Patriots-Texans Preview/Review: Houston, we've had a problem
PREVIEW: The Texans are 5-2 over their last seven games and have some credible wins on their record — at Kansas City and the Chargers, at home against the Raiders — but the Patriots are their white whale. The Patriots have won their last six meetings against Houston including one in 2016 when Jacoby Brissett was the starter. This week, the Patriots get a five-hour flight for a Sunday night game after illness swept through their locker room. On a holiday week. After their kicker had to have his appendix confiscated. Everything kind of lines up for Houston here.
REVIEW: Everything did indeed line up for Houston. After their opening drive began promisingly but bogged down familiarly and resulted in three, the Patriots defense hung in for two drives until — given prime field position by a Tom Brady interception — Houston scored, the Patriots were behind and a light shined on how limited the New England offense is. A lot changed on Sunday night in the standings but this was the first time the Patriots really paid the price for offensive stagnancy with a loss. With the season three-quarters over, it’s normal to wonder if that will be the last time.
When the Patriots Ran
PREVIEW: The Patriots are coming off perhaps their best game of the season on the ground against Dallas, with Sony Michel having his most consistently productive performance. The return of Isaiah Wynn and the rising role of Elandon Roberts as a fullback (a role seems to be reluctantly embracing) is having an impact. Advantage: Patriots (by a smidge…)
REVIEW: Not awful. The ground game was really the catalyst for the Patriots' first drive, and when they came out for the second drive which ended with the Brady pick, they threw all three times. The score and the way the Texans were defending New England — daring them to throw to receivers and tight ends they weren’t scared of — forced the Patriots to get away from using Michel, who had six carries on the first drive, seven in the half and 10 for the game. James White wound up carrying 14 times for 79 yards (4 for 11 in the first half) but that stat was buoyed by a 32-yard carry on which White wound up with a convoy of blockers and just meandered down the sideline. It was the exception, not the rule. Advantage: Texans
When the Patriots Passed
PREVIEW: This is not a good pass defense. The Patriots figure to have Mohamed Sanu and Phillip Dorsett back this week from injury. That, along with the long-awaited threat of play-action should make a difference, although the Patriots continue missing a steady seam threat to look to. Advantage: Patriots (again … a smidge)
REVIEW: I overestimated Sanu’s readiness. He had three catches for 14 yards with a key drop on a fourth-and-1 after he ran too short of the sticks on a third-and-4 reception. I start with him because he is the key to the offense. Not Harry, who has now caught one of the five passes thrown his way in two games and was relegated to the bench after his slap-it-out-there effort on the slant. Not Meyers, who — while wanting desperately to do whatever Brady wants — is like a third-grader reading War and Peace out there. Not Dorsett who — while blessed with wonderful hands is zero threat after the catch and a perimeter speed receiver who too often can’t shake coverage. Not the tight ends. Not James White, who is useful when he’s got a linebacker on him but tougher to find when it’s a DB and seems to be moving about a step slower than normal. Not Edelman who keeps on carrying the burden. If/when Sanu heals up, Edelman may get less attention, White may find more opportunities, Meyers may get misplaced by defenses. Now? It’s a disaster. Advantage: Texans
When the Texans Ran
PREVIEW: Houston’s third in the NFL in YPA (4.97) and is putting up 136.9 on the ground. Carlos Hyde is having a fantastic season with 836 yards (4.8 YPA) and Duke Johnson’s averaging 5.4 while the always difficult Deshaun Watson is at 5.2. Houston has 1,506 rushing yards this year. The Patriots are going to be in nickel and dime defense a lot this game with the fleet of outside receivers the Texans have. First down is everything in this game for the Patriots defensively. If they can get Houston in second and third and unfavorable, then they can take advantage of their pass rush advantage and get after Watson. Advantage: Texans
