Tag Archives: Will Fuller

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

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

Familiar Faces, Familiar Opponents Face Each Other Again

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

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

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

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

Tom Brady:

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

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

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

Phillip Dorsett:

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

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

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

Dont’a Hightower:

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

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

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

Eric Rowe:

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

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

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

Rex Burkhead:

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

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

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

Adrian Clayborn:

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

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

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

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

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

Patriots – Texans Divisional Playoffs, Keys to the Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots Playoff Opponents, Five More Texans Impressions

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

Patriots Prohibitive Favorites in Rematch With Houston

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

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

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

Here are our further Five Impressions of the Texans:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 3 Patriots Report Card, High Marks in Shutout Win

Steve Balestrieri
September 23, 2016 at 11:27 am ET

The Patriots are 3-0 and one has to wonder how in the world doesn’t Bill Belichick ever get any consideration for Coach of the Year. This team perennially wins a dozen games and is always in the mix, yet he’s always snubbed as the coach du jour wins the coach of the year award. With the job he’s done thus far, to quote Celtics legend Larry Bird, “who is playing for second?”

So how did the Patriots grade out? Still missing Brady, Hightower, Ninkovich and Lewis, Jimmy Garoppolo joined the ranks of the missing Thursday night as he was scratched due to a sprained AC joint in his throwing shoulder.

So we’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.

Quarterback: A-
Jacoby Brissett got the start in place of Garoppolo, in lieu of Brady….and played with the poise that belied his lack of experience. The coaches came up with a masterful game plan that made his throws easier and relied on the running game, but it didn’t matter. Brissett did exactly what they were hoping for.

While his numbers weren’t anything special, 11-19 for 103 yards, he did rush 8 times for 48 yards and a huge 27-yard touchdown, it was what he DIDN’T do that stood out. The mantra from the coaches all week was “Don’t turn the ball over.”

He didn’t and ran the offense efficiently and made some plays with his feet when the protection broke down. He just missed on a couple of deep throws where the Pats had single coverage looks.

Running Backs: A
LeGarrette Blount followed up a big game against Miami with another big one just four days later against the Texans. Blount had a huge second half as he scored twice while rolling up 24 carries for 105 yards overall.

Blount was stopped for little gain in the first half but his value comes in with the team sticking with the run as he’s a closer and gets better on the 2nd and 4th quarters. Those one and two-yard runs in first half become much better as the game progresses. Blount in the second half carried 17 times for 94 yards and two touchdowns.

The team has leaned on him during Brady’s absence and he’s responded in a very big and positive fashion. Blount has already carried the ball 75 times for 298 yards and four touchdowns. His numbers play out over a 16 game season to nearly 1600 yards.  While those numbers won’t continue especially once Brady returns, it shows just how effective a runner he’s been.

Wide Receivers: B
This wasn’t a big game for the wide receivers as the coaches didn’t game plan a lot of throwing, in general, limiting Brissett to just 19 passes overall. Julian Edelman led the way with 4 of the 8 passes that Brissett completed to the wide receivers. Edelman also chipped in with three runs in the running game and acted as a decoy a few times in the backfield.

Malcolm Mitchell only caught one pass but it was a big 27-yarder and it perfectly symbolized the Texans frustration as he broke numerous tackles on the way to pick up the big first down. Amendola and Hogan each chipped in as well but one thing they all did well was to block in the running game, a must in the Patriots system.

Tight Ends: B
Martellus Bennett had another strong game in run support with his blocking which has been stellar all season. He too chipped in the passing game with a couple of catches as well as a run on a sweep where he picked up six yards.

Rob Gronkowski made his first appearance of the 2016 season and he appears that he’s far from 100 percent physically. He stayed in to block for the most part and was targeted in the passing game only once.

Offensive Line: A-
The story line this week (which Bill Belichick is waiting for), was the ferocious Houston front seven and how they were going to try and fluster the rookie QB into making mistakes. We bought into that line of thinking as well.

Well, the Patriots offensive dominated in the trenches last night. How many times did we hear J.J. Watt’s name on Thursday night? Jadaveon Clowney? Whitney Merciless? None of the big three for Houston had any impact or impactful plays during the game.

The Patriots rushed 39 times for 185 yards, which was good for a 4.7-yard average and three touchdowns. Houston didn’t get much pressure on Brissett and sacked him only once. It was Dante Scarnecchia’s charges best game thus far on the season.

