The New England Patriots and Houston Texans last met in Week 11 of the 2020 season. Since then, the teams have combined for a 6-14 record and enter this Week 5 matchup sharing a 1-3 mark on the season.
Since their matchup last November, both squads have introduced rookie quarterbacks to the fold and rebuilt their rosters through free agency and the draft, but still can’t find a way to rectify any of the issues that hindered their 2020 seasons. They’ve both hit the organizational reset button, with little to show for it.
So, all of a sudden this October matchup has a ton of weight behind it. Both New England and Houston need to turn things around, and this game could spell the beginning. So let us delve into the roster changes that have been made, and learn about the new faces who could help spark said turn around and weren’t around last November.
The following 29 players from the last meeting with Tampa Bay are still on the Patriots’ active roster:
WR Jakobi Meyers, OT Isaiah Wynn, C David Andrews, G Shaq Mason, G Michael Onwenu, RB Damien Harris, FB Jakob Johnson, DT Lawrence Guy, LB Chase Winovich, LB Ja’Whaun Bentley, DL Deatrich Wise Jr., S Kyle Dugger, CB J.C. Jackson, S Adrian Phillips, S Devin McCourty, K Nick Folk, P Jake Bailey, WR N’Keal Harry, ST Matthew Slater, ST Cody Davis, ST Justin Bethel, CB Jonathan Jones, LS Joe Cardona, CB Joejuan Williams, LB Josh Uche, WR Gunner Olszewski, DT Carl Davis, QB Brian Hoyer, RB J.J. Taylor
Offense: There’s been a fairly large overhaul on offense since last season. Mac Jones is in at quarterback over Cam Newton, and his group of weapons —Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor, Hunter Henry, and Jonnu Smith— looks much different than Newton’s group that had Damiere Byrd and Rex Burkhead as their top contributors. The offensive line also saw the addition of Trent Brown and Ted Karras, though those two players haven’t played very much to this point.
Defense: The Patriots have a number of starters that will return from last year’s squad. Kyle Dugger, Devin McCourty, Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise Jr., J.C. Jackson, and Adrian Phillips will all return to the starting defensive lineup. New additions Matthew Judon, Davon Godchaux, Kyle Van Noy, and Jalen Mills will join Josh Uche, Chase Winovich, Ja’Whaun Bentley, and Jon Jones to make up the rest of the defensive rotation. Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, Terrence Brooks, Byron Cowart, and Terez Hall are some of the players that won’t be back on the defense from last season’s game.
Special teams: The lone group that will resemble anything like their counterpart from last year is the special teams unit. The battery of Nick Folk, Jake Bailey, and Joe Cardona are all back. Unsurprisingly, Bill Belichick also has Matthew Slater, Cody Davis, and Justin Bethel coming back around as well. Brandon King will also return to the group following his injuries in 2019 and 2020.
Coaching staff: The coaching staff underwent a few changes this offseason. Co-offensive line coach Cole Popovich departed before the start of training camp, leaving Carmen Bricillo to coach the unit solo this season. Additions include former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia returning as a special assistant to Bill Belichick, and Bo Hardegree being added as a quarterbacks coach. Troy Brown and Vinnie Sunseri made switches from running backs to wide receivers and defense to running backs, respectively.
The following 22 players from the last meeting are still on the Texans’ active roster:
QB Deshaun Watson, CB Lonnie Johnson Jr., K Ka’imi Fairbairn, WR Brandin Cooks, DB Justin Reid, DB Eric Murray, DB Vernon Hargreaves III, RB Scottie Phillips, DB A.J. Moore Jr., LS Jon Weeks, DL Jonathan Greenard, DL Jacob Martin, LB Whitney Mercilus, OL Charlie Heck, OL Tytus Howard, OL Max Scharping, OL Laremy Tunsil, TE Pharaoh Brown, TE Jordan Akins, DL Charles Omenihu, DT Ross Blacklock, LB Zach Cunningham
Offense: Despite the fact that he will be on their 53-man roster on Sunday, Deshaun Watson will not be playing in the game. His... let's say issues, will thrust Davis Mills into the starting lineup. He will be throwing to former Patriots Rex Burkhead, Danny Amendola ,and Brandin Cooks, and handing the ball off to a bevy of backs who did not play for Houston in last seasons matchup like Philip Lindsay, David Johnson, and Mark Ingram.
The offensive line will also look much different this time around, as Laremy Tunsil will slot into the lineup after missing last seasons game, as will former Patriot Marcus Cannon who was traded to Houston this past offseason. Justin Britt will make up the rest of the line alongside returners Tytus Howard and Max Scharping.
Defense: J.J. Watt is no longer a Houston Texan. Weird.
Instead the boys from Texas will trot out the likes of Maliek Collins, DeMarcus Walker, Joe Thomas (not that one), Vernon Hargreaves III, and more. This is a very different defense than the Patriots have seen in the pass.
They do have a few returning starters on the defense including Whitney Mercilus, Justin Reid, Zach Cunningham, and Ross Blacklock, but the latter two may not play on Sunday as they are still on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
Special teams: Ka’imi Fairbairn and Jon Weeks will return at kicker and long snapper for the Texans, but they replaced former punter Bryan Anger with Cameron Johnston.
Coaching staff: It’s pretty much a completely new coaching staff in Houston. Interim Head Coach Romeo Crenell was dealing with a thrown together staff headed into last seasons matchup after Bill O’Brien was fired. Now, it’s David Culley running the show, alongside new defensive coordinator Lovie Smith and passing game coordinator Pep Hamilton.