The Houston Texans couldn’t rely on consistent contributions from their quarterback and passing game, so the turned the keys of the offense to running back Lamar Miller. Miller was signed in free agency for this specific purpose- to take pressure off whatever player lined up at quarterback- and he played well all year.
Miller picked up 1,261 yards from scrimmage, easily the most by a Houston offensive skill player and nearly double the third ranking player (WR Will Fuller, 632 yards from scrimmage).
The Texans are “going to come in and control the game from the standpoint of the run game,” Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said on Monday. “Miller is doing an excellent job of handling the run game and they do a variety of different things with the runs, a little bit different maybe than before. They have a good zone scheme combined with some schemed runs they’ll try to diagram up and go against the defense and really do a good job of attacking there.”
Miller is also a threat out of the backfield with 31 receptions, which ranks 5th on the team. Patricia noted that fellow running backs Alfred Blue (460 yards from scrimmage, 5th on team), Jonathan Grimes (199 yards from scrimmage, 7th on team) also find ways to contribute.
The Patriots defense will try to slow Miller on early downs to make the Texans quarterbacks uncomfortable in long distance situations, and to remove the control of the game from the Houston rushing attack. If Miller and the running backs aren’t carrying the football, the Texans have a far less effective group of players at receiver.
WR DeAndre Hopkins (954 yards from scrimmage, 2nd) and WR Will Fuller (632 yards from scrimmage, 3rd) rank first and second on the team in targets, but they’ve caught just 51.4% of all passes in their direction. TE C.J. Fiedorowicz (559 yards from scrimmage, 4th) and TE Ryan Griffin (442 yards from scrimmage, 6th) have superior catch rates, but are less utilized.
If New England can stop Miller, they can dedicate the defensive resources to flooding passing lanes and taking away the higher-success throws to tight ends, forcing the Texans quarterbacks to throw lower-percentage passes to the sidelines. Fortunately, the Patriots rank 4th in the NFL in run defense- Patricia and company will know what to do to win the day.