The Texans are going to be mostly relying on their defense and ground game to try to keep the Patriots offense in check. The Texans defense wasted very little time in taking control of the game against the Raiders and their 3rd string QB on Saturday and are hoping for more of the same against the Patriots. While the game itself is a mismatch, as evidenced by the Patriots being 16 point favorites out of the gate, at the end of the day the Patriots still need to play the game. The Texans do have enough playmakers to capitalize if the Patriots sleep-walk through this game to steal it.
ED Jadeveon Clowney
Despite his career marred by injuries his first two seasons, Clowney is experiencing a 3rd year breakout now that he’s finally healthy. Last year, Clowney flashed the type of talent he had as he picked up a pair of sacks against a patchwork Patriots OL. In the Patriots 27-0 win in Week 3, the offensive line was able to marginalize his impact and willingly ran at him, with Blount’s 41 yard TD coming to his side of the field. Clowney was the best defender for the Texans last week, taking advantage of the Raiders missing their LT, who missed his first career start in 10 years. Nate Solder should be better than the Raiders backup LT.
Clowney is most dangerous on TE stunts where he uses his speed to loop around and attack the B-gap against guards and centers. The Patriots weakest pass blocker is LG Joe Thuney, who I expect the Texans to target on these stunts. One way to eliminate those plays is for the offense to create short-yardage situations. That means quick passes and successful run plays to stay on schedule. It will be paramount for Solder to block Clowney on the edge as the Patriots run off-tackle power out of the I-formation and multiple TE sets. If the Patriots are able to utilize play action against the Texans defense, it’s going to be a long day for their defense.
RB Lamar Miller
Miller isn’t a game-changer for his position, but he’s still the best weapon the Texans have available. In the Patriots Week 3 win, they were able to shut down the Texans running game, as Miller ran for 80 yards in 21 rushes although half those yards came in garbage time, and force the Texans offense to become one-dimensional. The Texans biggest weakness is when they need Brock Osweiler to make downfield throws into tight coverage. Forcing the Texans into 2nd/3rd and 10s is what the Patriots offense needs to focus on and put the game in Osweiler’s hands. The Texans didn’t have to worry too much about that against the Raiders as they took an early 10-0 lead and forced the Raiders to play catch-up against a tough defense on the road.
The Patriots defensive tackles need to be able to clog running lanes and absorb double teams to allow the LBs to roam free and make tackles. Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, and Vince Valentine are going to have to play their butts off like in Week 3 in order to shut down the Texans rushing attack. Miller is also a solid receiver out of the backfield, but is at best their #4 threat as a receiver. I think the Patriots will give Osweiler the check down to Miller, especially in long yardage situations where they’ll just swarm after the ball after the catch. If the Patriots hold Miller to under 100 yards for the game, it’s going to be a long day for the Texans offense as well.
WR DeAndre Hopkins
Hopkins is the Texans’ big-play threat, so that’s who’s getting safety help all night. The Patriots have done a solid job against Hopkins in the past, utilizing Logan Ryan and Devin McCourty in a quasi-double team, although Ryan has done well when left on an island. The Patriots probably won’t be moving their corners around, as Hopkins isn’t as much a jump ball receiver like Brandon Marshall. In addition, the Patriots will likely start with 2 deep safeties and let the Front 7 do the work in shutting down the run game. The Texans offense doesn’t feature a slot receiver, so we may see either 3 linebackers or Patrick Chung up in the slot and Duron Harmon playing safety when the Patriots go nickel.
Taking away the shot plays to Hopkins and Fuller while forcing Osweiler to march 70 yards on 10+ plays on checkdowns to Miller and CJ Fiedorowicz is what will be the likely game plan. Osweiler struggles to connect on tight window throws downfield, which means we’ll see a lot of man coverage as opposed to zone. The Texans will no doubt try to take shots down the field, especially as the game starts to potentially unravel. Bill O’Brien was previously on the Patriots coaching staff, so he of all people will know the Patriots defense will force him to have to be patient to put up points, especially if the Patriots put up a large lead early.