It’s a “get right” game for the New England Patriots on Sunday as they head to Houston to take on the 1-3 Texans with both teams looking to get back into the win column. However, the Patriots will try to return to their winning ways with four of their starting five offensive linemen out — Trent Brown and Shaq Mason are absent due to injury, while Isaiah Wynn and Michael Onwenu are on the Covid-19 reserve list.
Despite both teams sitting at 1-3 at this point in the young season, the Patriots and Texans have been a tale of two teams. The Texans have a point differential of -49 on the season with their lone win coming against the 0-4 Jaguars in Week 1; the Patriots have been just a few plays away from being 3-1 with a +1 point differential.
A rookie third-round pick will start for the Texans at quarterback (Davis Mills) and face a tall task: rookie QBs are currently 6-22 versus Bill Belichick. The last victim of the Belichick dominance was the New York Jets’ Zach Wilson, who threw four interceptions in Week 2.
Despite missing key players on both sides of the ball, Sunday’s game is a good opportunity for the Patriots to start building some momentum and start stringing some wins together with aaa few winnable games on the schedule over the next few weeks.
With that said, here are our four keys to a New England victory.
Get the run game going again
As the weeks have gone on, we have seen the Patriots start to take the training wheels off of Mac Jones. The rookie quarterback has attempted just under 100 passes over the last two weeks and we have seen offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels put the ball into his hands a bit more. However, after to the Patriots trailed and faced two elite run defenses the last two weeks, this is a good opportunity to get their power run game going again despite missing almost their entire starting offensive line.
The Patriots face a Texans defense that ranks 26th in the league against the run and allows just over 140 yards per game on the ground. It could be a busy day for Damien Harris as they look to get him back to his elite play levels that we saw the first two weeks of the season.
With James White out and both Rhamondre Stevenson and J.J. Taylor trying to overcome some early season struggles, the game in Houston is an opportunity to plug them in spurts and get their confidence back as well as providing a spark to a rushing attack that has essentially been non-existent the last two weeks.
Joejuan Williams’ big opportunity
With Stephon Gilmore now gone after being traded to the Carolina Panthers earlier this week, and with Jalen Mills out due to a hamstring injury, the Patriots’ cornerback depth got a bit thinner heading into Sunday’s matchup. With J.C. Jackson likely shadowing Brandin Cooks and Jonathan Jones taking over his usual spot in the slot, Joejuan Williams will likely get the start as the outside cornerback opposite Jackson.
Williams was a healthy scratch last week and has had a tough time, once again, finding consistent opportunities in a secondary that has had a lot of turnover from last year. The 2019 second-round draft pick now has a big chance to show that he deserves meaningful snaps going forward with Jalen Mills out on Sunday. Him playing well could be key to a New England win.
Davis Mills versus the Patriots defense
As noted above, Bill Belichick is currently 22-6 versus rookie quarterbacks with the last non-first-round pick to beat him being Russell Wilson nearly 10 years ago.
The Patriots defense therefore faces a favorable matchup despite Jalen Mills missing Sunday’s game. The unit has improved each week, allowing just 397 yards and one touchdown over the last two game versus the high-powered New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers passing attacks.
With third-rounder Davis Mills getting another start on Sunday and coming off an abysmal 87 yards passing and four interceptions a week ago versus the Buffalo Bills, the Patriots secondary could have a big opportunity to take advantage of the rookie’s inexperience and help set the offense up with some strong field position.
Continue to involve Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith
Coming off a week when both Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith cost their team big time versus the Saints, the duo bounced back and produced their best games as Patriots versus the Buccaneers last Sunday. Henry and Smith combined for seven catches and two touchdowns in the loss to Tom Brady’s Bucs.
Both tight ends were heavily targeted and produced both of their touchdowns in the red zone — a spot on the field where the Patriots have struggled thus far this season. Henry and Smith are expected to face a favorable matchup this week as Mac Jones should continue to look their way down inside the 30-yard line and continue to build chemistry with his two big targets.