The New England Patriots have a short week to prepare for a legitimate AFC contender with a wide receiver as their second string quarterback.
This is what Bill Belichick lives for.
The Patriots welcome the Houston Texans to Foxboro on Thursday night, in what could possibly be a playoff matchup come January. Both teams are currently 2-0 due to their strong defenses, and explosive offenses. This has a good chance of being the game of the week.
The Texans made significant offseason improvements that have been contributing in a big way already this season. Lamar Miller, signed from Miami, accumulated 189 rushing yards over the team’s first two wins this year against the Chicago Bears and the Kansas City Chiefs. First round pick Will Fuller has also had a major impact so far, with 211 receiving yards and a touchdown in his first two career games. The team’s biggest (and most expensive) acquisition, Brock Osweiler, has also had a decent first two games, averaging 250 yards and a touchdown. While he is not quite living up to his contract yet, he has been playing well enough to get the team wins.
The Texans pose interesting matchups for the Patriots on both sides of the ball:
The biggest question for the Patriots is at quarterback. The timetable for Jimmy Garoppolo’s return from the shoulder injury he sustained on Sunday against the Dolphins has varied dramatically. Original reports said six weeks (Jeff Howe, Boston Herald), then one-two weeks (Tom Curran CSNNE), then that he might be well enough to backup Jacoby Brissett, and now that he might actually be able to start depending on the amount of pain that he is in. Should Garoppolo start and have full mobility, the game plan will most likely be similar to Sunday’s where the Patriots attack down the field against a secondary that is much weaker than the defense’s front seven. In last year’s meeting between the two teams, Tom Brady threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns (with Julian Edelman missing the game due to a foot injury), and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will try to replicate that production.
However, that is a perfect world scenario, and because I think it would be a bad idea to rush Jimmy G back, I’m game planning for Jacoby Brissett. Despite Brissett’s rookie status, I don’t believe the playbook will be as limited as some might expect. After he entered the game on Sunday, the Patriots relied heavily on the run, only choosing to use short/intermediate passing plays when necessary. This had more to do with conserving a three touchdown lead, than serious concern over Brissett’s ability. When tested, Brissett showed a good deal of poise, including a number of precise throws, and a heads up play where he scrambled for a first down. He has a rocket arm and good mobility, so his play will mainly come down to his awareness in the pocket. The Patriots will most likely let him roll with a good-sized playbook.
The biggest test for the offense will come with protecting Brissett/Garoppolo/Edelman (<- praying that never actually becomes a reality). During last year’s game, J.J. Watt was limited due to his broken hand, making him much less effective than he can be. However, the slack was made up for by former first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, who came up with two sacks in the game. The offensive line, running backs, and tight ends will need to do a good job blocking up front to give their quarterback time in the pocket.
The Patriots should be able to get decent production out of the running game as well, as LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden combined for over 100 yards last year.
Another big question will be if Rob Gronkowski can return. He would be a major asset to any of the potential starters.
This will be an interesting test for the Patriots defense, particularly after Sunday’s game against Miami. The secondary, specifically Malcolm Butler, were dominated in the second half by Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker. Now they are set to play Deandre Hopkins, who is one of the best receivers in the NFL, and Will Fuller, who has burner speed. This game needs to be a rebound game for them to prove they aren’t a pushover unit other teams will try to exploit. Matt Patricia will most likely have them playing a similar scheme to what they used against Arizona in week one. They will run zones to prevent the Texans from using their bread and butter, the deep ball, forcing them to stick to intermediate throws. This will put more pressure on the defensive line.
The defensive front will need to stop Lamar Miller from getting to the second level where he’ll be able to run wild. If Dont’a Hightower is playing, he may end up conducting a number of blitzes while Jaime Collins teases the blitz then drops back into coverage.
The defense played a very poor second half against Miami. They need to play a complete 60 minute game on Thursday if they want to beat the Texans, who are a much better team than the Dolphins. This will be important particularly if Jacoby Brissett is the starting quarterback and the offense is not putting up as many points.
Before the season started, the majority of people were projecting the Patriots at 2-2 under Jimmy Garoppolo. They have already AT LEAST reached that goal, so while a win on Thursday would be great, losing to the Texans won’t be the end of the world. However, I do think they will be able to win if the defense can play like it did against Arizona.
Patriots 22 Texans 13
Until next time- B$