Tag Archives: Romeo Crennel

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…


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.

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MUST SEE: Bill Belichick Takes Subtle Dig At Jets During Press Conference

Robert Alvarez
August 16, 2017 at 8:36 pm ET

Every so often, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick will break his “all business” character, whether its joking about “SnapFace” or what he does during summer vacation, even one of the most serious members of the National Football league has had his share of quotes that have caught many reporting on him off guard.

On Wednesday while speaking to the media at The Greenbrier, another such “did he just say that?” instance occurred when Belichick was discussing his lengthy relationship with Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.


“Another team” of course is actually the New York Jets, where Belichick spent three seasons (1997-1999) as Assistant Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator under Bill Parcells, to go along with one day as Head Coach during his infamous surprise resignation in 1999. Crennel worked under Belichick as his defensive line coach during that timeframe.

The abrupt resignation and hiring with the Patriots triggered a tampering charge by the NFL that forced the team to send the Jets a first round pick in exchange for Belichick. Throughout the Belichick tenure in New England, the relationship with the Jets has continued to be rocky, reaching a new high after Eric Mangini kicked off Spygate following a report to the league office about the Patriots videotaping methods.

While the majority of Belichick press conferences provide little color or detail, this seemingly intentional removal of the Jets period of his NFL career during this presser is about the closest one will get to understanding how the coach really feels about how the way things ended there and how his resentment towards the franchise still remains with him after all these years.

PHOTO: Bill Belichick Enjoying Training Camp In West Virginia

Robert Alvarez
at 8:35 pm ET

Over the course of Bill Belichick’s tenure in New England, it’s a common public perception thatt he future Hall of Fame head coach is often times viewed as a guy who’s “always serious” with a “business first” attitude, especially during the grind of training camp.

However this week the Patriots have been participating in joint practices with the Houston Texans in a far more relaxed setting at The Greenbrier luxury resort in rural West Virgina and with it came some rare smiles from the coach alongside his girlfriend Linda Holliday.


Belichick and Holliday also posed for a happy group photo with former Major League Baseball Manager Tony LaRussa, a close friend of the Belichick family.


As with other recent meetings with the Texans, the matchup also provided the Patriots with a reunion of many former players and coaches that previously worked in New England.

Some ex Patriots include Head Coach Bill O’Brien, Assistant Head Coach Romeo Crennel, Defensive Coordinator Mike Vrabel, Special Teams Coordinator Larry Izzo, and Special Teams Assistant Wes Welker.

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]

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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 2016 Opponents, 5 First Impressions of the Texans

Steve Balestrieri
September 20, 2016 at 8:02 am ET

Bill O’Brien Upgraded the Offense of a Playoff Team

The Patriots return to Foxboro just four days after their home opening win over Miami. They’ll be taking on the 2-0 Houston Texans who have been impressive the first two weeks of the season. The two teams met a year ago with the Patriots rolling to an easy win but this Houston team is vastly different than the one that the Patriots had their way with.

The teams will meet on Thursday Night Football on the NFL Network at 8:30 p.m. With Jimmy Garoppolo being hurt in the Miami game, the Texns will face rookie QB Jacoby Brissett in his first NFL start.

Here are our Five First Impressions of the Texans:

Osweiler was an easy choice: When the Texans lost their playoff game to Kansas City 30-0 a year ago, it was obvious that some wholesale changes needed to be made with the offense and they started at the most pressing, at quarterback. Houston waved goodbye to former Patriots Brian Hoyer and signed free agent Brock Osweiler.

Osweiler had an extended cameo of his services when the Broncos sat down Peyton Manning during their Super Bowl run a year ago. When John Elway balked at giving the youngster a new contract this offseason when they tried to lure Manning back for a final season, Osweiler bolted for the Texans signing a 4-year, $72 million-dollar contract.

He has a ready-made excellent QB coach in Bill O’Brien who will be hard but fair with him. O’Brien will develop his talents to the utmost. So far, the big QB has played well. He’s had some hiccups with turnovers, he’s thrown three so far, including two against the Chiefs on Sunday, but O’Brien isn’t worried, as mistakes will happen while learning a new system. And the Texans is much like the Patriots, very different than what they ran in Denver with Gary Kubiak.

But Osweiler is a big upgrade at the position for Houston. They’ve added the pieces around him to make the offense much more difficult to stop in the coming weeks.

Miller Fuller Add Big Pieces to the Offense: The Texans made a couple of splashes in free agency, bringing Osweiller in and also bringing in running back Lamar Miller from the Miami Dolphins this spring. With Arian Foster on IR last year, the Texans were in need of an upgrade there. Foster ended up with the Dolphins, signing there this summer so the teams essentially traded backs.

