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Patriots receivers should be close to full strength, while the Texans defense will be hurting

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The Patriots All Pro tight end says he’ll be available to play.

NFL: New England Patriots at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots offense should receive a nice boost with the return of Danny Amendola according to multiple reports. Amendola declared himself “good to go” for Sunday’s game against the Houston Texans after missing week two of the season with a knee injury and a concussion.

Patriots All Pro TE Rob Gronkowski also confirmed to the media, “I’m good to go. I’m ready,” via multiple reports. Gronkowski suffered a groin injury late against the New Orleans Saints and there were some concerns about his availability.

Meanwhile, the Texans will play without their top cornerback as Kevin Johnson recovers from an MCL sprain. I spoke with Kenneth Levy of BattleRedBlog.com to understand how the loss of Johnson will affect the depleted Houston secondary.

“It might not be the loss of Kevin Johnson who is hurting the Texans defense, but rather letting A.J. Bouye go to division rival Jacksonville that is having a greater affect on our defense,” Levy explains. “Kevin Johnson was injured last year as well and missed most of the season with a broken foot against the Colts. We were expecting a lot out of Johnson this year considering we lost Bouye, Jonathan Joseph may need a walking cane he is so old, and Kareem Jackson's best years are behind him.

“To overcome the loss, I think the Texans will rely on Marcus Burley and rookie Treston Decoud to fill in. I could also see us running one of our safeties, either Eddie Pleasant or Marcus Gilchrist at the nickel position.”

Jonathan Joseph also injured his shoulder in week 2, but is expected to play. Burley stepped up after both Johnson and Joseph left the game, while Pleasant and Gilchrist contributed in the slot, too. The safeties might cover any tight end in the slot, while Burley would cover the receiver in the slot.

In this case, Amendola could have a seriously favorable match-up in his first game back, as could Chris Hogan should the Patriots opt to limit Amendola’s snaps.

The Texans will also be without LB Brian Cushing, who is suspended for 10 games for violating the league’s PED policy, but that could be less of an issue than the loss of Johnson.

“When you lose the heart and soul of the defense, there will definitely be a learning curve and some roles to be filled,” Levy said about the loss of Cushing. “The Texans may be very well equipped to deal with the loss of Cushing. Benardrick McKinney is developing into a stud ILB with great tackling, a knowledge of the defense, and pass rushing skills.

“This past draft, we picked All-American Zach Cunningham in the second round. Tall, aggressive, and fast, he is the prototypical new-age line backer. He led the SEC in tackles, and he has been performing well in his first two games. We also have undrafted rookie free agent Dylan Cole who racked up a ton of tackles last week against Cincinnati. Our front-7 is pretty stout, losing Cushing hurts, but I think there is a ton of fire power to work with.”

McKinney should see plenty of time next to Cunningham and both have their strengths and weaknesses. The Patriots coaching staff highlighted McKinney’s inability to cover running backs out of the backfield as an exploit for the 2016-17 playoffs, while Cunningham missed a lot of tackles in college football. Both complement each other, though, with McKinney great on the edge and rushing the quarterback and Cunningham great at dropping into coverage.

Gronkowski might have a favorable match-up against these linebackers in the middle of the field, especially if the Texans are forced to use their safeties to replace Johnson in the secondary.