patriots didn’t either). That alone could have been enough for them to wipe their hands of the entire situation.

Patriots Face Challenges, Questions with 2016 Schedule:
The Patriots 2016 schedule was released (albeit a bit premature) on Thursday evening and a couple of things jump right out. First, if the NFL’s suspension of Tom Brady is re-instated, Jimmy Garappolo will have three straight home games after opening the season in Arizona. But it should be noted that two of those games are against division rivals so those games could factor in the Patriots late-season visits to the Jets and Dolphins.

The Patriots will play in no less than five prime-time games this season so nearly a third of the season will consist of late nights for the team and the fans.

The bye week comes at a perfect time for the Patriots in Week 9, smack dab in the middle of the season. After the injury-plagued campaign of 2015, the rest in the middle of the season is a perfect time for Belichick and Co. to re-charge their batteries.

There is a tough stretch in the middle of the year with a home game against the Bengals, then on the road against the Steelers and Bills. We should learn a lot about this 2016 team after that stretch.

The Seattle Seahawks come to Foxboro for a prime-time game which promises to be a tough one but it comes right after the bye week so the Patriots will have two weeks to prepare for Russell Wilson, Pete Carroll, and Co.

Patriots Hall of Fame Finalists Down to Clayborn, Faulk, Vrabel:
Also on Thursday, the Patriots announced three finalists for this year’s induction into the team’s hall of fame. This year’s finalists are CB Raymond Clayborn, RB Kevin Faulk, and LB Mike Vrabel.

Most fans are well versed in the exploits of Faulk and Vrable who were instrumental in the first three Patriots Super Bowl wins. Clayborn played for the Pats in an early era (1977-89) and was a three-time Pro Bowler. He set a franchise record for playing in 161 straight games.

Congratulations to all three finalists; you can read more on each and vote for your choice to be named to the Patriots Hall of Fame here: The Patriots are the only team in the NFL that allows the fans to vote and have a voice in who belongs in the team’s Hall.

Voting will be open until May 14. The Pats will announce the winner (the 25th member to be inducted), later this spring and the winner will be inducted later this summer, probably prior to one of the first two pre-season games either against the Saints or the Bears.

The Patriots Hall of Fame induction ceremony is held on the NRG Plaza just outside The Hall at Patriot Place presented by Raytheon. The outdoor ceremony is always free and open to the public.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Dolphins’ Gase Will Put Feet to the Fire Early:
The Miami Dolphins have a new coach in Adam Gase and the schedule makers at the NFL did him no favors. The rookie head coach will take his team on the road to two very tough venues to start the season. To Seattle and then to New England.

Making matters even tougher is the fact that Miami has been notoriously slow starters at the beginning of each season, going a combined 11-22 in September since 2006. Gase will have to buck that trend quickly if he wants to get his team off to a good start.

Of course, if Tom Brady’s suspension is reinstated, it will make the Dolphins’ job quite a bit easier. Miami’s final four games to end the season isn’t easy either, at home against Arizona, on the road to face the Bills and Jets (who BTW swept Miami in 2015) and back home against New England…Welcome to the NFL Mr. Gase.

Jets Get No Love from the NFL Schedulers:
The Jets are facing a daunting task in Todd Bowles second season, their schedule has them playing six of their first nine games on the road in 2016. Gang Green opens at home against the Cincinnati Bengals then goes on the road for four of the next five weeks, including prime-time games against the Bills and Cardinals. Intermingled in their road trip are games in Kansas City and Pittsburgh. Their next home game? Seattle.

Still no movement on the QB situation with Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Jets have an offer of reportedly $8 million on the table. There is also talk of trading Muhammad Wilkerson and moving up in the top 10 to take either QB Carson Wentz or QB Jared Goff.

Bills WR Percy Harvin to Retire at 27:
A month after saying thru sources “that he was definitely planning to play” Bills WR Percy Harvin’s hip injury may be forcing him into early retirement.

Harvin is only 27 but has been beset by migraines for several years and now this hip ailment that forced him onto IR last season with Buffalo.

After wearing out his welcome in Minnesota, he went to Seattle where he played brilliantly at times and others fought with his teammates even during a year where they won the Super Bowl. The Seahawks traded him to the Jets for the final eight games of 2014 and from there he signed a one-year $6 million-dollar deal with Buffalo.

