Patriots at Texans Preview: How The Pats Get Back To Winning

As one might expect there are a lot of numbers that favor the Patriots heavily in Sunday night’s tilt against the Houston Texans.

For starters, the Patriots are an outstanding 52-9 in the month of December since 2001, which is good for a .852 win percentage. By far the best in the league.

Second, the Pats have lost three in a row just once since 2001, again, by far the fewest in the NFL. The only 3+ game losing streak came in Weeks 4-8 in 2002 (at SD, at MIA, vs GB, vs DEN).

For the Texans, it has been a roller coaster ride of a season. Houston went 2-5 to start the season, then 4-1 in their last five games.

It’s not very surprising to see that the Texans go as their defense goes. When J.J. Watt and company are rolling, this Texans team can be as stout defensively as any in the league.

Since Week 8, the Texans defense is conceding just 13.0 points per game. The second fewest in the league in that span.

Let’s take a look at a few keys to the Patriots getting back in the win column:

On Offense

Protect TB12: This one is easy. Over the last four weeks no quarterback in the NFL has taken more hits than Tom Brady (32 QB hits). The problems with the offensive line have been exacerbated due to injuries to Brady’s top weapons. Based on the Buffalo game, it is apparent that J.J. Watt prefers to lineup to the quarterback’s right. The Texans move him around a bit, but for the most part he’s lined up as either an edge rusher or over the offensive guard on the QB’s right side. Former first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney is healthy, and will play. He had his moments against the Bills, and lined up almost exclusively opposite of Watt to the left of the QB. The reason I bring up their respective alignments is because the Patriots will need to identify where Clowney and Watt (especially) are on every snap. Last week, I wrote about how the Patriots would need to slow down the Philly pass rush, and Fletcher Cox. Cox totaled 14 quarterback pressured by himself on Sunday, and the Eagles hit Tom Brady 13 times. Not exactly successful execution of the game plan. That will need to change against the Texans, as protecting Brady against Watt and company is the #1 priority of this game.

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Run The Damn Ball!!: For some unknown reason the Patriots completely abandoned the run in the 2nd half vs Philadelphia. In the first half, the Pats had 80 rush yards on 17 carries. In the second half, they had just 23 yards on 8 carries. The score dictated that somewhat later in the second half, but the Patriots had an effective running game going in the first half and forgot about it in the 3rd quarter. Houston’s rush defense recovered after a rocky start in their four game winning streak, but the Bills rushed for 187 yards in Week 13. The Bills are one of the league’s top rushing teams, and the Pats don’t have a Shady McCoy, but this Texans defense can be run on.

Gut Check Time For Brandon LaFell: Brandon LaFell was a no show last week against the Eagles despite a terrible Philly secondary that couldn’t cover anyone over the previous two games. LaFell had just 4 catches (2 drops) for 27 yards on 9 targets. This Texans defense struggled covering in the deep portion of the field and in the red zone against the Bills. The Patriots need LaFell to step up and make some plays on Sunday.

On Defense

Make Hoyer Uncomfortable: Hoyer dinked and dunked his way to 293 pass yards and 3 TDs against the Bills. Buffalo got to him twice, but the Texans quarterback looked far too comfortable in the pocket and was in command of the offense. Hoyer doesn’t add much in terms of downfield passing, but he took what the defense gave him in the short portion of the field. If the Patriots want to slow down a Texans pass offense that’s actually ranked 11th in the NFL they will need to rattle Hoyer on Sunday.

Shutdown WRs Not Named DeAndre Hopkins: Obviously the main focus of the Patriots defensive gameplan will be focused around Texans star receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Having said that, Cecil Shorts was actually the team’s leading receiver against Buffalo (91 rec yds), and Nate Washington led the team in targets (11). Shorts had a number of big catches in the short portion of the field in Week 13, and also lined up in the wildcat a few times too. Hopkins clearly has the higher ceiling, but Shorts and Washington have been productive this season when defenses give so much attention to DHop.