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Patriots and Texans Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
September 21, 2017 at 10:26 am ET

The New England Patriots will meet the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. Kickoff is scheduled for Sunday afternoon at 1:00 p.m.

This week’s game will be televised by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4 in Boston. Ian Eagle will handle play-by-play duties with Dan Fouts as the color analyst. Evan Washburn will work the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (1-1) were back on the winning track with a 36-20 thumping of the New Orleans Saints on the road. Tom Brady was laser sharp throwing for 447 yards as New England rolled up 555 yards of offense.

The Texans (1-1) also were back on the winning side of the equation. Led by a 49-yard touchdown run by rookie QB Deshaun Watson and a stifling defense, the Texans beat the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday Night Football 13-9.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2016 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Texans will be meeting for just the 10th time as Houston entered the league in the 2002 season. The Patriots hold an 8-1 advantage in these contests while holding a perfect 4-0 advantage at home, including a 34-16 playoff win over the Texans in Gillette in January.

The Patriots dominated the Texans 27-0 in Week 3 of the 2016 season with Jacoby Brissett, the Pats rookie 3rd string QB at the helm. The defense shut down and shut out the Texans that night forcing three turnovers while rushing for 185 yards.

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

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Texans Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Houston

The Patriots running game made some big changes this season bringing in Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead to go along with James White, Dion Lewis and James Develin. Gillislee has been productive scoring four touchdowns in his first two games but Burkhead is banged up and may miss this one.

The Texans front seven is very, very good with one of the best in the business in JJ Watt to go along with Whitney Mercilus, Benardrick McKinney, and Jadeveon Clowney. After a Week 1 aberration, they were back to being their normal stout self against the run, doing a bang-up job of stuffing the Bengals running game.

The Patriots will have to do a good job of mixing things up to keep them off-balance this week but it going to be tough running consistently on this group. Look for the backs to make their presence felt in the passing game.

Patriots WRs vs Texans Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots passing game was clicking on all cylinders last week against the Saints despite being severely shorthanded with only three healthy wide receivers. Brady used his running backs to great effect and this week will be another case of that, although the team will probably get Danny Amendola back which will be a huge help in the slot.

Houston has the pass rush which can rush either three or four and still get to the QB. Watt, Clowney, and Mercilus are outstanding at getting home and keeping #12 upright will be a huge test for an offensive line that wasn’t great a week ago.

Brady and NE get the slightest of edges here. They’re at home and Houston’s CBs are banged up. Both Jonathan Joseph and Kevin Johnson left last week’s game. Joseph should play this week but Johnson will be out a few weeks. Look for Brady to force the linebackers into coverage with the running backs this week to keep that pass rush at bay. This is why they picked up Brandin Cooks. He could be a big factor here as he’ll face single coverage at times this week and they have to pick their spots and make them pay. *Interesting tidbit* Houston hasn’t allowed a 300-yard passer in 30 games.

Next up the Houston offense:

Texans RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

Lamar Miller remains the workhorse for the Texans running game. They also have the good-looking rookie RB from Texas D’Onta Foreman who shined in the preseason game against the Patriots. Alfred Blue may be back for this one but the issue has been the offensive line play. They’re banged up and not opening holes. Watson the rookie QB could be the X-Factor in the running game this week.

The Patriots were much better stopping the run last week allowing just 81 yards on the ground and 28 coming on the final play of the game in garbage time. Dont’a Hightower was back at practice on Wednesday so he has a chance to play. But David Harris, who played just one snap in New Orleans could be a bigger factor here this week. Elandon Roberts and Kyle Van Noy had a much better game in Week 2 along with the defensive line which held firm in run support.

I’m looking for New England to try to stop the run and force the game into Watson’s hands throwing the football. If they can do that, with his depleted weapons around him, then they’ll be in good shape.

