Patriots

Curran: Texans perfectly positioned to slow down Brady and the Patriots

Curran: Texans perfectly positioned to slow down Brady and the Patriots

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady’s completed less than 50 percent of his passes in 14 of the 273 games he started and finished. The Patriots are 6-8 in those games. Among the 14 are three games against Rex Ryan’s Jets, including two in 2013 and the second game of the season in 2009. There’s also the 2015 AFC Championship against Denver, the playoff win over the Texans last year, and the season-opening loss to the Chiefs this year.

The common denominator in those six games? Outstanding defenses with coordinators and personnel that knew Brady well and -- in all but the win over the Texans last January -- a dearth of wide receivers.

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Every year there’s a search for the BLUEPRINT!!! for slowing down the Patriots offense and making Brady look mortal. Google “blueprint for beating the Patriots” and you get 370,000 results. Many of those say the 2007 Giants crafted it first. Few of those mention praying for dropped interceptions and helmet catches in the final two minutes.

The most sure way to slow down the Patriots offense is to have really good defensive players who can bring pressure and (this is the key) hoping the Patriots are banged up at wideout and can’t do their usual damage in the middle of the field.

That’s your blueprint. And it’s in place this week. This isn’t saying the Patriots will lose to Houston, who I’ll wager won’t produce more than 10 offensive points. But I’ll also bet you straight up that Brady completes fewer than half of his passes against Houston.

No Edelman, Gronk with a groin, Danny Amendola coming back from concussion and Brandin Cooks still getting adjusted will leave the Texans knowing their key to success is jamming the middle and making Brady work outside.  

The Texans were fourth in the NFL in yards per attempt last season (5.83), second in passing yards allowed per game (201), first in first downs allowed per game (17) and second in completion percentage against (58.68).

Brady knows what’s coming. He talked about it earlier this week on WEEI with Kirk and Callahan, saying, “They were the No. 1-ranked defense in the league last year. I don’t think I completed many passes in that game, either. I think I was below 50 percent. They just did a good job of putting pressure and when you put pressure, the ball has to come out quick and they had a lot of guys in coverage, too. It was just tough to get rid of it quick. The one positive we took out of that game was we made a lot of big plays. Some teams are going to decide to take away some shorter throws, and they give up longer plays. I think we had seven plays over 20 yards in that game. We moved the ball pretty well. It just didn’t look super rhythmic."

The Texans were able to get pressure and drop a lot of guys in coverage because they have exceptional talent up front.

Brady broke down the Texans’ front on Wednesday, starting with J.J. Watt, saying, “Earlier in his career you used to kind of get a bead on where he’d be, [which] could help you out a little bit. But now they move him so much he’s going to really face every guy that you have up front. [He’ll] be on both sides, be inside, be outside. They run a lot of games. They’ve got a lot of scheme stuff that they use to try to get their guys free in the front, but all of those guys are exceptional athletes. J.J. is an incredible player. He’s been Defensive Player of the Year (three times). He’s got speed, quickness, power, he’s got all the moves, got all the counters. He’s just a tough guy to block.

“Then you pair him with Whitney Mercilus, who’s one of the most underrated players, I think, in the league in terms of rushing the passer to everything that he does to help that team. I know practicing against that guy how good he is. And then with Jadeveon [Clowney], he’s one of the most athletic guys in the league. He does some things that other people can’t do. He’s just size, speed, explosiveness. So all those guys on the same field at one time is a big problem for any offense. You don’t want to be holding the ball too long because you know that they’re going to get home at some point and I think that means we’ve got to really stay on track. We can’t have many negative plays. We’ve just got to play a really consistent kind of football for the entire game.”

The Texans are in a little bit of trouble at corner this week. One starter, Kevin Johnson, is down with an MCL and Johnathan Joseph will be playing with a shoulder injury that forced him from last week’s game against the Bengals.  

The Patriots made it look easy last week against the Saints, which caused people who’d been pointing out Brady was BORN IN 1977!!!! stare at their shoelaces for a few days. But they’re just resting because they’ll be back Sunday evening and into Monday with the same “old” song, ignoring the facts of the case.

The facts are that Brady -- with a full complement in the playoffs last year and the Texans missing J.J. Watt -- had his hands full to the tune of a 47.37 completion percentage, the lowest completion percentage in 34 career playoff games. Without Edelman in this season's opener (and losing Amendola midway through), he completed 44.44 percent of his passes -- fourth-worst among games he started and finished.

The key in this one could be Cooks. As Brady pointed out, the Texans yielded some chunk plays. Cooks, who’s got speed to spare on the outside, will likely be looking at press coverage that -- if he can be beat it -- will give him a chance to run under some Brady duck-and-chucks. And there will be some of those.

Texans head coach Bill O’Brien -- whose defense is run by former Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and former Pats linebacker Mike Vrabel -- isn’t looking at the KC game as a blueprint. He’s looking instead at the 27 points scored and the points left on the field by New England.

