Just when you think the Patriots defense has done it all, they go out and shut down the top-ranked offense statistically in the NFL, holding them out of the end zone entirely. Most will point to the rain and sloppy conditions as a big reason why, but you can only play the teams on your schedule, where it says to play them, and in whatever conditions are out there. Another impressive aspect is how good the Patriots have been all year on third-down. The Patriots held the Cowboys to just 2-13 on third-down, preventing the long drives that tire defenses and allow a power run game like the Cowboys have from churning out long runs.
This week the Patriots face the Texans and old friend Bill O’Brien in one of the last road games New England will have all season. Here is what’s happening this week:
As one might expect with Bill O’Brien coaching the Texans, there is a lot of crossover between the two teams. The Texans have Romeo Crennel as their defensive coordinator and Brad Seely as their special teams coach, both of whom were with the Patriots at one point under Bill Belichick. Additionally, Houston has a few former Pats on the roster in: Keion Crossen, DeAndre Carter (former practice squadder), and Barkevious Mingo. Crossen if you remember, was traded right before the season and his trade was the reason Gunner Olszewski was able to make the team at the last minute.
This game will be another good test for the New England defense. The Texans are a really solid offense led by a stud quarterback in DeShaun Watson. As of this week, the Texans rank 10th in points per game, seventh in yards per game, 12th in yards passing per game, and sixth in rushing yards per game. The real test though again will be keeping Watson from scrambling for extra yards, which can be tough for a team that plays as much man coverage as the Patriots.
One thing that has to be said though is this team is not practice for facing the Ravens again. The Ravens are an entirely different entity as their offense is dominated by a power run scheme. Anyone that compares them just because Watson is a mobile quarterback is making a lazy comparison. Both have been extremely impressive thus far this year, however.
There is also the fact the Texans possess much better weapons in the passing game with Duke Johnson out of the backfield, Will Fuller on go routes, and DeAndre Hopkins who is as good of a receiver as there is in the NFL. Stephon Gilmore will have a real test this week with Hopkins who is a great jump ball receiver and tremendous route runner. It will be a treat to watch.
A lot has been made about the Patriots offense not playing well and for good reason, but one thing that has been keeping them afloat and has not been mentioned as much as it should is how great this team has been at creating turnovers and not giving any back. The Pats currently sit at a +19 on the season, which is easily tops in the league. To give you an idea how dominant they have been, the second best margin is about half of their +19, with the Steelers sitting at +10.
For this week the Texans are currently middle of the pack in turnovers as they have given away as many as they have gotten with a margin of 0 thus far. Don’t be surprised if this stat plays a role in the game this week, and as everyone knows, if you lose the turnover battle it makes it more unlikely you win the game.
For anyone curious about a potential comeback of Rob Gronkowski, the point of no return is fast approaching with the deadline for him to report is Saturday. If Gronk has not reported before then he will not be eligible to return. For anyone that is still holding out hope despite all the comments by Gronkowski, there is no chance of him coming back. He is not in football shape at this point, has been busy off the field, and seems happy. Good for him too. He has earned the right to do what he wants and take care of his body.
Prediction: Patriots 19, Texans 13
The Patriots are past the point of blowouts, but the Texans just do not inspire a lot of confidence that they will be able to consistently move the ball on them. On the other side of the ball, the Texans are a team the Patriots should be able to move the ball on a little, and despite me predicting 19 points, it wouldn’t surprise me if they ended up in the end zone three or more times. The Patriots have another week with Isaiah Wynn getting into the flow of things, Mohammed Sanu getting healthier, and N’Keal Harry getting more reps. This should be a time the Patriots can get a statement game with the Texans struggling to match-up with the Pats. I very much doubt Bill O’Brien gets his first win against the Pats on Sunday.
-David Albiani is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @david_albiani