Miller was a great pickup for Houston, he was very underused in Miami and is a good runner and pass receiver and at just 25 years old is an upgrade over Foster at this time of his career. He’s been the workhorse for Houston carrying the ball 53 times for 189 yards on the season adding six receptions for 26 yards. He was stopped for three quarters by the Chiefs but O’Brien stuck with the running game and Miller was able to grind out yards and kill the clock down the stretch.

The Texans drafted the speedster Will Fuller from Notre Dame in this year’s NFL Draft with the 21st pick in the first round. It was obvious they needed a threat opposite DeAndre Hopkins and they let Nate Washington and Cecil Shorts go. Fuller, a 6’0, 175-pound wide receiver has excellent speed and thus far has proven to be a perfect complement to Hopkins.

Thru the first two games, Fuller has nine catches for 211 yards (23.4 yard average), and a touchdown. He’s the first rookie since DeSean Jackson in 2008 to have two 100 yard receiving games in his first two NFL games. He and Hopkins are a dynamic duo and facing a Patriots secondary that did not have a good game on Sunday.

Watt is Still the Driving Force in a Good Texans Defense: Houston’s J.J. Watt seems to be completely recovered from offseason back surgery and he’s the guy to watch for a Houston defense that hasn’t allowed a touchdown in six quarters.

Watt missed all of July and nearly all of August’s workouts and is admittedly still working his way back into football shape. He told the media on Sunday, that in the opener he knocked off some rust and that he just added to that this week.

“I don’t think I’m all the way there yet,” Watt said. “But, I definitely felt a little bit better today than I did last week and I think it’s going to continue that way.”

Watt’s “a little bit better” totals on Sunday? Five tackles, 1.5 sacks and a fumble recovery. Houston held Kansas City out of the end zone on Sunday and sack QB Alex Smith four times in the 19-12 victory.

Now on the short week, Watt and Co. will be facing the Patriots rookie QB in Jacoby Brissett on Thursday night.

If Texans Seem to be Familiar, They Are: 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.

Special Teams Coverage Units Still Have Questions: One of the other weaknesses on the Texans a year ago was on their Special Teams. In the playoff loss to Kansas City they gave up an opening kickoff return for a touchdown which set up a frustrating day for the Texans as they lost badly.

That prompted the hiring of Izzo as the STs coordinator. During the preseason, the Houston coverage units were pretty solid but against the Chiefs again, breakdowns in coverage again reared their ugly head.

KC’s electric returner, rookie Tyreek Hill gave the Texans fits on Sunday. He averaged 15.8 yards per punt return, 27.7 yards per kickoff return, and took a kick back for a TD that was brought back on a very questionable holding call.

Is this just an anomaly due to a rookie returner that the team didn’t have enough tape on? Or is this an area that could be possibly exploited on Thursday. This will be an area that will bear watching.

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.

Who are the Players to Watch, Patriots at Texans

Steve Balestrieri
December 12, 2015 at 8:53 am ET

The Patriots are in unfamiliar territory having lost two games in a row and with those back-to-back losses have dropped to #3 seed in the AFC playoff race. Now they look to get back on the winning track against a resurgent Houston team on Sunday Night Football.

The Texans, like the Eagles last week are very much in the hunt for not only a Wild Card berth but their division lead despite a 6-6 record. They had their four-game winning streak broken last week with a 30-21 loss against the Bills and will be looking to also get back on the winning track.

We already broke down this game with our Key matchups breaking down the offensive, defensive and special team’s units for this week.

Now it is time for our players to watch for this week:

James White: The Patriots have struggled on 3rd downs since the injuries to Dion Lewis, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski have decimated the receivers for Tom Brady. From humming along at about 50 percent, the past few games the team is struggling at a 15 for 58 conversion rate, which is nearly half of what they were doing earlier in the year.

During their recent four-game winning streak, the Texans were allowing only 21.2 percent of third downs while racking up 16 sacks. This is going to be a key area to monitor on Sunday night.

With Amendola back, albeit not at 100 percent, Brady has to go back to what the Patriots do best, which is to move the chains and not take so many deep shots down the field with players that aren’t suited for that role. Running back James White is a player that can help them get back closer to that percentage and keeping drives alive.

White has proven to be a good blocker in pass protection and one way to slow down opponents’ pass rushes is to hit them with some screen passes to the running backs. In the second half of the Eagles game, the team used him much more. They should take some of the shackles off of him and give him plenty of work in the short passing game and get back to what they do best.

