An inside look at the Texans Week 1 opponent: The New England Patriots
The Texans are 1-9 all-time against the Patriots and have never won on the road. Last year was the Deshaun Watson coming out party. Watson passed for 301 yards and two touchdowns while also adding another 41 yards on the ground. The Texans take their most talented defense ever to Foxboro and have the most dynamic pass-catching group in team history on offense. As almost a touchdown underdog the Texans try to open the season 1-0.
Each week we will get the opponent's perspective on the game from someone who covers the Texans opponent. This week we visit with Michael Hurley, who covers the Patriots for WBZ in Boston. You can follow Hurley at @michaelFhurley on Twitter.
I wanted to revisit last year a little, check in on both team's offense, and see what we should know about the Patriots we didn't already know.
Cody Stoots: Do you feel like the Texans blew it last year or the Patriots won it?
Michael Hurley: [Some] of both. Foxboro is a tough place to play, and I’ve seen it time after time after time where the visitor has a win in its grasp but just can’t quite finish. I think certainly the defense had an incredible day (five sacks plus a touchdown) but unfortunately for them, Brady had perhaps his best afternoon ever.
CS: Will Deshaun Watson be better or worse than last year against the Patriots?
MH: I hope he’s better. The league needs some great, young quarterbacks to rise up, so I’ll be hoping that Watson is one of the rare QBs who steadily improves instead of falling back to the pack. I loved his game last year in New England, specifically the touchdown pass to (Bruce) Ellington. The CBS replay angle was perfect, as it showed Watson casually look to his left to get Devin McCourty to drift a few steps in that direction. It opened up just enough space for a window to Ellington (though he was covered pretty tightly by Jonathan Jones), and Watson delivered an absolute dart in the perfect spot for the TD. That was an exceptional play, really, and I hope to see more of it.
CS: Which side of the ball is more imposing the Texans offense or the Texans defense?
MH: I feel like there’s sort of a residual effect with the Texans having lousy quarterbacks for so long, that it’s going to take a sustained period of success before anyone starts believing in their offense. So I’d side with the defense. It seems like most people are speculating things like “Will J.J. Watt be the same when he returns?” and things of that nature, but I expect J.J. Watt to be J.J. Watt. With (Whitney) Mercilus, (Jadeveon) Clowney, and now (Tyrann) Mathieu floating around out there, it’s a defense that should be able to do damage. I think by midseason if Watson proves to be the real deal, people will be looking at them as a much more complete team.
CS: What's the confidence level in the pass catchers that aren't Rob Gronkowski and Chris Hogan?
MH: Just about as low as can be. We’ve basically seen two years that were somewhat similar – 2006 and 2013 – though, those years were worse. Gronkowski is obviously an absolute force, so long as he stays healthy. And the promise of a returning Julian Edelman after four weeks at least removes some of the sting from the current situation. But, well, you’ve got fans trying to talk themselves into the idea of Cordarrelle Patterson becoming a reliable receiving option, or Phillip Dorsett really breaking out. I’m not saying those events are impossible, but if I’m gambling man, I’m betting against both of them.
CS: Which running back should the Texans fans worry about the most?
MH: Great question, because we haven’t seen Sony Michel yet. Theoretically, he’s the most talented back, but this is a complicated offense, so having missed so much time this summer, I don’t know when he’ll be what he can be. So, for now, it’ll be James White, mostly because he has such a strong rapport with Brady that he’s always a threat both as a runner and a receiver.
CS: Do the Patriots have the talent to take advantage of Houston's offensive line?
MH: I think so. To me, Trey Flowers is the most underrated defensive player in the NFL. Adrian Clayborn has the potential to really disrupt things from the inside out. People outside of New England may not be thinking much about Derek Rivers, because he missed his rookie season with a torn ACL, but he is a tremendously large individual who racked up 35 sacks in his final 39 games at Youngstown State. Deatrich Wise is another second-year player who’s probably flying under a lot of radars, so I think the Patriots’ front seven is probably a little bit better than many folks might think. (The stinker of Super Bowl LII will have that kind of effect.)
CS: What's something Texans fans may not know about the Patriots that they should?
MH: Outside of the aforementioned [defensive linemen], I think the Patriots may be a little vulnerable at both tackle spots. Marcus Cannon was the best right tackle in the NFL in 2016, but he missed almost all of last year due to injury. This summer he’s battled an injury or two, so I wonder if he can get back to that form. (He never was great prior to 2016, so it’s no sure thing that he does return to that level.) On the left side is Trent Brown. The man is ridiculously large (6-foot-8, 380 pounds), and he looks very athletic and obviously strong. But I wonder if, on a hot Sunday afternoon, he gets a little bit winded and becomes a little bit vulnerable. That could be a huge key to this game. Even last year, Nate Solder got eaten up a little bit by Mercilus on the strip-sack, so the task is tall for both of these tackles to be at their best.
So there you have it. While I don't see what he sees in Trey Flowers the Texans are starting two guys at tackle who haven't played many games in the NFL in Seantrell Henderson and Julién Davenport. I agree with him on James White though Rex Burkhead is healthy and didn't appear on the Patriots initial injury report. The tackles being subpar in New England is an interesting development for the Texans defense which is as healthy as it has ever been.
Michael does some great work for WBZ. Check out his article where he is bullish on the Texans: https://boston.cbslocal.com/2018/09/04/patriots-take-the-houston-texans-seriously/