It's time again. The annual meeting between the Houston Texans and the New England Patriots will commence at noon on Sunday at NRG Stadium. Although these two reside in different divisions, the Texans will tangle with the Patriots for the 12th time in 13 years. They've also met every single year since 2009 (minus three years 2010, 2011 & 2014), including two playoff matchups at Gillette Stadium. The Texans finally flipped the win streak script on the Patriots, having won the last two in a row at NRG Stadium in 2019 and 2020.
However, these two teams are markedly different than they were just less than two calendar years ago. These teams met in Week 13 on a Sunday night in 2019, and in that game, starting Texans RT Marcus Cannon was the Patriots starting RT. The 2019 Patriots had two starters that should start for the Patriots on Sunday. The 2021 Texans projected starting offense has just two players that started in that 2019 game. The two teams have a combined ten players that started that night. Remember, less than two years ago, that could start in the same position. Oh, and the coup de grace?? The two teams will both start rookie quarterbacks. This game should be sponsored by the late great David Bowie signing CH-CH-CH-CHANGES.
That all said, the Patriots still have the greatest coach the game of football has ever seen, prowling their sideline, and they offered up their best effort of the season in an unfortunate loss to the defending champs in the rain last Sunday night. It's never easy, regardless of who's wearing those Patriots colors. So, let's get to Know Week 5's Foe - the revamped New England Patriots.
2021 Schedule (1-3)
Week 1 - L Miami Dolphins 17-16
Week 2 - W @ New York Jets 25-6
Week 3 - L New Orleans Saints 28-13
Week 4 - L Tampa Bay Buccaneers 19-17
Week 5 - @ Houston Texans
Week 6 - Dallas Cowboys
Week 7 - New York Jets
Week 8 - @ Los Angeles Chargers
Week 9 - @ Carolina Panthers
Week 10 - Cleveland Browns
Week 11 - @ Atlanta Falcons
Week 12 - Tennessee Titans
Week 13 - @ Buffalo Bills
Week 14 - BYE
Week 15 - @ Indianapolis Colts
Week 16 - Buffalo Bills
Week 17 - Jacksonville Jaguars
Week 18 - @ Miami Dolphins
Patriots Offense (in 2021 regular season)
Rushing Yards Per Game - 68.5 ypg (31st in the NFL)
Passing Yards Per Game - 243.3 ypg (18th)
Total Offense Per Game - 311.8 ypg (26th)
Turnovers Lost - 7 (3 fumbles lost, 4 INT)
Expected Patriots starting offense for Week 4
QB - MAC JONES
RB - Damien Harris
WR - Jakobi Meyers
WR - NELSON AGHOLOR
TE - JONNU SMITH
TE - HUNTER HENRY
LT - Isaiah Wynn
LG - Michael Onwenu
C - David Andrews
RG - Shaq Mason
RT - TRENT BROWN
Key Offensive Non-Starters
WR - N'Keal Harry
RB - Brandon Bolden
FB - Jakob Johnson
IOL - Ted Karras
OT - YASIR DURANT
Italics - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New to team in 2021
Keys to winning v. the Patriots offense
- Mac the Knife - Patriots rookie QB Mac Jones reminds me of a surgeon when he's under center. He surgically dissects defenses with one of the highest football IQ's a young quarterback has possessed in a long time. He completed 19 straight against the Buccaneers in the rain on a Sunday night, with Tom Brady on the other sideline, cool as the other side of the pillow (RIP Stuart Scott). He knows where everyone is on the field, and without a smoking cannon of a right arm, he takes immediately what teams give him. He also takes advantage of your coverage mistakes too. It's imperative to be coverage sound to make the throw he's going to make as physically difficult as possible.
- The Spider-Man Meme - Everyone has seen the famous Spider-Man meme where there are two Spider-Men pointing at one another. It's often used to show that two seemingly disparate items are actually one and the same. Right now, the Texans run game, and the Patriots ground games are pointing right at one another like two cloaked Peter Parkers. Last week, against the law firm of Suh and Vea, the Patriots generated minus one-yard rushing on eight carries, while the Texans ran for 26 on 16 carries (two other carries went for 22 yards). The Patriots came into NRG Stadium last year and fed RB Damien Harris, who can be a more than capable number one back, successfully, especially early in the game. I'd imagine Harris will get plenty of looks early against this Texans defense to try to generate some balance for Jones and the passing game.
- Left Side? - One of the best stories of the 2020 season for the Patriots was the emergence of day three rookie Michael Onwenu. He was magnificent and it appeared that the Patriots found another steal late in the draft, but Onwenu ended up being replaced in Sunday night's game against Tampa Bay. Then, Tuesday night, both he and starting LT Isaiah Wynn were placed on the COVID-19 list. That will put their presence on Sunday in peril and make that left side a major question mark for the Patriot's offense.