REVIEW: New England actually did a very nice job against the run. They held Houston to 52 yards on 23 carries and effectively bottled up Hyde (10 for 17) while keeping Watson in check. Definitely not the issue at all for the Patriots. Advantage: Patriots
When the Texans Passed
PREVIEW: This is where the illness factor could play a role. DeAndre Hopkins is a generational talent. Will Fuller is a huge big-play threat. Kenny Stills and Keke Coutee are problems and big Darren Fells (6-7, 270) is a problem at tight end for the very well-constructed Houston offense. If Steph Gilmore bottles up Hopkins, the rest of the Patriots secondary still has plenty to deal with. Advantage: Patriots
REVIEW: Four touchdown passes is four touchdown passes, but it wasn’t overall disgusting. The Patriots pass rush was good enough to get to Watson for three sacks and they just missed a couple others because of Watson’s elusiveness. Two of the three touchdowns were the byproducts of great scheming — Dont'a Hightower appeared to bite on the first one, which was a flip to tight end Darren Fells from 13 yards out; Kyle Van Noy seemed to lose track of Duke Johnson for the second touchdown. Jonathan Jones simply was beaten by Kenny Stills on the 35-yard score. But that’s a well-constructed offense with one of the best in the business, DeAndre Hopkins leading the way. Certainly, it was several weight classes above what the Patriots have been seeing most of the season. Advantage: Texans
PREVIEW: The Patriots got thrown a wicked googly with the late-in-the-week appendix removal for kicker Nick Folk. Now Kai Forbath is in, Folk’s been released and the Patriots have to weigh that into fourth-down considerations if and when they get in deep on Houston. The Texans get excellent work from their coverage units just like New England. The comes down to Kai’mi vs. Kai and I give it to the Texans kicker Ka’imi. Advantage: Texans
REVIEW: The Patriots missed a PAT. I’m not sure what the active plan is for punt returns at the moment. Come to think of it, I am not sure what the plan for this season was either. Gunner Olszewski? Braxton Berrios? I know it wasn’t having Sanu — a guy who barely caught punts in his career before coming here — stand back with a high ankle sprain and fair catch everything. But that’s what they’re going with. Jake Bailey’s net average was a low-for-him 38 yards. Advantage: Texans
PREVIEW: Tony Corrente’s crew gets this game. His group did Patriots-Browns on October 27. The Patriots were flagged four times; Cleveland was flagged 13. Houston has 36 pre-snap penalties, third-highest in the league. The Patriots have 18. Houston leads the league with 23 false starts.
REVIEW: Houston had eight penalties for 79 yards. The Patriots had eight for 60. Houston had some brain-dead ones — Bradley Roby pulled off his helmet after his pick and they also had some drive-extenders whistled on them. The Patriots' biggest penalty against was an OPI against Julian Edelman that wiped out a big gain. The collision was there, no doubt, but it was two players that refused to yield as opposed to Edelman veering off. There was a holding call the refs missed on Kyle Van Noy when the Texans got their 35-yard touchdown but — given the location of the game, the fact Houston had already drawn a few costly penalties and had a touchdown overturned on the previous play — I wasn’t stunned to see the official on the scene pretend nothing happened.
Prediction & Line
PREVIEW: The Patriots are favored by 3.5 and the total is 43. The Patriots are 7-4 against the spread and eight of their 11 games have gone under the total.
Patriots 24, Texans 23
REVIEW: I gave you Texans and over. It was Texans and over.
Texans 28, Patriots 22
- Week 1: Patriots 16, Steelers 13
- Week 2: Patriots 30, Dolphins 0
- Week 3: Patriots 20, Jets 6
- Week 4: Patriots 19, Bills 13
- Week 5: Patriots 30, Redskins 13
- Week 6: Patriots 16, Giants 3
- Week 7: Patriots 16, Jets 13
- Week 8: Patriots 27, Browns 10
- Week 9: Patriots 23, Ravens 13
- Week 10: Patriots 26, Eagles 13
- Week 11: Cowboys 23, Patriots 16
- Week 12: Patriots 24, Texans 23