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Patriots vs. Texans preview: Four matchups that could decide Sunday’s game

Related: How the Patriots and Texans have changed since their last meeting

New England Patriots v Houston Texans Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

In a week that has produced a never-ending stream of negativity, the New England Patriots will be given a chance to finally turn the ship around on Sunday.

Mac Jones will lead his team down to Texas, where they will meet with another 1-3 team in the Houston Texans. So why is this the week that New England can turn things around in the right direction? Well, not all 1-3 teams are made the same.

The Patriots have a point differential of +1, the Texans’ point differential sits at -49. New England’s rookie quarterback has looked good so far, succumbing to the occasional rookie mistake but influencing the team in a positive manner overall. Houston’s rookie quarterback, well, was never even supposed to be the starter. The Patriots’ defense is ranked 6th in the NFL in scoring and held the Super Bowl Champions to just 19 points last week. The Texans defense is ranked 28th in that same category, and couldn’t stop a nose bleed last weekend when they got shellacked by the Buffalo Bills 40-0. The Patriots are clearly a better team, they just don’t have anything to show for it.

So the outcome of these games can’t blindly be decided by each team’s overall talent or individual standing, because if it could, then we’d be talking about a much more successful Patriots team. These games are decided by the matchups, that’s why we’ve identified some of the most important ones that could dictate the outcome on Sunday.

Patriots LB’s vs. Texans’ RB’s

The Texans have a true running back stable with Mark Ingram, David Johnson, and Philip Lindsay, who are all receiving 5 or more touches per game. Is it a good running back stable? That’s a whole other story, with those three backs averaging just 89 total yards on 26 touches per game.

As you could imagine, Houston has tried to rotate these backs based on their offensive situation. Ingram has been their short yardage/early down guy, while Johnson has handled the majority of their workload in the passing game, and Lindsay has been their change of pace back. So what’s the key to winning this matchup if your’e the Patriots? Well, matching up.

The Patriots obviously have one of the best linebacking corps in the NFL, that just got even stronger with the addition of Jamie Collins. Making for a perfect situation where they can use that depth to substitute depending on who enters the game for Houston.

Ja’Whaun Bentley and Dont’a Hightower are thumpers, perfect for defending an offense with Mark Ingram and without a mobile quarterback. Kyle Van Noy can play both on and off the ball, matching up with Philip Lindsay who is the Texans best outside rusher. Josh Uche and Jamie Collins are both stud athletes who excel at rushing the passer and in coverage. Bad news for David Johnson who would likely come into the game on third downs. If the Patriots are able to successfully pull off their substitutions, Houston won’t be able to get anything going with their backs.

Jones vs. Houston LB’s

The names from those Houston defenses of old are all gone. No more J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Tyrann Mathieu, D.J. Reader, or Bernardrick McKinney. Instead there’s a defense left to be run by Justin Reid and a bevy of replacement level players.

Reid is a Pro-Bowl level safety, who plays alongside Lonnie Johnson to make up one of the better ball-hawking duos in the league. Houston’s defensive front, though unable to stop the run very well, can get after the quarterback pretty well. So that leave’s defensive group to exploit in the passing game, the linebackers.

Though Houston rolls out some familiar names to die-hard football fans, the second level of their defense has been amongst the worst in the NFL through four weeks. Zach Cunningham, Christian Kirksey, and Kamu Grungier-Hill make up the front end of their rotation and all struggle in pass coverage. With Jones’ success against Lavonte David and Devin White last week, it’s likely the Patriots will have that short to intermediate passing game to rely on if their run game stalls out.

Guy and Godchaux vs. Britt and Howard

Houston’s lone chance of keeping up with the Patriots is by shortening the game and keeping things on the ground. The Patriots run defense has given up 120+ rushing yards in each of the last three weeks. Houston will likely be looking to attack that weakness.

Though most of New England’s run deficiencies come outside of the guards, Houston doesn’t necessarily have the horses to take full advantage, so they’ll need to attack head on. That is where Lawrence Guy and Davon Godchaux come in, needing to play as well as they have yet this season. They’ll be spending most of their snaps contending with Houston’s center Justin Britt, and former tackle turned guard Tytus Howard.

The Texans rank 32nd in yards per rush attempt and 31st in run offense DVOA. In a battle of weaknesses, this is the week to get right if you're the Patriots run defense.

Belichick vs. Mills

I would be lying if I told you this was a fair matchup. Honestly, Davis Mills should be able to sue the Texans for malpractice if they actually send him out there on Sunday. Here is what it looks like when Bill Belichick faces a rookie quarterback.

So, let me just tell you the same thing I told you when Bill Belichick was preparing to face Zach Wilson for the first time.

“The game plans for these games have stayed pretty similar to one another throughout the last two decades. Belichick puts all of the pressure he can on the quarterback. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean he’s sending blitzes at them, but he takes their biggest strength away and forces them to think on their feet. In fewer words, it becomes an ‘adapt or die’ mentality.”

The way New England can force Mills into adopting that ‘adapt or die’ mentality, is by dropping eight and forcing him to make the right reads. It’s not so much an indictment on Mills as it is on his inexperience. Rookie quarterbacks make mistakes, especially when you make them uncomfortable.