Culture of Hoops

NFL Preview: Patriots vs Texans

Image courtesy of Andrew Choy/Flickr.

Image courtesy of Andrew Choy/Flickr.

What a romping that was.

Injuries on the offensive side of the ball for the New England Patriots are starting to rear their ugly head. Nate Solder being out for the season was readily apparent against the Eagles as defensive end, Connor Barwin, wrought absolute havoc on Tom Brady and the Patriots backfield. The absence of Julian Edelman and Dion Lewis were obvious as well, as Brady’s fast release is looking a lot slower simply because his players aren’t there to get open. Rob Gronkowski‘s fill in is Scott Chandler, need I say more?

The injuries are definitely affecting this Patriots team, which is not a surprise. What is a surprise is the Patriots coaching and coordinating. They been significantly sub-par, when this is a time when you expect that group to really step up. Not only has the offense abandoned anything they have been successful with, at the end of the first half in both games against the Philadelphia Eagles and the Denver Broncos the play calling and time management was disgraceful.

That game was certainly a tough loss to take for the fans and what usually happens is the “die-hards” need someone to blame. While I do not normally gear this article towards those fans, I think the finger for the loss to the Eagles should be pointed at the special-teams unit. Allowing a punt to be blocked and a punt return both for touchdowns is why they deserve a big part of the blame. Whatever the case may be, with all the injuries New England has suffered they cannot afford to play another game like they did against Philadelphia or they will be watching football instead of playing on Wild Card Weekend.

The upcoming game against the Houston Texans will be the first time their head coach Bill O’Brien will play his former team that he won a Super Bowl with (as a coordinator) since returning to the NFL from Penn State. It makes for an interesting headline for this game because some of his “Belichick ways” haven’t completely left him yet. Who knows Belichick as a head coach in the NFL better than O’Brien? If there are any at all, there isn’t more than a few, and O’Brien is No. 1 on my list.

Will the student beat the master?

Tom Brady will have a say in that. As he will be facing his old backup in New England, Brian Hoyer. He was also Brady’s backup in college at Michigan. I’m sure Hoyer would love to finally emerge from that massive shadow cast by Brady and beat him.

A game full of acquaintances with humongous implications in the AFC playoff race. I think friendships will go by the wayside on this one.

Player To Watch
J.J. Watt

This question is the number one question for all the offensive coaches in New England this week: How the hell are they going to block J.J. Watt?

A healthy Patriots team would have no problem in dealing with Watt as he would matchup with Nate Solder. Nate Solder is injured. Well that’s okay because Rob Gronkowski is one helluva blocker, but he’s out too. So it looks like second-string left tackle, Marcus Cannon will have the task of the best pass rusher since Michael Strahan. The thought of Watt going up against Cannon scares the life out of me.

Bill Belichick must be scared of this same matchup because in his Wednesday press conference he was admiring the skill of Watt in a big way. Citing the fact that even with guys double teaming Watt and sliding the offensive line protection to the side of Watt, he is still creating calamity in opposing teams backfields. He even went as far as admitting that his team will have to block Watt in a number of different ways, using many different players. Announcing a game-plan of his is completely uncharacteristic for Belichick. Proving that even if Watt knows what is coming his way, it won’t matter, he will still be in the face of Tom Brady, broken hand or not.

Who would have thought Gronk would be missed more in the blocking game?

Key Matchup
Malcolm Butler vs DeAndre Hopkins

Malcolm Butler was the super hero for New England last season and has so far proved himself to be a viable number one cornerback in the NFL. He has had some really fantastic games against the likes of Demaryius Thomas and Antonio Brown. This week he will be put up against the wide receiver with the best stats at the position this year.

DeAndre Hopkins has reeled in 86 catches on his way to amassing 1,169 yards, along with 10 tochdown grabs. All the while he has had the quarterback grouping of Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett. If that is not enough proof that the hottest wideout in the game is DeAndre Hopkins, consider this: He has already passed Andre Johnson in Receiving yards and touchdowns in Texans franchise history. As well as breaking the NFL record for most catches through 12 games in a season. HE IS ONLY 23!

Butler is absolutely sure to have his hands full attempting to cover the freakish play of Hopkins. But if the past is a precursor to the future than the Patriots’ defense as a whole will completely disrupt Brian Hoyer on the way to an ugly defeat for the Texans. Last season when the Pats played Matt Cassel as he manned the quarterback position for the Minnesota Vikings, the Patriots intercepted him four times and sacked him six times. So I expect Butler to be in Hopkins face all day on his way to two interceptions from the help of the front seven.

Game Prediction
No matter the obstacles the New England Patriots face and no matter the injuries that have stacked up, I cannot pick against them when they are paying the Texans. With the familiarity Bill Belichick has with Bill O’Brien, his coaching staff and Texans quarterback Brian Hoyer, I cannot see a scenario where Belichick doesn’t confuse the crap out of these guys.

Defensive looks that will force Hoyer into a bad throw. Offensive formations that O’Brien will be positive he can stop only to be left in the dust on a different play. The trickery will be very apparent on Sunday. But the biggest worry for the Pats should be the defensive line of Houston.

With the injuries and shuffling that has occurred on the Patriots’ offensive line and the pure athleticism of the Houston D-line could make for a long, grass-stained filled day for Tom Brady. In the past three weeks Tom Brady has been on his back looking at the sky 30 times! While Brady does seem fine, D-end J.J. Watt is a freak of nature and he can hurt a quarterback just by looking at them.

If the Pats O-line can keep Brady off of his back and give him at least three seconds to throw the ball I can see Brady and this eggshell offense picking the soft secondary of the Texans to shreds. All of this should lead to the eleventh win of the Pats season and also avoid a third straight loss for them which I don’t think has ever happened in the careers of Belichick and Brady.

There is a first time for everything, but it won’t start this Sunday. As long as the special-teams unit can get back on track!

Patriots 33 Texans 17

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