Texans WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge New England

Tom Savage’s turn in the barrel lasted all of one-half as Bill O’Brien went to the talented rookie QB Watson who came on in the Week 1 loss in the second half and started last week in Cincinnati. He was missing all three tight ends last week (concussion protocol) as well as WRs Will Fuller and Bruce Ellington and was forced to rely solely on the uber-talented DeAndre Hopkins. He gets Ellington back this week as well as TE Ryan Griffin who caught 50 passes a year ago which will help. Look for them to try some trickery this week to ignite a passing game stuck in neutral.

The Patriots secondary continues to have some issues in communication. Specifically the rub-routes and pick plays have been giving them fits. But with a limited cast of weapons at his disposal, they have the advantage in the secondary. Look for them to play Hopkins underneath with a corner with over the top safety help. The pass rush focus this week will on keeping Watson in the pocket and forcing him to throw from there. If he begins making plays with his feet then, they’ll have troubles. The pass rushers, Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise will have to stay disciplined against a Houston offensive line having some issues.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Push

The Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski missed his first extra point on Sunday but made the rest including three field goals, his kickoffs, however, continue to pin teams deep. Ryan Allen didn’t have the best game a week ago but is solid with excellent directional kicking and hang time. The Texans are going with Kaimi Fairbairn this year as their kicker with solid long-time veteran Shane Lechler as their punter.  

Houston’s coverage units were awful in 2016 and last week gave up a 33-yarder to Adam Jones. The question for New England is who will return the kicks? Dion Lewis returned a kickoff for a TD against them in January….he may get the nod again.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This is going to be an interesting chess match. Bill O’Brien knows that Bill Belichick will try to force the game into Watson’s hands. WIth limited weapons and averaging just 4.85 yards per pass, he still has a long way to go. The Patriots are banged up offensively and the Texans will try to put pressure on Brady to take away that short passing game in the middle of the field.  The keys to the game from a Patriots perspective are:

  •         Don’t Turn the Ball Over: Houston is a very limited offensive team, especially in the passing game. Don’t make their job any easier by handing them a short field and letting their offense get some easy points. In a close low-scoring game, the Patriots, at home have the edge here. Making the Texans move the length of the field to score a small piece at a time will be their plan this week.
  •         Start Quickly and Put Pressure on them to Keep Up: Brady and the Patriots have the ability to score quickly and often and getting off to a quick start is a great way of putting pressure on both Houston’s defense as well as their offense.With a limited offensive arsenal, a quick start like last week will be exactly what O’Brien doesn’t want. It will force Watson into throwing and Belichick and Matt Patricia will show the rookie some different looks to try to confuse him and force a turnover or two.
  •         Stop Miller in the Running Game and Force the Ball into Watson’s Hands: This has been the Patriots M.O. forever against young QBs. If they can stuff the run and consistently get the Texans into obvious passing situations then they’ll be in good shape. The communication has to be better and they’ll have to bracket Hopkins and take their chances with Braxton Miller and Ellington. If they beat you…so be it. But they don’t want Hopkins having a big game.

Bottom line, New England holds serve at home but Brady will have a much rougher go this week against that stout defense. Look for James White and Dion Lewis to be targeted often in the passing game, trying to force the Texans linebackers in coverage. It should be a close one with New England pulling away with a late score. No style points this week.  Patriots 24-14

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots – Texans Divisional Playoffs, Keys to the Game

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

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

This week’s game will be televised by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4 in Boston. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Phil Simms as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will work the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (14-2) were on a bye week after winning the top seed in the AFC. They finished off the regular season by beating the Miami Dolphins 35-14 to finish the season with a perfect 8-0 road record. Now they’re rested and ready to go

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

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2016 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

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

The Patriots dominated the Texans 27-0 in Week 3 of the 2016 season with Jacoby Brissett, the Pats rookie 3rd string QB at the helm. The defense shut down and shut out the Texans that night forcing three turnovers while rushing for 185 yards.

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

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots Playoff Opponents, Five More Texans Impressions

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

Patriots Prohibitive Favorites in Rematch With Houston

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

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

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

Here are our further Five Impressions of the Texans:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.