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Texans-Patriots Preview: SIX Things To Watch For

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Matt Weston gives you SIX things to watch for when the Texans play the Patriots.

Houston Texans v New England Patriots Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

When I was hanging on a light pole in a hurricane of words I was kind of bummed I couldn’t see the Texans play LIVE this Sunday. After four wasteful seasons of ineffective quarterback play ruining this franchise’s ability to be anything more than the best team in a terrible division, things have finally come together. Houston looks to have a franchise quarterback—I’m a fragile guy, my heart’s been broke too many times, and it’s still has only been six games. They have the best front seven in football now that everyone is healthy. J.J. Watt is back! Whitney Mercilus is back! Kareem Jackson is a safety! Shane Lechler has been punted off the team! They drafted Martinas Rankin!

This is the first time I’ve been genuinely excited to watch Houston play sixteen games since 2013. The rest of the time things were pretty clear and simple, or became pretty clear and simple after two games. But now, this year, if the grim reaper stays away, this is going to be a really good football team, a battle to the finish against Jacksonville for an AFC South banner.

Then I was in the air. I saw the Grand Canyon like how the condor does. Those layers of rocks I’ve loved for so long were illuminated in pink summer light. I could smell it. I could see the bats fluttering like demonic hummingbirds yanked up on down by an imp puppeteer. The dirt was in my nose smelling wet clay, my sweat joining with dirt, and the dirt itself, all coagulated together. I started to choke.

I was glad to be where I was, getting away from this pay off all my student loans slog, and go back to the trees, and the rivers, and the streams. Soon enough, I’ll return back to missing it, and I’ll go back to civilization drinking root beer and watching football. Soon enough, I’ll be back in this same pillowcase of rational adult skin. That wild heart swallowed back down deep. Put in a mason jar until next time. But now, now is that time.

HIT IT

1.) The Texans Can’t Beat The New England Patriots

It doesn’t matter who the coach is. The Texans can’t beat New England. Well except for Gary Kubiak in week 17 only for it not to matter because the Bengals rested their starters against the Jets and showed them their big kitty-cat belly and then proceeded to lose to the Jets the following week and then to the Texans in future divisional round series. BUT, aside from that, the Texans can’t beat New England. Tom Brady has been the quarterback in New England since the conception of the franchise. In those games Brady is 6-1, has completed 67% of his passes, thrown 17 touchdowns to 4 interceptions, and has averaged 8.16 yards an attempt.

And even when Brady wasn’t the quarterback they couldn’t beat them! Jacoby Brissett on a short week, on Thursday Night Football, out dueled the Texans’ ex-franchise quarterback, [NAME REDACTED] on national television. Houston lost 27-0. Brissett had a Mitch Trubiskyish stat line and completed only 11 passes. [NAME REDACTED] threw 41 passes and still couldn’t break 200 yards, averaging 4.78 yards an attempt. Houston was 2-0 at the time. They wouldn’t be the same the rest of the year. Bill Belichick showed the rest of the league how to stop that offense. Play two safeties deep. That’s it.

And there are so many other terrible memories. My skin is scarred and scabbed. My brain is mush. Donte Stallworth caught an impossibly long touchdown pass after he killed someone. Houston only managed to get three points after an insane Danieal Manning kick return. Barrett Ruud once covered Aaron Hernandez. J.J. Watt could hit Tom Brady, but could never sack him. Bill O’Brien kicked a field goal on 3rd and 5 at New England’s 20 yard line in a playoff game, and they wouldn’t get that close to the endzone for the rest of the game. There was that game in 2013 that I was too hungover too remember, but I still see a glimpse of myself laying on a leather couch and watching Jeff Tarpinian play football. And last season, they had a lead, they should have won, but O’Brien went conservative at the end of the game and Brady picked apart Houston’s inability to pass receivers in cover four.

2.) That Was The Past

The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past. It’s important to not dwell on what once was, but to understand, accept it, learn from it, and grow from it. In Houston’s case it’s been all the same. Game after game of being out coached, out played, and out managed. But this year, even though I don’t expect it too, things could be different.

For one, the Texans have an actual quarterback. When Houston lost to New England in 2012 Matt Schaub was fatigued and wasn’t the same since that 85 pass attempt run against Detroit and Jacksonville. The matchups after that put embarrassing quarterback decisions in the spotlight kind of like how when you see someone who kind of sort of looks at you and think, is that what I really look like, and then you use that feeling of embarrassment to ensure you never feel that way again. In this game Deshaun Watson is back. The Texans averaged 21 more points with him at quarterback last year then without him. He could run an actual offense filled with a variety of run plays, play action off those run plays, pick and pop passes, warlock scrambles, and deep field bombs. It’s an entirely different game with him around.

Secondly, the Texans front seven is healthy. J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus will all be back on the field like last year. They dominated New England’s run game last season and demolished Brady a few times, even leading to a Clowney fumble return touchdown.

Third, Romeo Crennel is here running his fluid and psychedelic defense. The Texans shouldn’t be playing lazy zone coverage against Brady. They should play aggressive the entire game, trying to push and hit Brady as much as possible, use shallow zones to step in front of passes, force enough turnovers, and then hope the offense can do the rest.

Those six other losses happened. A seventh could probably happen again. Until I see Houston winning, I won’t believe it will ever happen. But if there was a year for this to happen, this would be it.

