Few picked-up pieces could be salvaged from the Houston Texans’ 27-0 loss at Gillette Stadium in September.
Ryan Griffin’s performance was one of them.
Griffin, a native of Londonderry, N.H., led Houston with eight catches on a night in which Brock Osweiler completed only 58 percent of his passes. And while the Texans quarterback netted an interception, 196 yards and just 10 first downs through the air, the 6-foot-6, 265-pound tight end finished having accounted for 52 of those yards and four of those first downs.
The Texans won’t necessarily be looking for the same results this Saturday in Foxborough. But Griffin is a player the Patriots will be looking out for leading up to the 8:15 p.m. ET kickoff.
“He’s done a good job for them,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said in his press conference Thursday. “He’s made some good catches in critical situations – two-minute, third-down, red-area. They’ve gone to him in a couple key situations, which tells you either they’re trying to get him the ball or have a lot of confidence in him. Or both, however you want to look at it.”
Griffin’s ability to slip out of pass protection, engage in contact at the second level, and then stem back to the ball have grown in importance for Houston. Those strengths haven’t given way to an abundance of explosive plays, as evidenced by his four catches of over 20 yards this campaign, but the incremental ones have made him a safety valve as defenses drop two safeties deep.
“He’s been productive for them really pretty much in every game in the passing game, both down the field and in short- to intermediate-type routes,” Belichick said of Griffin. “He has a good route tree.”
Griffin ended the regular season with only five starts. He ended it, however, with 442 yards, two touchdowns, 19 first-down conversions and a total of 50 receptions – third-most on the team behind fellow tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and 2015 Pro Bowl wideout DeAndre Hopkins.
The former sixth-round pick out of UConn had 49 receptions on his NFL resume heading in.
“He’s definitely involved, and been one of their primary targets, more so than earlier in the year when the tight ends were getting fewer balls,” Belichick said.
Griffin, who caught three passes for 29 yards in Houston’s wild-card victory over the Oakland Raiders last weekend, has been targeted a total of 75 times since New England shut the offense out four months ago. Attrition has factored into that equation, with wide receivers Braxton Miller and Jaelen Strong now on injured reserve. But so has the overall usage of the Texans’ depth chart at tight end, with Griffin, Fiedorowicz and undrafted rookie Stephen Anderson all filing on.
The 6-foot-5, 265-pound Fiedorowicz is also cut from a traditional inline cloth, while on the other end of the spectrum is Anderson, who, at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, checks in as more of “move” threat.
“They use a lot of ‘11’ personnel, so a lot of times there’s only one tight end in the game,” Belichick noted. “They’re all productive. They’ve had a couple injuries there where they haven’t all been available, but when they have been available, they’ve all played. They’ve used all of them. They’ve also used a jumbo tight end both in ‘11’ personnel and also in some ‘12’ and ’22.’ So, yeah, a lot of different looks at that spot.”
Neither Fiedorowicz nor Anderson recorded a catch during the last Patriots encounter. Yet, much like Griffin’s involvement, looks are subject to change. Belichick is preparing for any and all.
“You’ve got to know the skills of that player,” Belichick said. “They do a good job of keeping you off balance.”