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The Patriots should be prepared for heavy O-Line packages against the Texans

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What does that mean for the struggling defense?

NFL: New England Patriots at Houston Texans Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots often take advantage of 6 offensive lineman formations, with Cameron Fleming and Nate Solder taking significant reps there over the last few years. But last week, the Houston Texans took this strategy to the next level. Week 1, the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team that finished tied for 19th in 2015 and 21st in 2016 in sacks, had a whopping 10 sacks vs the Texans. For a team that’s playing young and still raw QBs in Tom Savage and Deshaun Watson, that was completely unacceptable. Against the Bengals, missing their top tight ends from concussions and facing a dangerous front 7, the Texans played with an extra lineman for more than half of the game.

On their first series, they lined up in this offensive formation.

That’s rookie 7th rounder Kyle Fuller, a college center, on the far left of the line and Julien Davenport, a rookie 4th rounder out of Bucknell (and the first drafted player out of Bucknell since 1969) on the far right. The Texans were forced into some crazy formations, utilizing their project O-Line rookies, just to keep Watson alive. Out of the 66 snaps the Texans played on offense against the Bengals, the Texans had an average of 5 and 2/3rds offensive linemen on the field per snap.

The Texans will likely return both Stephen Anderson and Ryan Griffin to the lineup this Sunday, but both of them are poor blockers for TEs and likely won’t contribute much as in-line blockers. But the Texans need to give their line some help. Even with all of the extra guys, the Bengals racked up 3 sacks, including this bone crushing hit by Geno Atkins that could have ended Watson’s season, and they are graded out as the worst O-line in the NFL, even below Seattle.

The possible inclusion of a 6th (or 7th) offensive lineman into the playbook affects the Patriots defense in many ways. This formation will force the Patriots to play with at least 7 in the box in order to help against the run. Lamar Miller remains dangerous and the two biggest run stuffers the Patriots employ are either injured (Vincent Valentine) or ineffective (Alan Branch). This could be the first game where we see David Harris for meaningful snaps and Malcolm Butler and Duron Harmon might see less than 50% of the defensive snaps.

And as for defending the pass, it will likely be a game where they would like to play a lot more man defense than zone. If the Texans are going to keep in 6 to block (or 7 if the RB stay in) then it makes little sense to play a cover 2 zone, the Patriots’ bread and butter vs the Texans offense the last 2 years, against a 3 or 4 man route combination. The Patriots could double team DeAndre Hopkins, keep 7 in the box, and have a spy for the mobile QB if they play man. The Patriots struggled a little bit against pick plays in man defense last week and Deshawn Watson is well adept in pick plays so that’s something to monitor.

When the Patriots and Texans play this Sunday it will have been less than 5 weeks apart from their last meeting and joint practices during the preseason, but the Texans offense will be completely different. After some very mixed results against the Chiefs and Saints the first two weeks of the year, the Patriots defense should be able to get back on track against the Texans if they play to their full potential.