The New England Patriots kickoff the 2018 NFL season by hosting the Houston Texans in what should be a pretty exciting game. There are superstars on both rosters with great pass rushers and exciting quarterbacks abound.
We spoke with Luke Beggs of BattleRedBlog.com to get the inside scoop on how the other side thinks this will play out.
1. The Texans battled a lot of defensive injuries last year. How have those players returned this year and what’s your expectation for their playing ability?
The defense suffered mightily due to those injuries. The J.J Watt and Whitney Mercilus injuries in particular hurt due to the fact that they once again took away the Texans fans dreams of having Jadeveon Clowney and J.J Watt on the same defense but some of the more harmful injuries came to some of the other positions on the Texans defense where depth was at it’s weakest.
Corner in particular springs to mind when Kevin Johnson missed the week 3 game against the Patriots and the Texans had to start Jonathan Banks (who ran a 4.66 at the combine) against Brandin Cooks (who ran a 4.34) which was less than ideal to say the least.
Mercilus and Watt’s return’s are blessing but they are also painful reminders of how fragile this defense actually is. We have no idea about how good or bad J.J Watt is going to be. He’s played only 8 games in the past 2 seasons. If he plays a full season I think that’ll be a victory, as for the production during that season, one can only hope it’ll be a double digit sack number but anything past that is being extremely optimistic.
CB Kevin Johnson’s injury history is also something which has reared it’s head over the past 2 seasons and last year it took a visible toll on Johnson’s play which is particularly concerning for the Texans as Johnson was supposed to be the bridge between a Jonathan Joseph led secondary and a Johnson led one.
2. How can anyone stop DeAndre Hopkins? Or even just slow him a little bit?
I believe that being the Texans top WR is like some sort of cosmic joke. You get to be one of the best players at your position with no horrific injuries except you have to catch passes from T.J Yates & B.J Daniels for the rest of your career. What Hopkins has done with the revolving door of QB’s over the past few years is truly his greatest feat. He turns those horribly inaccurate passes into completions with a form of wizardry that would make Gary Gygax blush.
Technically speaking, Hopkins is one of if not the best contested catch receiver in the league and when you have QB’s who struggle to make throws into tight windows having a receiver who opens those windows a little bit wider is truly a blessing. The best way to stop him is to get really dangerous with your defensive play calling and start having your safety sell out in something like a Cover 4 scheme where the safety just keeps cheating and attempting to undercut any Hopkins route in order to dissuade any QB from even attempting a throw to him.
However that can often lead to zero help over the top for the poor corner who has to match up against Hopkins 1 on 1. Aside from that your only hope is praying Watson get’s injured and Brock Osweiler get’s re-signed.
3. Are there any weaknesses in the Texans secondary that Tom Brady and the Patriots might exploit?
The Texans secondary is the real question in regards to the Texans defense this season with Tyrann Mathieu, Aaron Colvin and rookie Justin Reid all coming in to replace the assembly of garbage cans that often seemed to be strewn across the Texans secondary last season. What this is going to mean is that there is going to be some communication issues straight away due to the fact that most of these players have never played with each other and Romeo Crennel typically prefers more zone from his corners and safeties which requires good communication to know when a safety needs to attack the underneath route and when the corner should let the receiver pass towards the safety. All of this is subtle but if it’s not tightened up by Sunday then the Patriots will look to put stress on those aspects of the Texans secondary.
4. Bill O’Brien and the Texans are 0-4 against the Patriots with an average score of 31-13.75. Why is this year going to be different?
A fully healthy Texans team is actually a scary prospect. Having a full assortment of offensive tools and what we hope is a generational QB leading the charge gives the Texans a real bite on offense that was just straight up lacking in the Texans last few meetings with the Patriots.
If I can channel my inner Phil Sims for a moment the game is won by the team that scores the most points and the Texans have been really really bad at that in the past against the Patriots. Heck, we lost to Jacoby Brissett after he had a weeks worth of practice. The problem has often been that the Texans defense has held for one or two of the first Patriots drives before it eventually starts leaking points because there isn’t a defense alive that can stop Tom Brady from scoring. It’s just about matching him or even using those early opportunities to put points on the board and start to build up a lead and with Watson at the helm of the Texans offense the Texans have a legitimate chance of doing that this Sunday.
5. Who is one unheralded Texans player on both sides of the football that Patriots fans should know about?
So on the defensive side of the ball I’m going to wax lyrical about LB Dylan Cole for a few sentences. Cole is a UDFA who camp on during training camp last year and managed to carve out a place in the Texans LB core due to his phenomenal ability to not get punked or juked out of their cleats by any RB or TE they were matched up against. I can’t stress this enough. A couple of years ago when the Pats met the Texans in the playoffs the Patriots just spent the entire game abusing the fact that all of the Texans LB’s were big meat heads who couldn’t stick with smaller shiftier backs. Dylan Cole has come in and provided the Texans with an actual answer to the question ‘’How are we going to cover James White’’? He may be returning from a injury but he’s looked excellent in the pre-season and I hope the Texans utilize him to his fullest come Sunday.
On offense I’m going to say slot receiver Bruce Ellington is a under rated part of what the Texans do on offense. After Tom Savage got injured and Bill O’Brien discovered Deshaun Watson was actually pretty damn good. The offense started to change quite drastically to suit Watson. One of these changes was the introduction of various RPO concepts with Ellington being a key pivot point in this as Ellington was often times used as a motion man, fake screener and potential blocker from the backfield in order to allow Watson to be able to diagnose schemes pre-snap and allow for quick and easy outlet passes for simple completions. Ellington functioned as a jack of all trades for the Texans offense(he even took one or two carries out of the backfield) and his versatility was a great asset for Watson’s first few weeks as a Texan. This alongside the fact he developed a rapport with Watson as a receiver just adds to his value further.