The Houston Texans offense is neither productive, nor complicated. They have generated 20 points all season; the New England Patriots scored 21 in the first quarter against the New Orleans Saints. The Texans have gained 469 yards all year, the worst mark in the league.
In the season opener, the Texans decided to move on from QB Tom Savage to rookie Deshaun Watson, but quarterback wasn’t their entire problem. Houston has been extremely shorthanded at the offensive skill positions this year, with TE C.J. Fiedorowicz on the injured reserve with a concussion injury, WR Will Fuller out with a collarbone injury, and TE Stephen Anderson, TE Ryan Griffin, and WR Bruce Ellington missing week 2 with concussions.
Those last three players are expected to play against the Patriots, which will give the Houston offense a much needed boost because they were incredibly easy to defend against the Cincinnati Bengals in week 2.
The Texans have a two capable running backs in Lamar Miller and D’Onta Foreman and the Patriots need to respect their running ability out of the backfield, but since they play the same position that is just one player to worry about on any given snap.
It’s Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins that deserves all the defensive attention.
“Well, Hopkins is a very physical receiver,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. “He’s a good route technique guy and he has great hands. He’s good against off-coverage with his stems and his route technique and he’s good against press coverage because he’s physical. He uses his hands well and he’s able to create separation and then he can extend. He catches the ball away from his body very well. When the quarterback can put the ball where he can get it, he gets it.
“He has good timing on the deep balls to go up and out-jump the defender who might have good position on him, but he goes up and can get those balls, make spectacular one-handed catches or diving catches. His catch radius is probably as big as any receiver in the league. There’s somewhere you can put the ball, no matter where the guy is on him, there’s somewhere where you can put the ball where he can get it that the defender can’t, and if it’s a good throw he’ll get it and it will be a completion. So he’s never really covered even when he’s covered.”
Hopkins has fielded 29 of the Texans 60 offensive targets, an indication of his value to the Houston passing attack. Oliver Thomas broke down Hopkins’ film this year to see how the Texans receiver runs his routes and the Patriots need to be aware of the comeback and curl routes.
In recent years, the Patriots would have a safety lurking underneath Hopkins with CB Logan Ryan covering over the top. Don’t be surprised if Stephon Gilmore gets the draw against Hopkins this year with Devin McCourty underneath.
And other than Hopkins and the running back, well, there’s RB Tyler Ervin who has been asked to play in the slot due to all the injuries this year; he has 7 catches for 34 yards. But it’s the tight ends that the Patriots should watch out for- and then Ellington.
“Ryan Griffin is back after going through concussion protocol. He has good hands and can provide a quality safety valve for Watson,” BattleRedBlog.com’s Kenneth Levy tells Pats Pulpit via e-mail. “Expect him to be targeted 10+ times this game.
“As well, Bruce Ellington, who demonstrated promise in the preseason, was also concussed during the Jacksonville game. This took him out for the Cincinnati game but he is expected to return this week. His speed will be helpful to stretch the field in the absence of Will Fuller.”
Griffin has always been a productive receiver, but he doesn’t offer much as a blocker. The Patriots would be wise to have Eric Rowe in coverage of Griffin to eliminate another option.
Ellington gained 93 yards on 4 receptions against the Patriots in week 2 of the preseason with Malcolm Butler in coverage, though, so perhaps the Patriots would rather put Butler on Hopkins, Gilmore on Griffin, and someone like Jonathan Jones on Ellington.
And there might not be too many other players to defend because the Texans offensive line has been so terrible they’ve been forced to play six or seven at a time to keep the quarterback protected. Deshaun Watson himself might be one of the Texans top options due to his speed out of the backfield.
“One thing we definitely know is he can run,” Patriots defensive captain Devin McCourty said about facing Watson. “If we don’t keep him in the pocket and try to surround him as much as possible... [scrambling] is not just a one-time thing or like some great play. He has that where he can do that at any moment and any game and can do it multiple times.”
Watson ran for a 49-yard touchdown against the Bengals and the Patriots will have to dedicate their defensive resources to stopping the run all game. The Bengals showed that Watson would get antsy if kept in the pocket and that his accuracy would suffer.
And if the Patriots can make Watson nervous, while also eliminating Hopkins as a receiver, then New England can hopefully force a few turnovers on errant passes and then the Patriots will run away with the game.