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Know Your Foe: New England Patriots

The New England Patriots won the AFC East in 2015... again.

They got to the AFC Championship Game... again.

They beat the Texans... again.

It was a lot of the same for the Patriots in 2015 and it didn't change much heading into the 2016 season.

With one major exception and even that exception comes with a wrinkle.

Tom Brady's suspension forced the Patriots to start Jimmy Garoppolo, who was nothing short of brilliant in the Patriots two wins over Arizona and Miami. But, Garoppolo sprained his throwing shoulder on a tough hit by Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso.

Enter Jacoby Brissett. Maybe.

Brissett entered the game in the second quarter and completed six of nine passes for 92 yards. He was also sacked twice by the Dolphins. He's a rookie from NC State who started his career at the University of Florida. The last game he started was against Mississippi State in the Belk Bowl. His next start could be on Thursday Night Football National television against the Texans.

NBD, right? Uh, for you non-millennials, that means No Big Deal.

It's going to be a talking point throughout this short week and there's no full indication that Garoppolo is ruled out for Thursday night. Regardless, the quarterback situation may not be as important as whether mega-star Rob Gronkowski plays on Thursday night. If Gronk plays, THAT can change the complexion of this entire team. Just see what Gronk did last year to this Houston defense at NRG Stadium in limited snaps.

My Know Your Foe series continues with a team that has been a thorn in the Texans side and one the Texans have never beaten on the road in Foxboro - the New England Patriots.

2015 Unit Profile
Rush Offense - 87.8 ypg (30th in the NFL)
Pass Offense - 286.7 ypg (5th)
Total Offense - 374.4 ypg (6th)
Scoring Offense - 29.1 ppg (3rd)

2016 Unit Profile
Rush Offense - 133.5 ypg (7th in the NFL)
Pass Offense - 280.5 ypg (9th)
Total Offense - 414.0 ypg (5th)
Scoring Offense - 27.0 ppg (12th)

Here's what the Patriots offense looked like in the AFC Championship Game v. Denver:

WR - Danny Amendola
LT - Sebastian Vollmer
LG - Josh Kline
C - Bryan Stork
RG - Shaq Mason
RT - Marcus Cannon
TE - Rob Gronkowski
QB - Tom Brady
RB - James White
TE - Michael Williams
WR** - Julian Edelman

Here's the Patriots starting eleven on offense v. the Miami Dolphins in week two:

WR - Julian Edelman
RG - Shaq Mason
RT - Marcus Cannon

ALL CAPS INDICATE POTENTIALLY DIFFERENT STARTER*Situation-based starterMost significant improvement on the offense - Bennett. The Patriots offense in 2010 and 2011 was as dynamic as never before in its history when Gronkowski and former Patriot TE/H/F Aaron Hernandez provided Brady plenty of outlets in the passing game. Bennett could help give them a bigger, more physical version of Hernandez within that tandem. Gronkowski hasn't played yet this season, but when those two get together on Thursday night, it might a bit of Back to the Future.Most impactful players that the Texans didn't face in 2015? - Edelman, Bennett, Chris Hogan and the Patriots quarterback on Thursday night. Edelman was injured for the matchup last December, while Bennett was traded to New England in the offseason.What will worry Texans fans the most? - It's still the Patriots. They're not void of special talent. Gronk. Edelman. Hogan. Bennett. That's as good an overall perimeter quartet as the Texans will face all season long. If Gronk is ready to go, he changes the dynamic of this entire offense.Here's one other that should give Texans fans' pause - Blount. He ran for 123 yards on 29 carries against Miami last Sunday and he was on his way to a big day last year v. the Texans before an injury sidelined him in that game.What will worry Patriots fans the most? - Simple...if Brissett starts and blinks in the glare of the white hot spotlight that'll shine down on him on Thursday night. Then it wouldn't matter what perimeter weapons surround the rookie from NC State.DEFENSE
2015 Unit Profile
Rush Defense - 98.8 ypg (9th in the NFL)
Pass Defense - 240.7 ypg (17th)
Total Defense - 339.4 ypg (9th)
Scoring Defense - 19.7 ppg (10th)

2016 Unit Profile
Rush Defense - 81.0 ypg (9th in the NFL)
Pass Defense - 320.5 ypg (28th)
Total Defense - 401.5 ypg (25th)
Scoring Defense - 22.5 ppg (15th)

Here's what the Pats defense looked like in the AFC Championship Game v. Denver:

DE - Rob Ninkovich
DT - Alan Branch
DT - Malcom Brown
DE - Chandler Jones
LB - Jamie Collins
LB - Dont'a Hightower
CB - Logan Ryan
S - Patrick Chung
S - Devin McCourty
CB - Malcolm Butler
NB - Duron Harmon

Here's the Patriots starting eleven on defense v. the Miami Dolphins in week two:

DT - Alan Branch
DT - Malcom Brown
LB - Jamie Collins
NB- JUSTIN COLEMAN *CB- Logan Ryan S- Patrick Chung S- Devin McCourty CB - Malcolm Butler

ALL CAPS INDICATE POTENTIALLY DIFFERENT STARTER*Situational starters based on opposing offensive schemeMost significant improvement on the defense? - Not much has changed and for good reason. The Patriots have one of the most underrated defenses in the AFC.Most impactful players that the Texans didn't see in 2015? - Chris Long, the former St. Louis Rams star, is the perfect replacement for Rob Ninkovich who is serving a four game suspension to start the 2016 season.What will worry Texans fans the most? - The overall athleticism of this group, especially at linebacker and safety. Sheard was all but unblockable in that game last year and he'll get a ton more reps with Jones off to Arizona. Hightower didn't play last week, but Freeny is a more than adequate replacement.What will worry Patriots fans the most? - If the Patriots don't generate much of a pass rush with Jones in Arizona. Quite honestly, though, this defense doesn't get the credit that it deserves. The Chiefs were the best defense the Texans faced in 2015, but the Patriots were not that far behind. As such, most of that group returns in 2016. Now, with all of the contract years in play, it won't be the same in 2017, but that's a concern for a different day and time. That can be the fans' worry starting in February. Until then, they can enjoy this defense for another year.

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