Key Stat: White caught 10 passes for 115 yards on Sunday with a touchdown. If the team starts using him more, it will take some of the burden off of Brady.

Brandon LaFell: LaFell is having a rough 2015 after a particularly strong finish to last season’s Super Bowl run. After missing all of the spring and summer workouts, he’s struggled to get back in sync with Brady and drops have plagued him since his return.

Without Edelman and Gronkowski, the onus was being placed on both him and Scott Chandler and thus far he hasn’t answered the bell. Last week he caught just four passes for 27 yards against the Eagles and drops and not properly running of routes was particularly costly.

LaFell has had just one game in 2015 with more than four catches; he’s not a #1 type receiver but he’s going to have to step up much more in the coming weeks. One thing they can do is get to him running some slants that can take advantage of his size. Those have been there for the taking and cut back on the deep routes that they’re asking him to run all too frequently.

Getting him more involved will not only help in the short term but make the offense that much tougher to stop once Edelman and Gronkowski do make their return to the lineup. Facing a good defense in the Texans on primetime is a great place to start.

Key Stat: LaFell has been targeted 56 times in 2015 without scoring a touchdown. That is the most in the NFL.

Chandler Jones: The Patriots talented 4th year defensive end is having one of the best years in his career and is currently 3rd in the league with 10.5 sacks. His improved play against the run this season has been one of his biggest jumps in 2015.

This week however, the Texans running game hasn’t been overly effective since Arian Foster went down with a season-ending injury. They’ve been attacking the field with the passing game and it is here where Jones will have to step up this week.

Jones and fellow edge players Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard will have to put some pressure on Brian Hoyer this week to take away those deep shots to DeAndre Hopkins. Consistent QB pressure is the key this week and Jones will be looked at to lead the way this week. His next sack will tie his career high with 11.5.

Key Stat: The Patriots are one of only four teams without a defensive or special teams touchdown in 2015. With the offense struggling the past few games, this would be the time for Jones to turn that stat around.

DeAndre Hopkins: The Texans talented wide receiver is rapidly becoming one of the best in the league at his position. The 6’1, 218 lb receiver accounts for 27 percent of the Texans offensive output in 2015. They have faith in him even when he’s blanket covered that he’ll be able to go up in contested areas and come down with passes.

He’s caught 86 passes for 1169 yards and 10 touchdowns this season and has outstanding speed, catch radius and hands. He’s Hoyer’s most frequent target in the passing game and has more than double the receptions of their next receiver (Cecil ShortsIII – 40).

Whether the Patriots use Malcolm Butler, who they’ve used to cover many of the top receivers in the league or Logan Ryan, they’ll probably bracket Hopkins with some over the top safety help. They won’t shut him down…no one has. But the plan has to be from limiting him from having a huge game….it will be a tough task.

Key stat: Hopkins has been targeted 152 times second most in the NFL in 2015

J.J. Watt: The Texans uber-talented defensive lineman has been on a roll since the Texans started their resurgence. He leads the NFL with 13.5 sacks and has had two seasons with 20 or more.

The Texans like to move him around a lot and find a spot where he can take advantage with most of his opportunities. He must be liking his chances this week of adding to his total facing a Patriots offensive line that has been banged up and in flux all season long.

Watt broke his hand in practice this week, and missed practice both Thursday and Friday but plans on playing Sunday night. How much his hand will affect his game will be an area to watch.

Key stat: In the last three games against New England, Watt hasn’t been much of a factor, albeit against a healthy offensive line. His stat line in those three games: 8 tackles, one forced fumble and .5 sack, far below his normal production. Limiting his effectiveness will go a long way in gaining an edge this week.

Brian Hoyer: The Texans starting QB served as Tom Brady’s backup for the first three years of his career and he’s used those formative seasons as a stepping stone to the success he’s having in 2015.

Bill O’Brien pulled the plug on him too early in the first game of the season and the team went to Ryan Mallett who is no longer with the club. Since Hoyer’s return to the starting lineup, he’s playing much better and has got the offense under control. They’re not a juggernaut but his play has been steady.

For the season Hoyer has completed 188 of 307 for 61.2 percent, good for 2202 yards with 18 touchdowns and just six interceptions for a passer rating of 94.4.

Key Stat: Hoyer has taken great care of the ball inside the red zone in 2015. His RZ numbers include 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions. When they get inside the 20 yard line, he’s not making any mistakes that would take away a chance at points.

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.

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.