Defensive Line: B+
The Patriots defensive line was very impressive on Thursday night. With their alignment, they basically dared Houston to run the ball. But while the Texans rushed for 109 yards in the game, they were generally ineffective doing so.

While rushing just four for the majority of the game, the Patriots were able to get enough pressure on Brock Osweiler to influence many of his throws. Jabaal Sheard, one of our pre-game players to watch had two sacks in a very strong game. Chris Long and Trey Flowers also had productive games at pushing the pocket and setting the edge.

The interior players, Alan Branch, Malcolm Brown and to a lesser extent Anthony Johnson and Vincent Valentine were stout at the point of attack. The Texans were trying to establish the run to set up play-action deep down the field and didn’t happen.

Linebackers: A-
Jamie Collins had his best game of the season. One of our other pre-game players to watch was a presence all over the field, had 14 tackles and an interception. Without Hightower in the lineup, Collins had to step up and he did in a big way. When Collins is playing like that, it is easy to see why he’s considered one of the better inside linebackers in the game.

Jonathan Freeny saw the most snaps in lieu of Hightower as he’s clearly earned the trust of Belichick. Shea McClellin and Barkevious Mingo played sparingly.

Secondary: A-
What a difference a few days makes. After getting gashed in the second half by Miami, the secondary, especially the cornerbacks turned in a fantastic performance. The plan was to take away the deep ball by having the cornerback’s undercut the routes of DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller and having over the top safety help in a Cover-2 shell. It worked perfectly.

Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler stuck with Hopkins (4 catches, 56 yards), and Fuller (3 catches for 31 yards) and even when they did make a catch, they were in a position to contest everything. It was a night and day scenario from Sunday.

McCourty, Chung, and Harmon did a great job of giving over the top safety help. Although they played far off the line, they did come up in run support. The leading receiver for Houston (by design by Matt Patricia), was the TE Griffin who caught 8 passes for 52 yards. The Patriots will take that all day long.

Special Teams: A
Punter Ryan Allen was fantastic on Thursday night…what a difference again from Sunday. He averaged 47.6 yards per punt and had six downed inside the 15-yard line. He more than anyone else, influenced field position all night long.

Stephen Gostkowski was perfect on five kicks (3 PATs, 2 FGs) and his mortar kickoffs were directly responsible for the Patriots for generating two turnovers. The only downgrade was rookie returner Cyrus Jones putting the ball on the ground twice. One of which got called back by the officials.

Coaches: A+
Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels, Matt Patricia and Joe Judge all get the highest grades possible. They put together a fantastic gameplan, saw the team see it thru perfectly and totally had their counterparts in Houston on the ropes all night long. Belichick put on a coaching clinic on Thursday night and to enter the game with a 3rd string rookie QB and win by 27 points is a testament how one-sided this game was.

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

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

Patriots Shut Out Texans 27-0 on Another Belichick Masterstroke

Steve Balestrieri
at 6:05 am ET

Michael Irvin May Be Onto Something

Bill O’Brien is a really good coach. And he’s surrounded himself with a very good staff and football team. They will no doubt be a playoff team in 2016 and will probably win their division again. But they, as a unit got taken to the woodshed on Thursday night by Bill Belichick and the Patriots as New England dominated in all four phases of the game, offense, defense, special teams and coaching in a 27-0 win on Thursday Night.

The Patriots were led by rookie QB Jacoby Brissett who ran for a 27-yard touchdown, LeGarrett Blount who turned in another 100-yard performance with a pair of touchdown runs, a fantastic performance by their special teams who caused two huge turnovers and a stifling defense, the Patriots improved to 3-0.

New England came in short-handed and Houston was actually favored in this one. With Tom Brady, Rob Ninkovich, Dion Lewis, Dont’a Hightower out and Rob Gronkowski just easing his way back on the field, Houston saw an opportunity to wrest control of the AFC with a signature win. Even backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo was out with a shoulder injury, prompting 3rd string rookie Brissett to start his first game. Instead, the Texans fly back to Houston wondering what the heck happened again as they were smoked badly.

Belichick on a very short week, came up with a masterful game plan that played to the strengths of his young QB and made his transition and throws easier. They leaned on their running game and veteran LeGarrette Blount. He also did what he always does, he took away Houston’s biggest weapons on offense and defense and forced you to beat him somewhere else with different players.