He played well for the Bills until his hip landed him on IR. Harvin was an extremely talented player who was a threat to score every time he touched the ball.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast 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 News 2-21 and AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
February 21, 2016 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news notes and what’s happening around the division.

Mayo Was the Bridge from SB teams to the Current: With the retirement of Jerod Mayo this week, comes the end of an era. Mayo came along when the Patriots juggernaut of the early 2000s was reaching the end of the road. Linebacker Ted Johnson was already gone and Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and Willie McGinest were nearing the end of the road.

Mayo was taken with the 10th pick of the 2008 NFL Draft and immediately paid dividends. He was the Defensive Rookie of the Year and a 2-time Pro-Bowler but he was much more than that. He was the bridge that stepped in from those earlier Super Bowl teams and helped glue the defense until the time when they were able to add more pieces to form that winning Super Bowl unit of last season.

Mayo’s stats could have much higher in other places with other teams. But the Patriots asked him to stay at home and do the dirty work inside. And he did and paid the price of all those seasons with 100+ tackles as his body began to break down the last couple of years.

But he never complained and was a consummate professional, taking over as a team captain in Year 2. Bruschi called him an “old soul”, Bill Belichick raved about his work ethic and intelligence. Highly thought of by his teammates, kudos poured in this week from current and former Patriots who valued his presence both on and off the field.

While his retirement was a surprise, and he didn’t fit in the team’s plans perhaps in 2016, he will be missed.

Price Interview with T.J Moe Radio Gold: Our good friend from WEEI Chris Price is everywhere these days, in print on the station’s website, on the air with his Sunday football show and all over television as his expertise keeps finding new outlets.

But his podcast interview with former Missouri and Patriots slot receiver T.J. Moe is a must listen. Consider this one “Patriots Porn” for the football junkies. Moe spoke in detail about the NFL Combine and what he thinks of it and changes that should be made.

But the best part of the interview is when Moe talks in depth at the interview process with the Patriots as well as other teams. We’ve heard for quite some time that their method of conducting interviews was very different than other teams, and Moe brings you inside where few people have ever tread.

Moe also talks about Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and why NE wins so much…

Take a listen here: You’ll be glad you did.

What a send-off for Jared Allen, the long-time defensive end retired and rode off in the sunset with the best retirement video yet.

Coach Scar and the 2nd Year Jump: With the problems the Patriots had with their offensive line this season, it was easy and perhaps too much so to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of OL coach Dave DeGuglielmo.

While he was perhaps not reaching the players in the manner that the team hoped, the injuries and constant shuffling of players was a very difficult situation for anyone to be in. Much has already been said about his having to come in and immediately lose their toughest player, Logan Mankins but after a bad start the team turned things around and won a Super Bowl, so let’s not get too carried away with that.

But his contract wasn’t renewed and Dante Scarnecchia will be back in 2016. One obvious advantage he’ll have is that he’s scouted all of these players and knows their strengths and weaknesses better than anyone. So he should get them playing at a high level quickly.

Of course getting left tackle Nate Solder back is key for Brady’s blind side, but also the young players on the interior, guards Shaq Mason and Tre’ Jackson will be entering their second season as will center David Andrews. With Jackson and Mason making the all-important 2nd season jump in play, they should be much better in 2016. Andrews may push 3rd year center Bryan Stork for starting reps with the other perhaps backing up as a guard.

The team could use a veteran guard, perhaps the return of Ryan Wendell would ease things along. And an upgrade at right tackle, with many veteran tackles in free agency, the Pats could use an upgrade of youth and athleticism. Sebastian Vollmer has been one of the better RTs in the league. But he’s aging and has back and knee issues which aren’t good for big men. Perhaps bring in a FA (Mitchell Schwartz is frequent name linked to NE), redo Vollmer’s deal and move him to swing tackle. That would prolong his career and give the Pats an upgrade over high priced but often criticized Marcus Cannon.

This time with free agency and the draft should answer some questions along with the return of Coach Scarnecchia.

Teaser for a Guy with the “Right Stuff”: Check back with us soon for an interview with small school linebacker Larry Butler III.  Butler was the 2nd ranked linebacker coming out of JUCO and although had a commitment at Tennessee, opted for Div. 2 due to a technicality.

