Curran's Patriots-Texans preview review
Curran's Patriots-Texans preview review
FOXBORO – The Patriots opened the season winning without Tom Brady, Rob Ninkovich, Rob Gronkowski, Dion Lewis, Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer. Last week, Solder came back but Donta Hightower’s name was added to the absent list and, again, they won anyway. This week, you can probably scratch Jimmy Garoppolo. So the question is, can the Patriots rip off a home win on prime time in a short week against a 2-0 team and leave Roger Goodell screaming at the moon?
Four quarters remain in Tom Brady’s suspension and the team is 3-0 beating a pair of 2015 playoff teams in prime time, this one in embarrassing fashion. A coaching tour de force from the Patriots staff as they demolished Houston in all three phases.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
The Texans haven’t allowed a touchdown in the past six quarters against the Bears and Chiefs. Neither of those offenses are what one would describe as clicking on all cylinders. KC threw 15 times to Jeremy Maclin and completed six. They got 53 yards in chunk runs in the first half but were pedestrian otherwise. The Bears are pretty bad, as their MNF loss to Philly showed. Even with a rookie likely starting for them, the Patriots have every reason to believe they’ll give Houston more to handle than either Chicago or KC. Why? Personnel. Through two games, New England’s showed signs of a running game that can cover some serious issues. LeGarrette Blount ran for 123 against the Dolphins and, while his output against the Cardinals wasn’t eye-popping, it was effective. The Texans have plenty of defensive talent -- JJ Watt, Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney and Vince Wilfork are or have been Pro Bowl-level. Kareem Jackson and Jonathan Joseph are experienced corners. Regardless of who takes quarterback snaps, the offensive line will dictate the success of the Patriots offense. And after a very solid performance last week, it will be interesting to see if they can back that up.
The offensive line absolutely validated last week’s performance by keeping Jacoby Brissett out of harm’s way (one sack) and opening holes for LeGarrette Blount (105 yards). Josh McDaniels put in a terrific plan, taking advantage – selectively – of Brissett’s mobility, keeping his reads simple and playing to his strength as a passer: velocity throws underneath and outside the numbers which were low risk. The Patriots kept Gronk out of harm’s way, throwing to him just once on an end zone lob.
WHEN THE TEXANS HAVE THE BALL
Houston keeps putting pieces in place. After being held hostage a bit by the limitations of Brian Hoyer, they splurged on Brock Osweiler in free agency and added Will Fuller in the draft. He’s a long, speedy wideout to take the heat off of DeAndre Hopkins. They also brought in Lamar Miller from Miami and he’s pounded out 189 yards in the first two games. The two downfield threats will stress the Patriots a bit. Last year, they were able to play with a lone deep safety who helped to Hopkins’ side while Logan Ryan manned up on Hopkins. This year, they may have to keep two safeties back meaning more room underneath and in the box and opportunities for checkdowns and possible chances to involve tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz. The absence of Donta Hightower was absorbed last week against the Dolphins by a swarming group of defenders that forced punts and turnovers for the first half-plus before Miami got untracked and put together three long TD drives that marred the defense’s otherwise impressive day. Malcolm Butler wasn’t himself last week. He’s got a knee issue that could make him a target. The Patriots haven’t been getting home on quarterbacks yet. Most of the pressure’s been coming from Chris Long and -- on occasion Trey Flowers. Jabaal Sheard and Jamie Collins haven’t yet played at the level they set last season. With the offensive issues this week, it would be a good week for them to start.
The Patriots played exactly the scheme I anticipated and did a terrific job bottling up the run. They held down Lamar Miller and bottled up tight end Ryan Griffin in the underneath area holding him to just 6.5 yards per reception on his eight catches. Jamie Collins had a pick that showed smarts, instinct, closing speed and hands. Jabaal Sheard had two big sacks. Malcolm Brown and Alan Branch were terrific and corners Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler had terrific games against two receivers who came in hot.
THE KICKING GAME
An uncharacteristically poor performance out of the Patriots kickers last week with Ryan Allen averaging about 90 feet per punt and Stephen Gostkowski pushing a close-out field-goal attempt from 39 into the lumberyard. The coverage teams continue to be very good, though. Shane Lechler is the Texans punter and he smashes the ball but he’s going to give up some return yards. Danny Amendola doesn’t look like he has the same initial speed he previously had on punt returns so it will be interesting to see how long it takes for the Patriots to give the job over to rookie Cyrus Jones.
The Texans’ average drive start was their own 16. Except on the two kickoffs where they didn’t even get to start a drive because they fumbled. Seven Ryan Allen punts put Houston at the 10, 10, 11, 20, 14, 5 and 4-yard lines. The Texans averaged 17 yards on three kickoff returns as the Patriots continue to bloop kickoffs to the goal line forcing returns and pinning teams inside their 20. As good a punting performance from Allen as you could imagine.