After a near melt-down by the secondary on Sunday, all the hand-wringing over what the talented Houston wide receivers would do on Thursday went for naught. The Patriots played a two-deep safety look against the Texans, essentially bracketing their talented pair of WRs in DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller with the cornerbacks covering underneath and safeties over the top.

As a result, the Texans penchant for throwing the ball deep was taken away right off the bat. The Patriots dared the Texans to run and then did a great job of stuffing them when they tried to take advantage. The defense frustrated and harassed QB Brock Osweiler who finished with the pedestrian numbers of 27 of 41 for 192 yards, 0 TDs, and 1 interception. Hopkins was blanketed by Logan Ryan all night and made just 4 catches for 56 yards. All of which were contested and forced him to make some acrobatic catches.

Houston didn’t even enter Patriots territory until there were less than a minute and a half left in the third quarter. They never seriously threatened to score as the Pats, playing outstanding team defense, stymied and frustrated them time and again.

On defense, J.J. Watt, Whitney Merciless, and Jadeveon Clowney were all relegated to a milk carton as they were missing all night. Houston’s best player on defense was former Patriot Vince Wilfork who was a force in run support.

Houston’s STs, as we pointed out in our keys to the game, was a problem area and the Patriots exploited them causing two turnovers that turned into points. The first, after a Pats FG, came on the ensuing kickoff. Brandon Bolden ripped the ball loose from Charles James and Duron Harmon recovered. Brissett two plays later ran a bootleg around the right side as Watt crashed inside into thin air and the rookie waltzed in for a score to make it 10-0. Punter Ryan Allen had one of his best games in a Patriots uniform. He downed punts inside the Texans 15-yard yard line six times and averaged 47.2 yards per punt.

O’Brien and Osweiler should have recognized what Belichick was doing to them defensively and opted to take the patient approach. There was room underneath for the Texans to work the ball to the tight ends and backs. They weren’t going to find any kind of room for those deep chunk passes down the field. But they continued to force the ball into tighter and tighter windows and Osweiler threw his fourth pick of the season. He tried to force a pass into double coverage and Jamie Collins picked him off for his second INT in two weeks.

Brissett Does His Job: What can you say about the rookie QB’s baptism of fire on Thursday night? His passing numbers weren’t eye-popping, 11-19 for 103 yards, and added eight runs for 48 yards and a score but he did what the coaches asked of him. And most importantly he didn’t turn the ball over. He showed remarkable poise for a young player who got very little work during training camp and the preseason.

2016-week-3-jacoby-brissett-zzdnf-250x250Belichick’s mantra to his young QB all week was don’t give the ball to them (Texans), keep it for us. So after his 27-yard touchdown run, Brissett wanted to show the coach he indeed was following the game plan and trotted off the field and promptly handed the ball to Belichick. The coach made sure that the ball found its way back to the QB.

“He’s just a hard-working kid that is really dedicated to doing what’s right for the team and trying to improve on anything that you tell him,” Belichick said. He just wants to do what the coach tells him to do. I’m glad we have him. Yeah, I was just holding the ball for him. That’s his ball. That’s his first touchdown ball, so that’ll go up in his trophy case.”

Blount Answers the Bell Again: Is there a guy happier to be in New England more so than the Patriots big running back? It is debatable. But just four days after carrying the rock 29 times against Miami, Blount carried it 24 more times for 105 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Just like Sunday, Blount’s runs in the first half didn’t net much in the way of yardage. He gained just 11-yards on seven rushes in the first 30 minutes. But those runs bear fruit in the second half. Houston’s defense is tough but not deep and the more Blount rushed, the better he got. His second half numbers, 17 carries for 94 yards and two scores. The second of which was a classic Blount breaking free and racing 41 yards to put the game away.

In Brady’s Goodell-enforced absence, we thought the Patriots would lean on the running game and Blount to ease the onus on the QBs. Thru three games, Blount has carried the ball 75 times for 298 yards and four touchdowns. Mission accomplished. He’s earned himself some ice-tub time this weekend.

This is the defense envisioned this summer: What a great overall performance by the Patriots defense. After an admittedly bad second half against Miami, they faced the team that throws the ball deep more than any other team. What did Houston do in the deep passing game? Nada, zilch, nothing. No chunk plays of 20+ yards downfield.

The corners, Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler contested everything and even when Osweiler completed a pass to Hopkins or Fuller, they were contested and there were zero yards after the catch.

