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Week 14 Patriots vs Texans Five Questions: How to Stop J.J. Watt

(you can't)

We spoke with Brett Kollmann of Battle Red Blog to get the inside scoop on the Texans!

1. How has Vince Wilfork been taking care of y'all?

Honestly, Big Vince has been an average player at best this season. He hasn't been able to anchor against double teams like years past, nor has he been able to generate much push against the front of the pocket.

Where Wilfork has been the most valuable is leadership and development of our younger players. He is on Bill O'Brien's 12 man leadership council (and has been since day one), and I truly believe that his calming veteran presence was one of the biggest reasons for the defense's turnaround after the Dolphins game. You probably won't find a single Texans fan say a bad word about him as a person, and to be honest he's already one of my favorite players on the team simply for his personality. Bianca Wilfork is pretty damn awesome as well, as you already know.

2. Bill O'Brien and Brian Hoyer are very familiar with one another and they seem to be thriving. How have the two combined to be such a successful match?

Hoyer started the year out with an awful showing against Kansas City and was promptly benched, but then regained the reigns of the team in the middle of the season after Ryan Mallett was released. Since then he has been mostly "okay". Not great, not terrible, just okay. When the defense was balling out he was able to make enough plays to get a win, but as soon as Buffalo started putting up points last weekend he showed his true colors as the "meh" quarterback he really is.

Hoyer is a game manager, not a game winner. If you need your quarterback to drive down the length of the field in two minutes for a touchdown, Hoyer ain't that guy. If your defense is so good that in those final two minutes you already have a two possession lead anyway and just need to convert one last first down, yeah he can probably do that. The less pressure on Hoyer, the better.

3. DeAndre Hopkins is easily a top five receiver in the league. Does he have any flaws, or can he be limited in any way?

If there is one knock on Hopkins, it is that he does not really separate from opposing corners as well as other elite receivers like Antonio Brown or Julio Jones. Nuk's game is very similar to Anquan Boldin - you can be all over him and in perfect coverage, but somehow, someway, he's still going to make the catch.

Even as a deep threat Hopkins is rarely running away from corners over the top, but it is his absurd body control and catch radius that usually makes the play anyway. Malcolm Butler has turned into a fine corner for New England this year, but he is going to have his hands full with a guy like Hopkins who even when he is covered, is not really covered.

4. The Texans have turned their defense around in recent weeks. Can you single out any specific changes?

Our own Matt Weston actually recently did a piece on that very topic that is a must read for anyone who loves film study. The short of it, however, is that the coaching staff took an honest look at what they were doing and made some dramatic mid-season adjustments. Rahim Moore, one of the team's biggest free agent signings last Spring, was benched for poor play and replaced by former seventh round pick Andre Hal, J.J. Watt was finally allowed to move around the front more often to screw with protection schemes, and sensational rookie corner Kevin Johnson was essentially given a starting role over veteran corner Kareem Jackson.

Johnson, by the way, has been the best defensive back on the team this season, which a rare feat for any rookie corner. He just arguably had his first "bad game" of his career due to Sammy Watkins being...well...Sammy Watkins, and even then one of his two surrendered touchdowns was more a product of a perfectly thrown ball than bad coverage. I would expect Johnson to see plenty of Brandon LaFell this week, so make sure to bench him on your fantasy teams this Sunday.

5. J.J. Watt is an absolute animal on the defensive line. How can the Patriots neutralize his ability without sacrificing too many extra blockers?

You can't. The Bills slowed down Watt last week by literally triple teaming him, leaving seven men in to protect to account for everyone else, and sending Sammy Watkins as deep as possible to win 50/50 balls down the field. In the run game, Buffalo did their best to keep the ball away from Watt and go after lesser players like John Simon on the edges for big plays. Any time Watt has ever had a "down game" in the last four years, it was because offenses chose to allocate three blockers just for him and dare anyone else along the defensive line to beat them one on one, and so far nobody else in the Houston defense has been able to make them pay for that.

The big question here is if New England has the remaining healthy personnel to replicate that strategy. Sure you could triple team Watt, send out just three receivers, and try to win on jump balls and bombs down field, but without Gronkowski I'm not sure who else is left on the Patriots active roster that can consistently win against double coverage to begin with.

Tom Brady works his best magic when he spaces out defenses with a full complement of receivers and is allowed to choose his best matchup. The cost of releasing that many receivers, however, is leaving in less blockers to protect him against guys like Watt. We shall see how Belichick plans to handle this conundrum, but I can tell you right here and now that leaving Marcus Cannon one on one with Watt on third down probably isn't the best idea.