PATRIOTS MEDICAL REPORT
QB Jimmy Garoppolo (shoulder)
G Jonathan Cooper (foot)
DL Trey Flowers (shoulder)
LB Jonathan Freeny (shoulder)
TE Rob Gronkowski (hamstring)
LB Dont'a Hightower (knee)
CB Eric Rowe (ankle)
TEXANS MEDICAL REPORT
OT Duane Brown (knee)
LB Brian Cushing (knee)
WR Braxton Miller (hamstring)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION (GAME STATUS NOT LISTED)
P Shane Lechler (back)
DE J.J. Watt (back)
FULL PARTICIPATION (GAME STATUS NOT LISTED)
G Jeff Allen (calf)
CB A.J. Bouye (shoulder)
OT Chris Clark (elbow/ankle)
LB Jadeveon Clowney (foot)
DE Christian Covington (groin)
CB Kevin Johnson (thumb)
OT Derek Newton (knee)
QB Brock Osweiler (back)
FB Jay Prosch (back)
OLB John Simon (wrist)
GAME WITHIN THE GAME
There’s the obvious: the Patriots’ operation without a full-strength Jimmy Garoppolo, who will likely be on ice, and rookie Jacoby Brissett. Do the Patriots go on attack and try to get him playing from ahead? Makes some sense, especially considering the Patriots still roll out some outstanding offensive talent. Just play. Secondarily, though, it will be interesting to see if Houston gets after the Patriots secondary the way Arizona and Miami did late. That’s what the tape is for early in the season. See where the weak spots are and attack. Houston has the personnel to do it unless the Patriots either tweak or simply play better.
The Patriots and Josh McDaniels had things mapped out perfectly and the execution was outstanding. The Texans coaching staff was unnerved by the idea they’d have to deal with an unknown quantity in Brissett and also worried about Julian Edelman. As it turned out, they never had to worry about Edelman at quarterback but the surrounding talent and veteran experience in key offensive positions helped the Patriots play seamlessly against one of the league’s more talented defenses. The Patriots anticipated deep shots from Houston and played two-deep safeties hoping they’d be able to bottle up Lamar Miller with their front five and six. They did.
TEXANS GOTTA STOP
Let’s rotate from our consistent usage of Julian Edelman in this spot and instead plop in LeGarrette Blount. If the Patriots can be held to limited first-down gains, Houston’s job gets way easier on second and third down and where would a team rather have a rookie quarterback than third-and-long.
Couldn’t do it. While the dagger was his 41-yard touchdown run, all the yards that came around it were more wearying. Blount finished with 105 yards on 24 carries after having just seven for 11 in the first half. In other words, the Texans knew he was coming and he still made positive yards repeatedly.
PATRIOTS GOTTA STOP
DeAndre Hopkins. Don’t make it complicated. Find the best offensive player the other team has and hold him down. Doing that may require an interesting plan though. And that could be the oft-employed No. 2 corner with over-the-top safety help enticing Osweiler to attack the lesser of two coverage evils. Big night for Devin McCourty.
Stopping Hopkins isn’t really going to happen. Limiting him? That’s what the Patriots did. He caught four balls for 56 yards and was targeted eight times. Each of his catches was strongly contested by Logan Ryan and required precision throws to complete. The fact the Patriots had a safety over-the-top – as expected – meant the throws to Hopkins would have to be sideline shots and not downfield attempts.
THAT SUMS IT UP PATRIOTS STYLE
“We play 16 games. Whatever they are on the schedule, we show up and play them. We don’t worry about things we can’t control.” -- Bill Belichick.
The Patriots can’t control injuries or what crimes the NFL office chooses to conflate and prosecute. They can, however, coach the hell out of the game that made Roger Goodell and the collection of suits living off the league teat millionaires. And by doing so, the last laugh may still come their way.
THAT SUMS IT UP TEXANS STYLE
“I think the first thing that jumps out is, it’s a group that is really flying around. They’re playing fast. Whether it’s the defensive line, if you look at the linebackers, if you look at the secondary. Everyone plays really fast. They’re flying to the ball. Every single guy is trying to get to the ball carrier every single play and I think that’s really the first thing that jumps out. They’re very aggressive, hard hitting, talented defense. If you don’t bring your A-game, they’re going to hit you in the mouth and make your day very difficult.” -- Brock Osweiler, Texans quarterback, on Patriots defense.
They were quite fast. Swarming on Lamar Miller and holding him to 84 yards on 22 carries while making sure they had the downfield business locked up. Terrific speed shown at all three levels of the defense.
Texans by 2 1/2.
THE WINNER IS...
Patriots 21, Texans 20
Patriots 27, Texans 0