We sat down with this impressive young man and spoke to him, his head coach and defensive coordinator. He’s a small school stud that could find himself a home being a MLB/ILB in the NFL given a shot. He unfortunately wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine but that won’t stop this guy…

Goodell’s “Value” Poor at $34 Million: We frequently talk about player’s contracts and their value in terms of what the team gets in return. Well the NFL released its income for the 2014 season and Commissioner Roger Goodell was paid $34.1 million-dollars.

The Commish’s salary included a $3.5 million salary, a $26.5 million bonus, $3.7 million in retirement benefits and $350,000 in “other” benefits. According to the New York Times, “Goodell’s bonus was calculated in part on new business deals he brought to the league the previous year, which means that his bonus in 2014 reflected broadcast contracts and other revenue secured in 2013.”

NFL owners have frequently defended the enormous salary that Goodell is paid by the owners not the fans because they claim he’s brought so much to the table in increasing the league’s revenues. Bunk…. The product on the field sells, the players sell and the NFL would increase revenue with just about anyone as the Commissioner.

An interesting factoid in this is that Goodell’s compensation is determined by a committee that consists of Arthur Blank, Jerry Richardson, the owner of the Carolina Panthers and Bob Kraft owner of the New England Patriots…

The second highest paid member of the 345 Park Avenue HQs is NFL Counsel Jeff Pash (yes that one), who is paid $7.5 million-dollars per year. Value?

East Bound and Down, AFC East Notes:
Jets Brandon Marshall on Belichick, “I Own Him”:
Chalk this one up to just some off-season bravado, but it is guaranteed that it will be posted in the Patriots locker room this season. During a question and answer session on Twitter this week, Jets WR Brandon Marshall was asked if “Belichick haunted his dreams”…

Well Marshall’s answer was certainly one that didn’t mince words when he said, “I own him.”

Marshall has had good numbers against the Patriots in his career, in 10 games he’s 52 catches for 785 yards and five touchdowns, including a big 115-yard, two score game in the OT win by Gang Green in 2015. Those numbers are right around his career averages.

But lost in the message…Marshall’s teams are 3-7 against Belichick, hardly the ownership of him. Marshall is still looking for that first playoff appearance by the way, not Super Bowl, not win, ….appearance. But hey, it made for a fun day of Twitter.

Gase, the next BB has 3 Years to Turn Dolphins Around: Hyperbole wasn’t just around in NY this week, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross didn’t mince words this week, telling the media that new coach Adam Gase is the equivalent of Belichick and Bill Parcells.

“Instead of getting a retread that really hasn’t had a great track record as a head coach, I was looking for somebody that could be the next, if you will, Bill BelichickBill Parcells, you know, really great head coach, and I think we got one,’’ Ross said.

Ross went on to say, that Gase has three years to get Miami to the post season.

“Every year, there’s anywhere from six to eight coaches [who are fired], it’s the most objective thing in the world — everybody looks at their won-lost record,’’ Ross said. “There’s no other excuses. So every team, after three years, if we haven’t made the playoffs, we’re looking for a head coach. That’s just the way it is. The fans want it.’’

Things ought to be interesting in Miami next season.

Mario Williams on the Outs in Buffalo? There are more and more rumors that the Bills plan on releasing DE Mario Williams once the league year opens. The move will free up $12.9 million-dollars of cap space but is an intriguing one.

Reports have stated that Williams “struggled mightily” in 2015 and logged only 5 sacks after notching 14.5 in 2014 for the Bills. Sources from the Bills have quoted unnamed players stating that Williams wasn’t putting forth the effort last year.

Williams was outspoken on the Bills defensive game plans and was asked to drop into coverage a lot more than in the past under Jim Schwartz. Asked about a possible move into free agency, Williams spoke clearly that he expects 2016 to be much better.

“At the end of the day, if I’m not there, I’ll show you that I’m better than what I’ve been before. Like, that’s just a chip on my shoulder regardless of whether I am there or not, because given the opportunity I’ll get back to what I was.”

The money saved on Williams’ contract will be used to sign free agents Richie Incognito and Cordy Glenn according to GM Doug Whalley, their signings were “imperative” for the Bills this season.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast 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.

More Upheaval to the Patriots Front Office, Coaching Staff

Steve Balestrieri
January 29, 2016 at 9:14 am ET

Who takes over at key positional positions?

