CODY STOOTS

An inside look at the Texans Week 1 opponent: The New England Patriots

Tom Brady has owned the Texans. Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

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/

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Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March. Photo via: NRG Park/Facebook

Football players, coaches and general managers have come and gone, but only one person has been running the business side of the Texans, well, even before they were the Texans. Jamey Rootes has been President of the Houston Texans since 1999, when an NFL team in Houston was still just a gleam in owner Bob McNair's eyes. That's before the team adopted the name "Texans" in 2000, before there was NRG Stadium, which opened as Reliant Stadium in 2000, and before they became serial champs of the AFC South, six titles between 2011-2019.

The precise date was Oct. 6, 1999 when NFL owners voted 29-0 to award the NFL's 32nd and newest franchise to Houston. Not only that, Houston was awarded the 2004 Super Bowl. Rootes, 34 years old with no NFL experience, had his work cut out for him. Before taking the job in Houston, Rootes was team president, general manager and CEO of selling peanuts and popcorn for the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer.

Major League Soccer, with all due respect, is not nearly a national obsession like the National Football League.

"I wasn't intimidated," Rootes said. "There's a quote that I love, 'Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.' I've always been a purpose-driven person. As for the step up to the NFL, I went from knowing nothing at the start of my time in Columbus to five years later thinking, OK, I've got this sports thing down. Actually, I had a very significant reduction in my responsibilities in Houston. When I was in Columbus, I ran the stadium, I ran the team's business, I was the general manager so I did the talent side of it, too. When I came to Houston, all I had to do was the business, so that was great."

Rootes has captured his remarkable journey from the soccer team at Clemson to grad school at Indiana University to the business world at IBM and Proctor & Gamble to the Clemson Crew, to ultimately being named President of the Houston Texans in his new book, The Winning Game Plan: A Proven Leadership Playbook for Continuous Business Success, available next week.

I've known Rootes from his day one with the Texans, but I still had to ask: everybody knows what the general manager does, and what the head coach does. What exactly does the President of an NFL team worth $3.3 billion do?

"I like to use the parallel of a pharmaceutical company to describe my job. There are two sides to that company. First you put scientists in one building and you leave them alone. They create products, which is what our football team is. The football side has a coach and general manager and all the people who prepare the team to play on Sunday. But getting that product to market is done by the business side, traditional business disciplines. Those are the things that fall to me. Basically, everything between the white lines is run by the football side. Everything outside of those lines, I do," Rootes said.

Between 1999 and 2002, when the Texans played their first game (let the record show the Texans defeated the Dallas Cowboy, 19-10), the team was essentially a massive start-up project. First orders of business for Rootes involved building a new stadium, developing relationships with suppliers, contractors and government officials, preparing for a Super Bowl and, most important, developing a relationship with fans.

Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March, but it's really an accumulation of lessons learned and behind-the-scenes stories about building the Texans from scratch into one of the most admired and valuable franchises in all of sports.

"I've always been a meticulous note-taker. I've kept every presentation I've ever done. I took all of my notes and concepts and put those down on paper," Rootes said. "To be a good leader, you need a wild imagination. You can show me a blank piece of paper, but I don't see it as blank. To me, it's a finished product that hasn't been created yet," Rootes said.

Rootes lays out his leadership strategy in seven chapters: Are You a Manager or a Leader, Get the Right People on Your Team, Build a Winning Culture, Create Raving Fans, a Winning Playbook for Adversity and Success, Your Leadership Playbook and Play to Win.

He learned lesson No. 1 the hard way. A friend once counseled Rootes, "your staff doesn't like the way you're all up in their business, you need to back off." Rootes took that advice to heart.

"It was an epiphany. I wasn't a leader. That's when I truly began thinking about leadership. I say this all the time, I don't do anything. All I do is create an environment where exceptional people can be their very best self. I know what's going on. I'm fully informed. I leave every game day exhausted. I get there early. I do the things I need to do. I kiss babies. I shake hands. I present checks. I entertain clients. I'm dialed in. It absolutely wears me out because I love this organization so much. I am so proud of what we've been able to do for this great city of Houston."

I asked Rootes, as someone who lives for Game Day and a packed NRG Stadium, are you devastated by 2020, the year of COVID-19 and small crowds limited by Centers for Disease Control guidelines?

"I don't look at it that way. I think there's a song by 10,000 Maniacs that said, these are the days that you'll remember. I told my staff, I know you're all going through hell right now, but later on in life, you'll talk about this year. Things that are important are memorable, for the positive and those things that leave a scar. You learn from adversity and you're a better person for enduring it. Victor Frankl said 'We can discover meaning in life in three different ways, by creating a work or doing a deed, experiencing something or encountering someone, and by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.' Suffering is part of life. He should know, he survived a Nazi concentration camp," Rootes said.

H-E-B President Scott McClelland wrote the forward to The Winning Game Plan. Rootes dedicates the book to late Texans owner Bob McNair. Rootes' book is a fun read. All I kept thinking was, where was this book when I needed it? And before you buy too much into Rootes as a leader, consider that Rootes admits that he had to ask for wife Melissa's permission before he could accept the Texans job.

Personal note: I believe that a big part of leadership is the ability to keep a promise. Several years ago, I was riding my bicycle with my dog Lilly on a leash. It was the only way I could keep up with her. Well, one time Lilly saw a squirrel and pulled me off my bicycle. I tumbled a few times and rolled next to the curb. When I looked up, there was Jamey Rootes. I told him, "There's no need for you to tell anybody about this." He never said a word.

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