“When I look at their offense, obviously they didn’t win the game, but there were several things that they did in the game that were very good,” said O’Brien. “They’re a very dangerous team on offense. They play fast. They play with great efficiency. They have a different game plan every week, different personnel that they’re using and so, it’s difficult. You don’t really know what to expect. The combination of Tom and Josh [McDaniels], the brains behind that offense, it’s hard. It’s hard to deal with that and we’re just going to have to see what it is when the game starts and do the best we can to keep up with what they’re trying to do and go from there.”

The Patriots offense knows generally what’s coming from Houston and vice versa. The Patriots won’t be “rhythmic” and there will be balls skipping in the general vicinity of where Brady hoped a receiver would be when he let it go with Watt or Mercilus bearing down on him. Bet on it.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

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QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

3:00 Why has Bill Belichick been so surprisingly positive of his team’s performance in tight wins?

6:30 Phil Perry breaks down what grades he gave the Patriots on his report card following the win over the Jets

15:00 Reaction to the Austin-Seferian Jenkins overturned touchdown, and what changes need to be made in the NFL replay system. 

23:00 Why was Patriots offensive line much more effective against Jets?

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

25:00 Patriots-Falcons preview, how did Falcons blow a 17 point lead to the Dolphins?

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

FOXBORO - We’re not quite at the point of fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, or 40 years of darkness, or even dogs and cats living together, but this Patriots season isn’t headed down the right path, despite a 4-2 record and the top spot in the AFC East. 

There are several elements that appear missing at this juncture - chief among them a defense that actually has a clue. Please don’t celebrate holding the Jets to 17 points - I’m looking at you, Dont’a Hightower. Josh McCown threw for just 194 yards against the Cleveland freakin’ Browns for goodness sake, but he got you for 354 and two scores?! Even the 2009 Patriots defense is offended by that.

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We’d be foolish to think the Pats can’t get this leaky unit fixed for reasons so obvious I won’t state them in this space so as not to waste my time or yours. We also know - long before Bill Belichick’s 6 1/2-minute explanation on the Monday conference call - that it's not supposed to be perfect right now. Actually, it’ll never be perfect. That’s not how this game works. 

Yet week after week, we see uncommon breakdowns and one defender looking at the next as if to say, “I thought you had him?” or more to the point, “what the hell were you doing?” It started Sunday at MetLife on the third play of the game. Malcolm Butler, playing 10 yards off Robby Anderson, looking as if he’s never played the position before, inexplicably turning his back on Anderson even though the wide receiver makes no real move to the post. That results in just about the easiest completion of McCown’s life, a 23-yarder on third-and-10. 

On the same series, on another third-and-long, the Pats rushed four and dropped seven into coverage. Defensive end Cassius Marsh continued his season-long trend of rushing so far upfield he ended up in Hoboken. With Deatrich Wise ridden outside on the opposite edge, McCown wisely stepped up and found prime real estate with New York City views. He wanted to throw and could have when the Pats fouled up a crossing route from the backside of the play. But with that much room to roam, McCown took off, scooting for a quick 16 yards and another first down.

Fittingly, that drive ended with a Jets touchdown on yet another dumb play, this one courtesy of Mr. Hit or Miss, Elandon Roberts. Channeling his inner Brandon Spikes, the second-year pro blew off his key and responsibility on third-and-goal from the 1, charging hard to the line. This, despite one of the most feeble play-action fakes you’ll see. In fact, I’m not even sure it was a real play-action fake. Anyway, score it as a touchdown to Austin Seferian-Jenkins and an indictment on David Harris, who apparently can’t vault past the erratic Roberts on the depth chart.

Similar to the week prior in Tampa, the Pats found better footing after that. They forced three straight three-and-outs in the second quarter and then helped turn the game when Butler intercepted an ill-advised throw by McCown just prior to the half. They got another turnover to start the third, with Butler coming off the edge on fourth-and-1 and forcing McCown into panic mode. The veteran QB fired an off-target throw to - get this - a wide open receiver who went uncovered on a drag route and Devin McCourty was gifted an interception.

But this group frowns on prosperity. It took a little-seen rule to prevent a Seferian-Jenkins touchdown in the fourth, and on the game’s final drive, the Pats allowed a 32-yard completion on fourth-and-12. Then, on what turned out to be the Jets final play, the Pats let Tavaris Cadet leak out of the backfield and run unchecked 20 yards down the field. Had McCown not soiled himself again, Gang Green would have had a first down and at least one crack at the end zone. Then, who knows what the heck happens?

It was just a season ago that the Patriots led the entire NFL in scoring defense. If you’ll recall, we spent a better part of the year wondering if that defense was championship quality. Turns out they were. Right now, we’re wondering once again if this defense is of that ilk, but through an entirely different prism. It’s on the players and staff to change the current outlook, or those cats and dogs will have to figure out their shared space.