In our players to watch piece, we highlighted Jabaal Sheard and said he was due for a breakout game. He notched a pair of sacks and had his best overall game of the season. Jamie Collins had a tremendous effort as well even without Hightower beside him at linebacker. They limited RB Lamar Miller as he was really ineffective at key points of the game. He did end up with 80 yards but many came in garbage time when the outcome was no longer in doubt.

Earlier this week, Michael Irvin from the NFL Network said that if the Patriots beat the Texans on Thursday night with their 3rd string QB that he’d change the names on his Lombardi Super Bowl trophies to Belichick. While a tad premature, maybe Irvin better get that engraver on speed dial.

So the Patriots are (right now), the only 3-0 team in the NFL. They’ll enjoy this victory over the weekend and on Monday, get right back to work. Rex Ryan and the Bills come to town next weekend. We’re on to Buffalo.

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

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

Five Patriots Players to Watch for Against the Texans

Steve Balestrieri
September 22, 2016 at 8:34 am ET

 

Thursday Night Has No Shortage of Intrigue

The Patriots take the field in the second of a three-game home stand to face the Houston Texans on Thursday Night Football. There is no shortage of story lines to focus on the game as both teams enter the contest 2-0 and look to continue early season success.

Not the least of which is who exactly will be quarterbacking the Patriots in Foxboro this week? With Tom Brady suspended and Jimmy Garoppolo suffering a sprain of the AC joint in his throwing shoulder, it looks like rookie Jacoby Brissett will get his first NFL start just two weeks after Garoppolo had his.

Houston has retooled a playoff team on the fly and added a number of good additions to their offense. But they’ve been winning with a stout, underrated and tough defense. Former Patriots coordinator Bill O’Brien is putting together a good team in Houston and they’re looking to take that next step.

Of course, the NFL will unleash the latest in uniform abominations with their “Color Rush” scheme for New England in an attempt to hide the generally weak product that passes for NFL competitions on such a short week.

Here are our five players from a Patriots perspective to watch on Thursday Night:

Quarterback Jacoby Brissett: My, my how quickly things can change in the NFL. Less than a week ago, all of the talk was on how would Garoppolo handle the success he had in Week 1 and would he be able to duplicate it. Now he’s injured and the rookie from NC State is thrust into the spotlight for the first time.

martin-brissett

Jacoby Brissett will be under the spotlight for the first time as a starter in the NFL (SBalestrieri photo)

He’s big, strong and athletic, things the Patriots liked about him when they scouted him during the draft process this spring. They took him in the 3rd Round of the draft with the 91st overall pick. He can scramble out of the pocket and can throw the ball down the field with ease. His accuracy on his short-medium throws is inconsistent, something we witnessed first-hand during minicamp and training camp this summer.

But what the Patriots like about him is his poise, his calm demeanor, and his smarts. With a very limited workload this summer, something that is not all that uncommon for 3rd string QBs, he’s gotten a crash course in running the offense on a short week. It will be a daunting task and the Texans will try to make life very difficult for him. One person who’ll be watching and rooting for the rookie will be former Patriots and Giants coach Bill Parcells. Parcells met Brissett in Florida and has been a mentor of sorts for the QB.

“I am glad that he is with Bill Belichick,” Parcells said to MMQB. “Because I know that gives him the best chance for success. I’m not going into an exposé about that. I’m just telling you I’m glad he is there, and I think Bill gives him an excellent opportunity to be successful.”

Running Back LeGarrette Blount: One of the lightning rods for criticism among Patriots fans, Blount, or LG as he’s known among the players and coaches is off to a good start in 2016. He had a solid game in Arizona and followed that up with an impressive performance against Miami as the Patriots have leaned on their running game in Tom Brady’s absence. Right now he’s on pace for 1544 yards for the season. While maintaining those numbers is unrealistic, it is worth noting how he’s played into the coaches planning, this early in the 2016 season.

Blount may be leaned on even more this week as with Brissett getting his first start. The coaches will want to ease the play calling for him by establishing the ground game while giving the rookie QB easier throws to complete. Obviously, Blount would be the big back to accomplish the first part of the equation.

While the front seven for the Texans is stout, there are some runs to be had against this group. One key area to watch is, after carrying the ball 29 times on Sunday, how fresh will Blount’s legs be just four days later?

Defensive End Jabaal Sheard: The Patriots defensive end opposite Chris Long has been quietly off to a decent start of the season. After missing the final few games of the preseason due to a knee injury, (MCL sprain) Sheard is rounding into form. He had four hurries and a QB hit on Sunday. Those hurries should be turning to sacks soon.