The Patriots continue their shake up with their coaching staff as Linebackers coach Patrick Graham has been signed by the New York Giants as their defensive line coach. It was an interesting item as it was in reality a lateral transfer and not a promotion. Graham had been rumored to be the defensive coordinator in-waiting, as the top candidate to replace Matt Patricia if he took a head coaching position.

That brings the count to three coaches who either left on their own this week or were not retained when their contracts came up. OL coach Dave DeGuglielmo was the first to be let go. The Patriots offensive line suffered a ton of injuries and the turnover there was incredible. The team used five different left tackles in 2015 and had 13 different line combinations.

The team also didn’t renew the contract of Strength and Conditioning Coach Harold Nash this week effectively ending his tenure with the team. The Patriots suffered an exorbitant amount of injuries in 2015 with 21 players placed on IR. The injury list continued to be long with the questionable players for the AFC Championship Game numbering 16. Something had to give and Nash was a kind of easy target this offseason.

The Patriots front office has also lost three key members, the Lions hired Bob Quinn as their new General Manager a few weeks ago and he poached the Patriots Director of Player Development Kevin Anderson to be the Lions Head of Football Operations.

Yesterday it was learned that the team will be looking for a new Medical Director as team doctor Matt Provencher resigned his post as the Chief of Sports Medicine at Mass General Hospital. Citing family considerations, Provencher is moving on from Mass General and the Patriots and is taking a position with the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colorado.

So where does the team go from here in regards to the coaching staff? The front office jobs are usually done from promotions within the ranks and that will probably be the case again but for the coaches, that may be the case as well.

Who Rights the Ship for the OL: The Patriots offensive line may not be as bad off as what the conventional wisdom is speculating. Did they underperform this season? Yes absolutely, but given the constant carousel of players due to injuries and as a result forcing three rookies to start immediately didn’t help matters.

They need a veteran upgrade inside where Shaq Mason and Tre’ Jackson are still looked at as the future there. With Ryan Wendell returning and free agency around the corner, this should play itself out quickly. At tackle with Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer returning, they need to re-sign LaAdrian Waddle and perhaps pick-up a vet free agent. There will be some good ones available.

Brian Daboll the current tight end coach would be the obvious coach to fill in as the new offensive line head. He’s a trusted member of the staff who has already filled in at plenty of different areas of responsibility.

He’s also the coach who many have penciled in as the next Offensive Coordinator if current OC Josh McDaniels takes another head coaching position elsewhere. Working with the tight ends, he already has a lot of insight in the OL issues, strengths and weaknesses.  Some other names that bear watching include:

Brian Ferentz the current offensive line coach at Iowa under his father, head coach and Bill Belichick confidante Kirk Ferentz. The younger Ferentz got his start with Belichick and the Patriots as a coaching assistant before becoming the tight ends coach for New England in 2010-11.

Ferentz has the background and pedigree that could immediately vault him right back into the professional coaching ranks. Whether or not he wants to leave Iowa and his father is a matter that would have to be addressed.

Rick Trickett is a total shot in the dark but he’s a very intriguing option. Trickett has been in the college coaching ranks tutoring offensive linemen for 30 years with various stops along the way. He’s been the OL coach at Florida State since 2007.

What makes him so enticing is that he and former Patriots OL Coach Dante Scarnecchia are very close and share many of the same viewpoints about offensive line play and evaluating players. They even speak similar, if you’ve ever heard the blunt and to-the-point Scarnecchia speak, Trickett is very similar.

Scar has spent a lot of time at FSU scouting prior to the draft and the Patriots have two of Trickett’s former players in center Bryan Stork and guard Tre’ Jackson now on the team. Whether or not they could entice him to leave the college ranks is another subject.

With Nash out at Strength and Conditioning, the obvious choice is his assistant Moses Cabrera. While he hasn’t been asked yet, it would seem a logical choice to name him as Nash’s successor and promote from within.

Replacing Patrick Graham as the team’s linebacker coach will be an interesting choice. Could the team choose no one and let defensive coordinator Matt Patricia handle that as an added duty? While not out of the realm of possibility, they’ll probably fill that. Two names to throw out there include:

Steve Belichick, Bill’s son has been a coaching assistant with the team and this may be his time to step up and take on some added responsibility. Having his father’s background coaching defense, the younger Belichick may be a dark horse candidate, but a great choice to fill the role.

