The Texans have squared off with the New England Patriots for the past four seasons and each of the last four matchups between these two teams took place at Gillette Stadium. Each of those four games ran the football gamut, really. The first was a 2016 thorough victory at the hands of the Patriots on a Thursday night. The second was a divisional round playoff game that saw the underdog Texans with the ball, down just a score in the fourth quarter. The third meeting in 2017 was an all-time nail-biter. The 2018 loss was an unfortunate one to the eventual Super Bowl champs in the opening game of the season. The only consistent aspect to each of those four games was that the Patriots won each matchup. In fact, the Texans last beat New England in 2009 in NRG Stadium when Bill O'Brien was the offensive play-caller for Tom Brady and the Patriots.
So, now the scene shifts to Houston for the first time since 2015 and it'll take place in primetime on Sunday night. The Texans have won their last four primetime games at home dating back to 2018, while the Patriots are 3-1 this season on primetime with their only loss coming to the Ravens three weeks ago on a Sunday night.
Over those four matchups at Gillette Stadium, players like Rob Gronkowski, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks made life miserable for the Texans, but none of those four will be in a Patriots jersey on Sunday night. Last year's Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman will be, though, as will the man pulling the trigger for the past 19 seasons in New England - Tom Brady. It's not been an offense that has lit up the scoreboard as previous Patriots groups have done. In fact, against teams with a winning record since last year's Super Bowl, the offense scored 13 (Rams Super Bowl), 16 (at Buffalo), 20 (at Baltimore), 17 (at Philly, now 5-6) and 13 (vs. Dallas in a monsoon). Now, the Texans aren't as dynamic on defense as in previous years from a statistical perspective, so the Patriots will look to diversify their offense to put up more than 20 points against the Texans at NRG Stadium. In those four matchups in Gillette against the Texans, the Patriots scored 27, 34, 36 and 27.
On the other side of the ball, the Patriots defense is as good as it's ever been under head coach Bill Belichick. They rank second in the league against the pass and in total yardage allowed. The defense has pitched two shutouts, three other single digit totals and has allowed just 117 points (31.6 percent of that total came against the Ravens). Then again, outside of the Ravens and the monsoon-addled Cowboys, the Patriots faced the 15th, 18th, 23rd, 25th, 28th, 30th, 31st and 32nd ranked offenses (based on total yardage) in the league. So, are the Patriots a product of dominating poor offenses or a transcendent group that should continue to be compared to the 1985 Bears, 2000 Ravens and 1986 Giants?
We'll find out on Sunday night, so without further ado, let's get to know the New England Patriots... again.
2019 Schedule - Record 10-1
W, Pittsburgh Steelers 33-3
W, @ Miami Dolphins 43-0
W, New York Jets 30-14
W, @ Buffalo Bills 16-10
W, @ Washington Redskins 33-7
W, New York Giants 35-14
W, @ New York Jets 33-0
W, Cleveland Browns 27-13
L, @ Baltimore Ravens 37-20
W, @ Philadelphia Eagles 17-10
W, Dallas Cowboys 13-9
Patriots offense (in 2019):
Rushing yards per game - 91.9 ypg (23rd in the NFL)
Passing yards per game - 260.9 ypg (8th)
Total offense per game - 352.8 ypg (17th)
Turnovers lost - 10 (6 INT, 4 fumbles lost)
Projected Patriots starting offense for Sunday night's game vs. Texans:
QB - Tom Brady
RB - Sony Michel
WR - N'KEAL HARRY (rookie)
WR - JAKOBI MEYERS (rookie)
WR - Julian Edelman
TE - BEN WATSON (returned to Patriots in 2019)
LT - Isaiah Wynn (really his rookie year, injured all of 2018)
LG - Joe Thuney
C - Ted Karras
RG - Shaq Mason
RT - Marcus Cannon
Other key offensive pieces:
WR - Phillip Dorsett
FB/LB - Elandon Roberts
RB - James White
RB - Rex Burkhead
TE - MATT LaCOSSE
WR - MOHAMED SANU
*All caps indicates a 2019 addition
Keys to stopping the Patriots offense:
1. Screens are coming. Beware.
2. If the Patriots offense is struggling at any point, Brady will go to Edelman in a key situation. Guaranteed.
3. The Patriots offensive line struggled to pick up twists, in particular, up in the A gaps, right in Brady's face.
4. Expect the unexpected. Double pass vs. the Eagles for a touchdown. Flea-flickers. RB toss back to Brady for a pass. They are not scared to spin the offensive dial when they're struggling to move the ball effectively.
5. Don't let Edelman live on his own. In other words, don't be scared to devote two cover players to #11 as much as possible.
Patriots defense (in 2019):
Rushing yards allowed per game - 98.4 ypg (9th in the NFL)
Passing yards allowed per game - 158.0 ypg (2nd)
Total offense allowed per game - 256.4 ypg (2nd)
Turnovers generated - 29 (20 INT, 9 fumble recoveries - Patriots are +19 (!) in TO margin)
Projected Patriots starting defense for Sunday night's game vs. Texans:
DE - Lawrence Guy
NT - Danny Shelton
DE - John Simon
LB - JAMIE COLLINS (returned to Patriots in 2019)
LB - Dont'a Hightower
LB - Kyle Van Noy
CB - Stephon Gilmore
S - Duron Harmon
S - Devin McCourty
S - Patrick Chung
CB - J.C Jackson
Other key defensive pieces:
DT - Adam Butler
OLB - John Simon (Texan 2014-2016)
CB - Jonathan Jones
DE - CHASE WINOVICH (rookie)
LB - Elandon Roberts
LB - Ja'Whaun Bentley
OLB - Shilique Calhoun
*All caps indicates a 2019 addition
Keys to winning vs. the Patriots defense:
1. Texans wide receivers must fight physical with physical, especially with Gilmore. He's going to "catch" receivers well beyond five yards to slow their routes, which puts him in position to consistently make plays on the ball.
2. The timing of throws is hugely important and the ball can't arrive late. The Pats cover guys are exceptional and will take away mistake balls. They have 20 interceptions this year in just 11 games.
3. First and second down production is imperative. The Texans must stay out of 3rd-and-long because the Patriots will dictate with their personnel rushing Deshaun Watson. But, if the Texans get to 3rd-and-short or even medium, there's an opportunity to dictate to the Patriots defense on that down and beyond. On the first 3rd-and-four vs. the Eagles, they went dime with four LBs and just one interior rusher (Adam Butler) - the Texans can still run against that look. Get that first down and possibilities are endless on the next few downs.
4. The Patriots run some hellified two man twist stunts where linebacker Dont'a Hightower takes out interior lineman and allows Jamie Collins or Adam Butler to come free.
5. Live with physical mistakes by challenging the Patriots defense, eliminate the mental mistakes to not give it away to that defense.
Check out the best Week 12 images from Texans team photographer Zach Tarrant. Presented by Houston Methodist.