One year is a long time in the NFL, and the New England Patriots and Houston Texans have experienced this first-hand recently. Since the Texans’ 28-22 victory last December, the two teams have seen some enormous personnel changes both on and off the field.
Before getting ahead of ourselves, however, let’s take a look back at that game to find out how the two clubs have since changed.
The following 31 players, including 10 of 22 offensive and defensive starters, from the teams’ last meeting on December 1, 2019 are still with the Patriots:
P Jake Bailey, LB Ja’Whaun Bentley, CB Justin Bethel, RB Rex Burkhead, S Terrence Brooks, DT Adam Butler, LS Joe Cardona, DT Byron Cowart, OT Korey Cunningham, OT Jermaine Eluemunor, C James Ferentz, CB Stephon Gilmore, DT Lawrence Guy, RB Damien Harris, WR N’Keal Harry, TE Ryan Izzo, CB J.C. Jackson, CB Jonathan Jones, G Shaq Mason, S Devin McCourty, CB Jason McCourty, WR Jakobi Meyers, LB John Simon, WR Matthew Slater, QB Jarrett Stidham, G Joe Thuney, RB James White, CB Joejuan Williams, LB Chase Winovich, DE Deatrich Wise Jr, OT Isaiah Wynn
Offense: Besides the departure of Tom Brady, the Patriots also saw some change elsewhere. The offensive line will have Isaiah Wynn, Michael Onwenu and David Andrews fill the starting spots at left and right tackle and center, respectively, while the wide receivers will be led by Jakobi Meyers, Damiere Byrd and N’Keal Harry in place of Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett and Mohamed Sanu. The tight ends will look completely different as well: gone are Benjamin Watson and Matt LaCosse, with Ryan Izzo and Jordan Thomas, who started for the Texans last December, filling their roles. The backfield, meanwhile, is not expected to have Sony Michel available and in turn see Damien Harris serve as the lead back.
Defense: This year’s offseason has impacted the Patriots defense quite a bit, with some of 2019’s cornerstone players leaving the club: Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung opted out; Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Danny Shelton left in free agency; Duron Harmon was traded to Detroit. All six of them were starters during last December’s game against the Texans. However, New England will see the return of cornerback Jason McCourty, who missed last year’s game in Houston because of a groin injury.
Special teams: Long-time Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski was released this offseason, but he was on injured reserve the last time the team met the Texans anyway. Instead the team relied on Kai Forbath, who has since been replaced by Nick Folk. Two other notable changes on special teams over the last 12 months were the departures of core coverage players Brandon Bolden (opt-out) and Nate Ebner (free agency).
Coaching staff: The Patriots no longer have the services of long-time offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, wide receivers/special teams coach Joe Judge and defensive line coach Bret Bielema available. The three men have been replaced, in that order, by O-line coaching duo Carmen Bricillo and Cole Popovich, Mick Lombardi (wide receivers) and Cam Achord (special teams), as well as DeMarcus Covington. New quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch was also added, as was safeties coach and former coaching assistant Brian Belichick.
The following 31 players, including 12 of 22 offensive and defensive starters, from the teams’ last meeting on December 1, 2019 are still with the Texans:
LB Tyrell Adams, TE Jordan Akins, P Bryan Anger, CB Cornell Armstrong, CB Keion Crossen, LB Zach Cunningham, DT Brandon Dunn, K Ka’imi Fairbairn, TE Darren Fells, WR Will Fuller V, G Zach Fulton, FB Cullen Gillaspia, CB Vernon Hargreaves III, RB Buddy Howell, RB Duke Johnson, CB Lonnie Johnson Jr, OT Roderick Johnson, LB Peter Kalambayi, C Nick Martin, QB A.J. McCarron, LB Whitney Mercilus, S A.J. Moore, DE Charles Omenihu, S Justin Reid, CB Bradley Roby, G Max Scharping, WR Kenny Stills, OT Laremy Tunsil, DE Carlos Watkins, QB Deshaun Watson, LS Jon Weeks
Offense: While a noticeable portion of the Texans’ offensive talent is still around in 2020, the unit’s biggest star was traded away during the offseason: Houston sent wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals. Even with Hopkins gone, however, the team still has plenty of depth at the wide receiver position in the form of offseason acquisitions Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb. On top of it all, the team still has Deshaun Watson under center and playing behind an offensive line that retained four of five starters from a year ago.
Defense: Houston’s defense saw some talent depart since its last game versus New England. Four starters — D.J. Reader, Benardrick McKinney, Johnathan Joseph and Tashaun Gipson — are no longer available, for one reason or another. However, the Texans did get their defensive leader back after he missed the 2019 contest against the Patriots on injured reserve: J.J. Watt is back in the lineup, and currently leading the team’s defense in quarterback disruptions.
Special teams: With the exception of special teams coach Brad Seely retiring — more on that in a second — the Texans have retained their core special teams talent from a year ago. The three specialists are still available, as is coverage ace (and former Patriot) Keion Crossen. There has been a change at punt returner, though, as Houston let go of DeAndre Carter, turning the duties over to wideout Will Fuller.
Coaching staff: It has been quite the journey for the Houston coaching staff since last December. Brad Seely announcing his retirement during the offseason, and being replaced by Tracy Smith, was small news compared to what happened after Week 4: head coach Bill O’Brien was fired, with assistant head coach Romeo Crennel taking over. While this change is obviously the biggest over the last year, there are others as well — from offensive coordinator Tim Kelly adding over quarterback position coach to his duties, to outside linebackers coach John Pagano and secondary coach Anthony Midget leaving.