He’d also have immediate respect within the locker room due to his pedigree. He’s been earning his way up the ranks as an assistant thus far. And the head coach may decide that it is time for him to add the additional responsibility.

Mike Vrabel, another total shot in the dark here, as Vrabel already holds a similar position with the Houston Texans. So Belichick would have to sweeten the deal and give him the added title of Assistant Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers Coach to pull him out of Texas.

But with Patricia also the subject of Head Coaching rumors, bringing back Vrabel makes sense as he too has been offered the DC position with the 49ers but declined. Belichick has always admired Vrabel for his intelligence, and he was one of his favorite players in his tenure here.

Knowing the system and Belichick is a bonus and he’d be a very logical choice as the next defensive coordinator once Patricia gets his shot at a head coaching job. Could Belichick entice him away from Bill O’Brien? That would be a great addition.

The Patriots are hardly in uncharted waters here, the team is quite used to Bill Belichick’s staff being raided during the off-season, and this one like the others, will be handled, mainly from within as has been his modus operandi. But who fills these positions will bear watching.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast 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, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
December 10, 2015 at 6:36 am ET

The New England Patriots head out on the road to face the Houston Texans on Sunday Night Football. The game was originally slated for 4:25 p.m. but was flexed by the league into the primetime slot.

The game will be televised by NBC with their top announcing crew of Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth on the call. The game will also be on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The SportsHub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call. Kickoff is slated for 8:30 p.m. ET

The Patriots (10-2) lost to the Philadelphia Eagles 35-28 at home for their second consecutive loss, the first time that’s happened since 2012. Tom Brady threw two picks including a 99-yard pick six as the special teams units allowed a punt to blocked and returned for a touchdown seconds before the first half ended and as well as an 83-yard punt return for a touchdown by Darren Sproles.

The Texans (6-6) lost to the Buffalo Bills 30-21 breaking a four-game winning streak as the Bills ran for 182 yards. Houston is still in the thick of the race for either a Wild Card or the AFC South Divisional Crown.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our  “Razor’s Edge”  column in 2015 to give a quick break down 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 meet for only the seventh time overall as Houston just entered the league 14 years ago. The Patriots hold a 5-1 overall edge including a playoff game in January 2013 and the last three in a row. This will be the fourth meeting between the teams in Houston where the Patriots hold a 2-1 advantage.

The last meeting between the teams was in November of 2013 with the Patriots taking a 34-31 win in Houston.

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

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots 2015 Opponents, Five First Impressions of the Texans

Steve Balestrieri
December 8, 2015 at 9:58 am ET

The Patriots return to the national stage with a Sunday Night Football matchup against the Houston Texans. The game will be played at NRG Stadium at 8:30 p.m.

The Texans (6-6), lost on Sunday 30-21 to the Buffalo Bills. Tyrod Taylor hit TE Charles Clay for a 40-yard touchdown pass with 1:53 left for the winning score. The loss snapped a four-game winning streak for the Texans. Brian Hoyer completed 26-43 passes for 293 yards with three touchdowns and an interception in the loss.

The Patriots (10-2), lost for the second straight week 35-28 to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Patriots gave up a blocked punt, an 83-yard punt return as well as a 99-yard interception return for touchdowns. Tom Brady had three touchdowns but two very costly interceptions in the game.

The game will be televised by NBC with their top announcing crew of Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth and Michele Tafoya.  It will also be carried by the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 FM the SportsHub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak.

Here are our five first impressions of the Texans:

Do These Texans Look Familiar? They Should: Head coach Bill O’Brien was the offensive coordinator here for the Patriots and has adopted much of the same playbook. Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel held the similar post here and was the architect along with Belichick of those excellent defenses of the early 2000s. Texans LB coach Mike Vrabel was a standout player for the Patriots during three Super Bowl runs. Offensive Coordinator George Godsey was a tight ends coach for the Pats.

QB Brian Hoyer was Tom Brady’s backup in New England. And of course Vince Wilfork now plays for the Texans after anchoring the line for more than a decade for the Pats. Big Vince was a key member of last season’s Super Bowl winning squad.

