The New England Patriots have won back-to-back games against teams in playoff contention, and will now face another big challenge: the 9-1 team will travel to Texas to take on the Houston Texans. Head coach Bill O’Brien’s squad has manifested itself as the frontrunners in the AFC South over the last week, and will now try to improve its position in the battle for a first-round playoff bye against New England.
With that being said, let’s take a closer look at the Patriots’ Week 13 opponent.
Record: 7-4 (1st place AFC South)
Points scored: 10th (24.1 points/game)
Points against: 17th (22.6 points/game)
Head coach: Bill O’Brien
Coordinators: Tim Kelly (OC), Romeo Crennel (DC)
Games so far
Week 1 at New Orleans Saints: L 30-28
Week 2 vs Jacksonville Jaguars: W 13-12
Week 3 at Los Angeles Chargers: W 27-20
Week 4 vs Carolina Panthers: L 16-10
Week 5 vs Atlanta Falcons: W 53-32
Week 6 at Kansas City Chiefs: W 31-24
Week 7 at Indianapolis Colts: L 30-23
Week 8 vs Oakland Raiders: W 27-24
Week 9 at Jacksonville Jaguars: W 26-3
Week 10: Bye
Week 11: at Baltimore Ravens: L 41-7
Week 12 vs Indianapolis Colts: W 20-17
The Texans started the season 2-2 and with a series of one-score games. It took until Week 5’s contest against the visiting Atlanta Falcons for the team to celebrate its first decisive victory of the season — one that was followed by an impressive road win in Kansas City. Despite losing to the Colts the following week, Houston was still able to head into its bye week with a 6-3 record and as the third seed in the AFC’s playoff race.
However, the team was blown out by the Ravens coming out of its bye and briefly fell to the sixth seed. However, a win over the Colts in Week 12 brought the team back into the division leaders club and seed number three heading into its matchup with the Patriots.
Three storylines that describe the 2019 season
The defensive line turnover: Before the season even began, the Texans made a big move along their defensive line when they sent former first overall draft pick Jadeveon Clowney to the Seattle Seahawks for two players — including ex-Patriot Barkevious Mingo — and a third-round draft pick. In Week 8, the team lost another one of its cornerstone defenders: J.J. Watt suffered a pectoral injury and was ruled out for the rest of the season; the third time in the last four years Watt will end a campaign on injured reserve.
The growth of Deshaun Watson: Two years removed from an ACL tear that cut his rookie season short, former first-round draft selection Deshaun Watson is in the middle of his best season to date. The 24-year-old is on pace to set new career-highs in completion percentage, yards and touchdowns and has posted some very solid statistics through his team’s first 11 games of the season: he has completed 249 of 361 pass attempts (69.0%) for 2,899 yards, 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
The slow starts: Despite entering Week 13 with a 7-4 record, Houston has had some issues this season. Among the most notable ones is the team’s slow starts: in first quarters this season, the Texans have been outscored a combined 48-23 while going scoreless on offense in six games. If the team wants to keep up with a Patriots team that has scored 94 points in first quarters and surrendered only 20, it needs to get off to a quick start.
Three players to know
WR DeAndre Hopkins: One week after shutting down the Dallas Cowboys’ Amari Cooper, Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore will face another sizable challenge: DeAndre Hopkins is arguably a top-three wide receiver in the NFL, and entering the game with 81 catches for 839 yards and six touchdowns on his season résumé — clearly leading the team in the first two categories. During his two matchups against the Patriots’ number one cornerback, however, the 27-year-old has not performed on his usual high levels: he has caught six passes on nine targets for 85 yards, with one interception by Gilmore.
OT Laremy Tunsil: After Deshaun Watson was sacked a league-high 62 times in 2018, the Texans tried to upgrade their offensive line during the offseason. Not only did they invest first- and second-round picks in the position group, they also sent three draft picks — including two first-rounders — and two players to the Miami Dolphins to acquire two players and a fourth-round pick. One of those players was Laremy Tunsil, who is in the middle of a strong season as Houston’s left tackle: in 11 games this season, he has surrendered only two sacks and 11 hurries while also performing well albeit not quite as terrifically as a run blocker.
DT D.J. Reader: With J.J. Watt out for the remainder of the year, the rest of the Texans’ defensive line needed to step up in order to soften the blow of his absence. One player in particular did just that: nose tackle D.J. Reader, who has been very good as both a run blocker and a pass rusher this year. The four-year veteran is heading into Week 13 with three quarterback sacks, three hits, and an additional 18 hurries under his belt and will prove to be a challenge for New England’s interior offensive line.
What to watch this week
Will Bill O’Brien get his first win against his former team? The Patriots’ long-time assistant and former offensive coordinator has coached five games against Bill Belichick since taking over the Texans in 2014, and the results are lopsided in New England’s favor: the Patriots won all five of the meetings with an average score of 30.2-15.0. This year’s team, in large parts because of Watson’s improved play, might be O’Brien’s best yet — and his best shot at beating his mentor.