Jabaal Sheard

Jabaal Sheard is looking for a big game on the national stage this week. (SBalestrieri photo)

When the two teams met in Week 14 a year ago, Sheard had a big game garnering two sacks and two forced fumbles. And he’ll line up on the edge against backup LT Chris Clark because Duane Brown is out with an injury. Clark himself is dinged up a bit with ankle and elbow injuries although he was listed as a full participant in the team’s injury report.

In passing situation sub-packages, Sheard may kick inside and line up against left guard Xavier Su’a-Filo and center Greg Mancz. The Patriots will be leaning on their defense this week in an attempt to take the pressure off of their rookie QB. One way they can level the playing field is to have their front seven pressure the QB and possibly force a turnover or two and take away the deep passing game of the Texans. Sheard will be one of the key players to watch this week.

Honorable Mentions: Chris Long on the other edge going against banged up (knee), RT Derek Newton.

Cornerback Logan Ryan: After a particularly awful second half on Sunday against the Dolphins, the Patriots secondary is looking to rebound. And the Pats cornerback will be one of the key players to lead that turnaround this week. Ryan is likely to draw Houston’s best, most dangerous wide receiver in DeAndre Hopkins.

A year ago, the Patriots put Ryan on Hopkins with either Devin McCourty or Duron Harmon as safety help over the top. They held him to a single catch but it was a 40 yarder down the sideline. Even so, that was still looked upon as a win for Ryan and the secondary after Hopkins had been lighting it up prior to that contest.

But that was with the limited options Houston had at WR as well as their QB situation. They’ve upgraded both this year so it will be an intriguing chess match to see who rates the safety help as Will Fuller, the speedster from Notre Dame has been lighting it up as well.

Ryan has been very solid for the Patriots and arguably their biggest ball hawk in the secondary. Osweiler has thrown three picks thus far, and Thursday night would be a great time for Ryan to add to that total. He’s going to have to be very good on Thursday night as Osweiler and the Houston coaches no doubt watched the tape of the Miami game and will be looking to challenge the Pats corners.

Jamie Collins: Yes, another member of the defense has to step up this week, are we seeing a tendency here? For the Patriots to pull off the win here, as we’ve said, the defense is going to have to be the catalyst. We said that the first two weeks as well but it was the offense and not the defense that took the day.

Jamie Collins slips his block

Jamie Collins will look to have this type of penetration in the Texans backfield this week. (SBalestrieri photo)

Collins has been good but not great the first two weeks of the season. He did get an interception last week when Chris Long pressure Ryan Tannehill and Collins was in perfect position to haul it in. This week, he’ll need to be better than good. With Lamar Miller in the running game and an offensive line that has struggled to provide good holes for him to run in, Collins must be that downhill, explosive type player that is blowing up plays at the line of scrimmage or the backfield.

With Clark on the left side filling in for Brown, there will be some gaps that can be had for the blitzing Collins to influence things in a big way this week. The Texans don’t have a big tight end receiving threat. C.J. Fiedorowicz has caught just two passes for seven yards. Look for Collins to aid the pass rush this week.

Stay tuned to PatsFans.com as well have up-to-the-minute breaking news as well as post-game analysis.

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

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

Patriots – Texans Key Match Ups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
September 21, 2016 at 9:17 am ET

The New England Patriots will play the Houston Texans on Thursday Night Football at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m.

The 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 SportsHub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (2-0) defeated the Miami Dolphins 31-24 on Sunday in Foxboro. New England jumped out to a 31-3 lead in the third quarter with Jimmy Garoppolo having a strong game. But after his injury, the Dolphins rallied and the Pats needed a Duron Harmon interception in the end zone with two seconds left to seal the victory.

The Texans (2-0) beat the Kansas City Chiefs 19-12 on Sunday. The Houston defense was stout, allowing just four field goals and holding the opponents out of the endzone for the past six quarters. J.J. Watt who had offseason groin and back surgeries looks healthy to start the season. Against KC, he had 1.5 sacks, five tackles, and a fumble recovery.

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 8th time as Houston entered the league in the 2002 season. The Patriots hold a 6-1 advantage in these contests while holding a perfect 3-0 advantage at home, including a 41-28 playoff win over the Texans in 2012.

The Patriots dominated the Texans 27-6 just a year ago in Houston but that team that faced New England especially offensively is vastly different than the one they will put on the field on Thursday night.

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.