- Same As It Ever Was - The Patriots back in the early 2010s were one of the first teams in all of football to regularly use two tight end sets and remain explosive in the passing game. The use of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez changed the game around the NFL as teams saw how they used two tight end bodies in combination throughout the game and not just in short-yardage situations. So, when free agency hit in 2021, it was no surprise that the Patriots aggressively went after Jonnu Smith (formerly a Titan) and Hunter Henry (formerly a Charger) to bolster their offense in 2021 and beyond. Patriots OC Josh McDaniels adroitly manages those two tight ends and last week against Tampa Bay was a solid example of what those two can do together. Each tight end caught a touchdown pass, accounting for all of the touchdowns scored against the Bucs, but there's more there for these two, especially Smith, who earned my ultimate respect when he took a toss sweep AS A RB 61-yards against the Texans in 2018.
- "Meyers, the former HS QB" - This line is said every single Patriots broadcast and Pats fans are probably sick of hearing it, but the Texans need to be aware of it at all times because Patriots WR Jakobi Meyers can still sling it. The Pats favorite trick play concept is the receiver double pass, and the torch has been passed from Julian Edelman, former college QB, to Meyers, former HS QB. Last week, Meyers completed not one but TWO passes for 45 yards and had the highest QB rating in a game that featured the GOAT and the Patriots first-round rookie, who completed 19 passes in a row at some point. Okay, so I say that QB rating thing tongue in cheek, but those two throws were absolutely on the money, and he's a weapon in more ways than one.
Patriots Defense (in 2021 regular season)
Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game - 121.8 ypg (19th in the NFL)
Passing Yards Allowed Per Game - 185.0 ypg (4th)
Total Offense Allowed Per Game - 306.8 ypg (5th)
Turnovers Generated - 5 (5 INT, 0 fumble recoveries - Patriots are -2 in TO margin)
Expected Patriots starting defense for Week 4
DE - Deatrich Wise Jr.
DT - Lawrence Guy
DT - DAVON GODCHAUX
LB - MATT JUDON
LB - DONT'A HIGHTOWER (opted out in 2020)
LB - KYLE VAN NOY (re-signed with Patriots in 2021 offseason)
DB - Kyle Dugger
CB - J.C Jackson
S - Adrian Phillips
S - Devin McCourty
CB - JALEN MILLS
Key Defensive Non-Starters
DT - CHRISTIAN BARMORE
DT - Carl Davis
S - Jonathan Jones
Nickel - Myles Bryant
DE - Josh Uche
DE - Chase Winovich
Italics - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New to team in 2021
Keys to winning v. the Patriots defense
- Same Guy, Different Year - Every single year when the Texans face the Patriots, the first key I mention is that the Texans have to control Patriots DL Lawrence Guy or face the consequences of getting nothing done on offense. He's not an All-Pro. He's not a future Hall of Famer, but Guy is the absolute rock in the middle of an excellent defensive front that the Texans have struggled to block for YEARS. Guy is strong as an ox and quick for a guy, no pun intended, his size. Somehow, someway, this Texans front, one that's struggled to move guys off the ball, is now tasked with effectively blocking one of the more underrated dudes in the league. He's not a game wrecker, ala Myles Garrett or Aaron Donald, but there has to be a plan to not let Guy disrupt the entire offense with his play upfront.
- The Best in the League - Before the Patriots released CB Stephon Gilmore, it was debatable as to who was the Patriots best cover corner - Gilmore or J.C. Jackson. That's the standard that Jackson was living up to on a weekly basis, and now that Gilmore is gone...well, he was already gone, really...so Jackson will just continue to compete and fight for every single blade of grass in coverage. He's physical and has great timing when the ball is in the air. His battle with Texans WR Brandin Cooks will be a tremendous one, to say the least.
- 99 to 9 - Patriots edge Matt Judon was thoroughly underrated when he was a member of the Baltimore Ravens. I thought when he was in Baltimore, he was overshadowed so much by the bigger names throughout that defensive roster. So, knowing that we played the Patriots in 2021, I was highly distraught when he signed with New England, a place where his full gamut of skills would be utilized on a weekly basis. He's been as disruptive and explosive as ever in his first four games with the Patriots. He's a handful for either of the Texans offensive tackles and they may need a little help with the force that is Matt Judon on Sunday.
- The Captain - When the Texans faced the Patriots many moons ago in 2016 with a quarterback who was a first-year starter, Patriots S Devin McCourty picked him off by baiting him into a throw that should've never been made. Five years later, I still worry about that with McCourty in the secondary against Texans QB Davis Mills. McCourty is as smart as they come and his ability to bait inexperienced QBs is a vital asset for this Patriots defense. Mills can't get locked into a receiver, or McCourty is going to pick off this inexperienced quarterback too. Speaking of...
- Comfortability, Part 3 - I said it two weeks ago. I said it last week. I'll say it again now. The Texans offensive front must allow rookie QB Davis Mills to get comfortable as early as possible in the pocket. Coming off a game in which Mills threw four interceptions and was sacked three times, this Texans OL has its hands full with trying to get the rookie time in the pocket to throw when he's ready. Now, he does have to speed up his processing but knowing that he needs an extra half-second to process, this OL must provide ample time for its rookie QB.
The Texans will face the New England Patriots at NRG Stadium in Week 5. Kickoff is set for Sunday at noon CT. Click here for tickets.