There won’t be much the Patriots can do or show that the Texans won’t in some capacity have seen before. It comes down to matching up, winning the one-on-one battles and production.

Watt Is Human After All: One of the key factors facing a Texans defense for the Patriots this week will be accounting for J.J. Watt. After a slow start where the Texans started 1-4, Watt was a big reason that the Texans turned their season around and once again leads the NFL with 13.5 sacks.

Last week, facing a banged up Buffalo Bills offensive line with backups starting at both right guard and tackle, it was assumed Watt would ride roughshod over the Bills. But it didn’t happen; RT Jordan Mills making his first NFL start and backup RG Kraig Urbik both had solid games. They stuck with their assignments and the Bills utilized a running game that gained 187 yards on the ground and largely negated Watt’s effectiveness.

Watt finished the game with a single tackle for a loss and just four tackles overall and at times was clearly frustrated. Jadaveon Clowney did have one of his best games of the season however with 2 TFL (tackles for loss) a sack and a pair of QB hits. Now that he’s getting healthy, he can be a disruptive influence opposite Watt.

Crennel Has Defense Playing Aggressive: Part of the reason for the early season struggles was the play of the cornerbacks. Romeo Crennel had little confidence in them and they played seven to eight yards off the line and passively. Now they play Jonathan Joseph and Kevin Johnson up close to the line with Kareem Jackson in the slot. Andre Hal took over for Rahim Moore at safety and the results have been very positive. Johnson is a rookie but playing very well.

By playing more aggressively, the Texans have really improved in YAC (yards after catch).  They’ve gone from 24th in YAC to 12th. Those wide open passes underneath are now contested ones and they’re generating more turnovers as a result.  They forced eight turnovers in the third quarter of the season after forcing just six in the first six weeks.

ILBs Brian Cushing and Eddie Pleasant have been good at covering the underneath passing game. Pleasant replaces run-stuffer Benardrick McKinney on passing downs. Quentin Demps is still somewhat of a liability at times in coverage and will be a target for Tom Brady this week. He was targeted on the Bills go-ahead touchdown by Charles Clay.

Texans Getting Creative Offensively: With the game on Sunday night, don’t be surprised to see O’Brien and the Texans to open up the play book against the Patriots to secure a big win and further their own playoff chances.

Houston has used direct snaps, Wildcat formations, option passes to keep opposing defenses off-balance. O’Brien would love to catch Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia flat-footed for a few plays this week.

They used Cecil Shorts to throw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Alfred Blue against the Jets which gave them a 17-10 lead in the fourth quarter. Speaking of Shorts, he took a big hit in the Buffalo game but is not in the concussion protocol and should be good to go for the game on Sunday night.

Hoyer, Hopkins playing at a high level: Houston QB Brian Hoyer and DeAndre Hopkins have settled in nicely with the Texans under Bill O’Brien and their play has been improving as the season moves on. Hoyer spent the first three years of his career as Brady’s backup but now he’s coming into his own as the Texans battle for a playoff spot.

Hoyer on the year has completed 61.2 percent of his passes for 2202 yards with 18 touchdowns and six interceptions for a 94.4 passer rating.

Hopkins is becoming one of the top receiving threats in the NFL and has 86 receptions for 1169 yards, good for a 13.6 yard average and 10 touchdowns. His latest touchdown, a 19-yarder from Hoyer against the Bills on Sunday broke the franchise record set by Andre Johnson. Against the Bills on Sunday, he had 5 catches for 88 yards and a touchdown. He’ll be the guy to watch in the passing game Sunday. He’s made some incredibly acrobatic catches as his one against Cincinnati can attest.

Big Vince Slowing Down: This season hasn’t been a great one for former Patriots standout  NT Vince Wilfork. It seems that the big man is finally starting to slow down and hasn’t been the disruptive run stuffer he’s been in the past.

Wilfork hasn’t been able to shed those double teams inside that he was so adept at for years with the Patriots and has been getting pushed back a lot inside.

As a result, Houston has been playing him right over the nose at 0-technique and having him shoot one of the gaps on either side of the center. But with Vince’s lack of speed, there are big avenues available for cut-back runs inside. It is one reason the Texans have been only so-so against the run this season.

It will be interesting to see if the big man gets his game elevated to the next level against his former team on Sunday night.

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