Tom E. Curran's Patriots-Texans Preview
With their 20-17 win last week against the Colts, the Texans are at 7-4 and leading the AFC South. What’s been a better-than-normal season for them was marred two weeks ago by a 41-7 bludgeoning by the Ravens in Baltimore.
That loss in a game where you figured Houston had to show a high level of competitiveness to be taken as a serious contender in the AFC brought on a cascade of “Same old Texans…” laments and with good reason.
When the lights get bright – as they will be Sunday night – Bill O’Brien’s team too often shrinks. 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.
The Patriots, despite their offensive challenges, keep getting it done with defense, special teams, discipline and resiliency. Their last two wins at Philly and home against Dallas were the kind of tough-minded performances the Texans so often seem incapable of putting together.
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.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN
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. Houston has been pretty solid against the run much of the year but got carved up the past two weeks by Baltimore and Indianapolis for a total of 431 yards (275 by the Ravens). The Patriots don’t have the same effectiveness in their running game those teams do but at least the Texans have shown some vulnerability there after not allowing 100 yards on the ground since Week 2.
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. Of note: Houston is 31st in the league on third down and dead last in the red zone which is two spots the Patriots have struggled all season.
Advantage: Patriots (by a smidge…)
WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS
This is not a good pass defense. They don’t create turnovers (30th in interception rate), and are 27th in sacks per pass attempt. The Patriots got through last week’s game in the rain because Julian Edelman contributed eight catches for 93 yards despite a very injured shoulder that limited his catch radius down to very tiny. The Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry contributions were nice but Edelman’s work was standout.
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. Also, look for the Patriots to try and spring James White. He’s coming off consecutive games of subpar numbers (10 targets, five catches, 10 yards) and the return of other wideouts should allow him to get some better matchups.
Advantage: Patriots (again … a smidge)
WHEN THE TEXANS RUN
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. Since Week 3, the Patriots have allowed 6.1, 7.3, 3.3, 4.1, 7.2, 5.1, 3.9 and 4.2 per rush. Need to be better.
WHEN THE TEXANS PASS
This is where the illness factor could play a role. DeAndre Hopkins is a generational talent. Will Fuller – despite his penchant for drops – 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. At the controls is the talented Watson. The big issue is protection for Watson who’s taken 32 sacks.
If Stephon Gilmore bottles up Hopkins, the rest of the Patriots secondary still has plenty to deal with. The Patriots rush has to speed up Watson without letting him break contain. They’ve done it all year but this is a very, very good challenge.
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 weight 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. This comes down to Kai’mi vs. Kai and I give it to the Texans kicker Ka’imi.
OUT: TE Ryan Izzo (illness).
QUESTIONABLE: LB Ja'whaun Bentley (knee), T Marcus Cannon (illness), S Patrick Chung (illness, heel), LB Jamie Collins (illness), DT Byron Cowart (head), WR Phillip Dorsett (concussion), S Nate Ebner (ankle, back), WR Julian Edelman (shoulder), G Jermaine Eluemunor (illness), CB Stephon Gilmore (illness), LB Dont'a Hightower (illness), CB Jason McCourty (groin), WR Mohamed Sanu (ankle), WR Matt Slater (hamstring), LB Kyle Van Noy (illness), CB Joejuan Williams (illness) and T Isaiah Wynn (illness).
OUT: DE Carlos Watkins (hamstring).
DOUBTFUL: T Tytus Howard (knee).
QUESTIONABLE: DE Angelo Blackson (shoulder), CB Gareon Conley (hip) and LB Brennan Scarlett (shoulder).
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. So far this season, the Patriots have drawn 79 flags and had 68 accepted penalties. They’ve drawn 73 flags, 40 on the road. Houston has been flagged 98 times and 80 have been accepted. They have 36 presnap penalties, third-highest in the league. The Patriots have 18. Houston leads the league with 23 false starts.
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.
Prediction: Patriots 24, Texans 23
Week 1: Patriots 16, Steelers 13
Final: Patriots, 33-3
Week 2: Patriots 30, Dolphins 0
Final: Patriots, 43-0
Week 3: Patriots 20, Jets 6
Final: Patriots, 30-14
Week 4: Patriots 19, Bills 13
Final: Patriots, 16-10
Week 5: Patriots 30, Redskins 13
Final: Patriots, 33-7
Week 6: Patriots 16, Giants 3
Final: Patriots, 35-14
Week 7: Patriots 16, Jets 13
Final: Patriots, 33-0
Week 8: Patriots 27, Browns 10
Final: Patriots, 27-13
Week 9: Patriots 23, Ravens 13
Final: Ravens, 37-20
Week 10: Patriots 26, Eagles 13
Final: Patriots, 17-10
Week 11: Cowboys 23, Patriots 16
Final: Patriots 13, Cowboys 9