3.) How Will Houston’s Front Seven Perform?

In last year’s 33-36 loss the Texans sacked Brady five times. Clowney had two, Christian Covington had one, Marcus Gilchrist had another, and Whitney Mercilus had the other. For the better part of the game they were ruthless, and most importantly, they were actually able to take him down. At that time New England wasn’t really running that quick pass offense. They were more power run heavy and looking to throw deep to Brandin Cooks, Rob Gronkowski, and Chris Hogan. This, plus a lead that forced New England to get down the field in chunks, led to longer hold times and let the pass rush in like the right one.

This Patriots team is probably going to focus on getting the ball out quick and short, quick and short. Rex Burkhead is a great receiver, and they’ll look to get him matched up against Benardrick McKinney as much as possible. Gronkowski is a slot running refrigerator who only needs a short gallop to get open. Cordarelle Patterson could be a quick screen catching, and jet sweep running horizontal threat. Hogan should take over for Julian Edelman while he sits in time out. And when the safeties climb down, and the back of the field opens up, he can try to sling it out to Phillip Dorsett deep down the sideline. This receiver group is a real ragtag bunch. But they each can hit different parts of the field in different ways.

The key for Houston’s defense is to batter and fry Brady. If he has any time he’s going to rip through Houston’s secondary. The safeties are fine, but I’m worried about deep zone coverage and the ability to pass receivers off like last year, even though it’s this year, because they have three different players back there. In man coverage, Houston doesn’t seem to have an advantage in any way. This game should be like most of the games. If Houston’s pass rush is healthy and going, they probably win, if not, they may win, but it’s going to be a close shoot em’ up.

4.) Protecting Watson

Yes, Watson can duck and juke and scramble around. But that’s a last resort, like cutting my life into pieces. Like all quarterbacks you want to give him ample time to make reads, sit, and throw with a clean release. Watson had the highest DVOA in football last year when not under pressure. The problem was he was the most pressured quarterback in football.

This year, that should change. Chris Clark isn’t playing left tackle, Julie’n Davenport is, and he looked monstrous during the preseason. On the interior it’s Senio Kelemete and Zach Fulton surrounding Nick Martin, who should now see his career take off. That one errant sore on this line is Seantrel Henderson on the right hand side. Hopefully, he plays well, I just don’t think he will.

This is a nice first game for this brand new offensive line. New England’s defense is going to be better than last year’s version. They won’t finish 31st in DVOA, and they also are healthy to start the season. Dont’a Hightower, the moon and the sun in New England’s sky is healthy. This run defense should be growling up the middle with him playing behind a dog sled of Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton. These two aren’t really pass rushers though, and I can’t see Lamar Miller running behind pulling guards and inside zone plays for the majority of this game. Adam Butler is their best interior rusher.

Out wide they signed Adrian Clayborn. The 30 year defensive end is 100% going to have one of those ‘I can’t believe he’s this good in New England’ years. Last season he had 9.5 sacks and 27.5 pressures. Trey Flowers will line up as the other defensive end, and last season he was their best pass rusher. He had 6.5 sacks and 42.5 pressures. They are good players, not spectacular. And it’s the perfect type of matchup for Davenport and Henderson to face. A medium difficulty trial run before going up against better edge rushes that Tennessee and Jacksonville will employ.

And as I said in the season preview, and as I have been saying all summer, this offensive line is going to be better than people think right now, and they shouldn’t struggle in this game.

5.) Go Long

The biggest mismatch Houston has entering this game is DeAndre Hopkins one on one against Stephon Gilmore. I thought Gilmore was one of the worst signings in football the previous offseason. Consistently he was torched deep in Buffalo, and wasn’t worth the contract he signed for. Last year, he was even worse than I thought he was going to be. He ranked 55th in adjusted success rate and gave up 7.4 adjusted yards per pass. He was mediocre, not even the pretty good I thought he would be.

In this one he should be matched up out wide against Hopkins. If Hopkins can give it to cornerbacks like Jalen Ramsey, he won’t have any problems against Gilmore. The one issue is that old mantra, that great cliche in the sky, say it with me, Bill Belichick takes away your best weapon on offense. So if he plays with Devin McCourty over the top, or plays zone coverage that protects New England from the routes he like to run, they can be able to limit him some. They have in the past. I don’t know why we’d expect anything differently.

This is where Will Fuller comes in. He was practicing this week. He should play on Sunday. Fuller can run defensive backs off the line of scrimmage, and split two deep safeties. If the coverage is rolled over to a shrunken sideline, that gives him even more space to gallop through. He was incredible last year when Watson was alive. And Watson should have some deep opportunities to Fuller in this game as well. If not, there’s always Bruce Ellington in the slot I guess.

6.) we know IT

Listen! Listen! ‘Well now,’ “ he mimicked, “ ‘I don’t know-maybe we shouldn’t get gas in that station. I read recently in National Petroffious Petroleum News that this kind of gas has a great deal of O-Octane gook in it and someone once told me it even had semi-official high-frequency cock in it, and I don’t know, well I just don’t feel like it anyway . . .’ Man, you dig all this.” He was poking me furiously in the ribs to understand. I tried my wildest best. Bing, bang, it was all Yes! Yes! Yes! in the back seat and the people up front were mopping their brows with fright and wishing they’d never picked us up at the travel bureau. It was only the beginning, too.

Enjoy the game everyone.