FOXBORO -- Bill O'Brien hasn't been on the Patriots coaching staff since he served as offensive coordinator in 2011, but he might have a pretty good idea on how New England's emergency quarterback situation might shake out if it came to that.
For three seasons, O'Brien had the opportunity to work with a former Kent State quarterback-turned-receiver in Julian Edelman, and there were times where O'Brien worked him out behind center in Patriots practices.
Now, as Texans head coach, and with uncertainty surrounding quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo's availability, there's a chance -- however slight -- that Edelman will take snaps in the prime-time matchup. O'Brien didn't deny that Houston would be preparing for that very situation.
"I think we have to be ready for their roster, you know what I mean?" O'Brien said in a conference call on Tuesday. "We have to understand the skill sets of the players on their roster. Obviously with Julian, I was there when they drafted him. He was a shotgun, wildcat quarterback at Kent State and really good at it. I can remember doing some of things with him over the couple years that I was with him in practice there. I know that he can do that. It’s that and other guys. There’s other guys. [Danny] Amendola can throw the ball. We’re trying to do the best we can to be prepared for their roster."
Preparing for both Garoppolo -- who practiced in a limited capacity on Tuesday -- and Brissett was enough to keep the Texans busy during the short week, however.
"It’s definitely tough," O'Brien said. "It’s definitely challenging . . . Jimmy in the first two games there has played really, really well. We’re preparing for their offense, if that makes sense. Not really knowing who will be the quarterback, not much we can do about that. We just need to prepare for the plays that we’re seeing on tape or maybe some other things that we think may happen in the game. We’ve got to be ready for that. We’ve had a couple of good days here. It’s not like we’ve taken two days off here. We’ve been working. I know our guys are excited about the challenge."
Garoppolo looked like a legitimate NFL starter through nearly six quarters of play before being knocked from Sunday's win over the Dolphins due to a shoulder injury. The third-year signal-caller may not have the volume of schemes stuffed in his memory banks that Tom Brady does, but the offense he ran was anything but watered down. He made use of the quick passing game, as Brady does so well, he utilized play-action, he made checks at the line of scrimmage, and he handled pressure like a seasoned veteran.
O'Brien said that with Garoppolo behind center it looked like the Patriots offense he remembered, with some slight variations to take advantage of Garoppolo's athleticism.
“There was a lot of similarity, but I know that they did some things to take advantage of Jimmy’s skill set," O'Brien said. "Jimmy is an excellent runner with the ball. There were some things in there that maybe they weren’t doing as much of previously with Tom. But what they’re doing with Jimmy, because of his skill set, they do a little bit more.
"But overall, I would say that it was very similar, which is a credit to Jimmy because I know that – just knowing Josh [McDaniels] the way I know Josh, it’s a very demanding offense. Josh is an excellent football coach and really demands a lot of that position. Jimmy was obviously very prepared in both games."
If the Patriots game plan was altered at all to account for a mobile quarterback, some of those alterations may stick if it's Brissett taking snaps on Thursday night. The rookie third-round pick is listed as two inches taller and 10 pounds heavier than Garoppolo, but he showed on Sunday that he can get out of the pocket and pick up big chunks of yards with his legs.
And when he does, he's not the most inviting target for defenders at 6-foot-4, 235 pounds.
"He’s a big guy. I would say that’s one thing that stood out to me in the draft, 235-pound guy," O'Brien said of Brissett. "He’s a smart guy, I know he’s very smart. I know that he’s poised. He’s a challenging guy because there is not a lot of pro tape on him. You have to go back and watch some things from N.C. State and things like that. Then go back to your evaluation of him in the draft. We thought he was a really good player when we evaluated him in the draft. I know that they’ll coach him well. They do a great job obviously coaching the quarterback position. I’m sure that he’ll be ready to go."
With Brissett on the field, the Patriots utilized their screen packages as well as bootlegs and waggles to take advantage of his physical tools. O'Brien noticed that Brissett protected the football -- though he did have a fumble -- and that he got some help from a successful running game that looks rejuvenated.
"When he went in there, I thought he played well," O'Brien said. "He got them into the right play. In the passing game, he took care of the ball pretty well. They ran the ball very well. I think that’s a big key. People have asked me over the last couple of days about the quarterback position, but I think that one of the keys is how they’ve been able to run the football. Very physical upfront. They’ve got a good offensive line and really good running backs and good tight ends. I think one of the keys was their ability to run the ball also. I thought Jacoby handled that situation very well."
O'Brien surely hopes that he has the Texans ready for Brissett, and Garoppolo, and even Edelman so that they won't be caught off guard by anything they see when they visit Gillette Stadium.