After back-to-back wins, the New England Patriots have built some momentum heading into the 11th week of regular season action. While still below .500 due to its 4-5 record, the team will have a golden chance to get even against one of the worst teams in the league this year: the Houston Texans, owners of a 2-7 record and third place in their division.
With that being said, let’s take a closer look at New England’s upcoming opponent.
Record: 2-7 (3rd place AFC South)
Points scored: 25th (22.2/game)
Points against: 26th (28.0/game)
Head coach: Romeo Crennel
Coordinators: Tim Kelly (offense), Anthony Weaver (defense), Tracy Smith (special teams)
The Texans started the season with former New England offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien as their head coach, but he was let go after the team’s 0-4 start. The organization then turned to another ex-Patriot assistant, Romeo Crennel, to fill in as the interim head coach. The team has looked better with Crennel at the helm: Houston is 2-3 in the three games since O’Brien was fired, even though both of the wins came against the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars.
Season so far
Week 1 at Kansas City Chiefs: L 34-20
Week 2 vs Baltimore Ravens: L 33-16
Week 3 at Pittsburgh Steelers: L 28-21
Week 4 vs Minnesota Vikings: L 31-23
Week 5 vs Jacksonville Jaguars: W 30-14
Week 6 at Tennessee Titans: L 42-36 (OT)
Week 7 vs Green Bay Packers: L 35-20
Week 8: Bye
Week 9 at Jacksonville Jaguars: W 27-25
Week 10 at Cleveland Browns: L 10-7
Last year’s divisional playoff game against the Chiefs could have been the high-point of Bill O’Brien’s career with the Texans: the team jumped to a 24-0 lead on the road and appeared to be well on its way to the AFC title game. What followed, however, was a collapse of epic proportions that did not end when the final whistle was blown that day with the Chiefs winning 51-31.
The Texans went on to trade away star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and a fourth-round draft pick to the Arizona Cardinals for second- and fourth-round selections as well as running back David Johnson. Then, they opened against three of the best teams in the league, losing by average of 13 points. The subsequent loss against the Vikings eventually sealed O’Brien’s fate.
As noted above, Houston went 2-3 since his firing, but the Texans as a whole are still far from the team that they appeared to be early on during their divisional round game in Kansas City. They are, however, still very much the same team that blew a 24-point lead — albeit without its best offensive skill position player.
The Patriots and Texans have met 12 times so far, with two of the meetings coming in the playoffs:
- Patriots wins: 10 wins (2 playoff wins)
- Texans wins: 2 wins (0 playoff wins)
Since the franchise’s inception in 2002, the Texans have played the Patriots 12 times but with limited success: New England won 10 of the matchups, including a 41-28 victory in the 2012 playoffs and 34-16 win in tournament four years later. However, Houston did win the most recent meeting between the two clubs in the form of a 28-22 regular season win last year.
Projected starting lineups
The biggest name on the offensive side of the ball for the Texans is undoubtably Deshaun Watson, who has been playing like one of the NFL’s better quarterbacks despite the team’s overall struggles on both sides of the ball. One player that also stands out, however, is former Patriot Brandin Cooks: acquired via trade to help fill the hole created by DeAndre Hopkins’ departure, Cooks is leading the Texans with 43 receptions which he took for 549 yards and three touchdowns.
DE J.J. Watt, DT Brandon Dunn, DT P.J. Hall, DE Carlos Watkins; LB Zach Cunningham, LB Whitney Mercilus, LB Tyrell Adams; CB Vernon Hargreaves III, CB Bradley Roby; S Justin Reid, S Eric Murray
While J.J. Watt is still a productive player up front, the Texans’ defense lacks the star power it had in years past. No matter if run defense or coverage, the team has struggled mightily to slow opposing offenses down: the linebackers have had major inconsistencies, while the secondary has struggled to repeatedly contain opposing pass catchers. Add it all up, and you get a defense that is ranked near the bottom of the league in most categories.
K Ka’imi Fairbairn, P Bryan Anger, LS Jon Weeks; PR Will Fuller V, KR C.J. Prosise
The Texans’ special teams group has been one of the bright spots in 2020, even though it too had its ups and downs. Still, the group is an experienced one that features some big play potential with Will Fuller — Houston’s leader in receiving yards (628) and touchdowns (6) — taking over the punt return role.
Three things to watch
1. Can the Patriots continue their momentum? As noted above, the Patriots have won back-to-back games — a first in 2020 for them. Now going up against one of the NFL’s weakest teams, the question becomes whether or not they can build on their recent success to add another solid game and improve to .500. Based on the two teams’ respective seasons so far this should happen, but time will tell.
2. Can the Texans stop New England’s running game? No defense in the NFL has given up as many rushing attempts, yards and yards per carry than the Texans’ — and it will now have to slow down one of the best rushing attacks in all of football. Will Houston be able to do that, and will this in turn free up space for the passing and misdirection game? That could very well be the case. Of course, it is equally possible that Damien Harris and company have their best day of the season against an overwhelmed opponent.
3. How will the defense look against Deshaun Watson? While his offense has struggled this season, Watson has quietly been one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL from a statistical perspective. The former first-round draft pick has completed 68.1 percent of his passes for 2,539 yards, 18 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He also has 48 rushing attempts for 233 yards and another score on his résumé. Needless to say that Watson poses a big threat, and the Patriots’ defense will need to bring its A-game one week after slowing down Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens.