HOUSTON TEXANS (1-1) AT NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (1-1)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Gillette Stadium. TV: CBS, Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Evan Washburn (field reporter).
SERIES HISTORY: 8th regular-season meeting. Patriots lead series, 6-1. New England has dominated this series, including a 27-0 shutout last September with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback and a 34-16 win in the playoffs in January. The only Texans victory came in the 2009 season finale, 34-27.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Deshaun Watson will try to do something that has never been done by a rookie quarterback: Defeat Bill Belichick’s team in Foxborough.
Rookie quarterbacks are 5-15 against Belichick through his time in New England. But the Foxborough numbers are even scarier: 0-8 with five touchdowns, 16 interceptions and a 50.7 passer rating.
The Texans will try to emphasize their running game, led by Lamar Miller, to keep the Patriots from going after Watson.
The Patriots, likewise, will focus on keeping Miller from establishing the running game and making sure Watson doesn’t make many plays with his legs.
The Patriots’ run defense struggled mightily on opening night and wasn’t really tested against the Saints last week, so it’s a question mark.
The Patriots’ offense got back to its roots in New Orleans, utilizing the short and intermediate passing game, particularly the running backs and tight end, to put up big numbers against the Saints. It’s a tried and true approach that Tom Brady will look to continue despite injuries to his key targets.
James White and the rest of the receiving backs should find room to work underneath, especially against rookie linebacker Zach Cunningham. But, Brady will also look to make plays on the outside to both Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan against the Texans’ banged-up cornerbacks.
J.J. Watt and Houston’s talented front seven will have to come up with pressure on Brady to stop the Patriots.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Patriots QB Tom Brady vs. Texans secondary. Brady is coming off an AFC Offensive Player of the Week performance in which he threw for nearly 450 yards against the Saints. Houston’s pass defense has gone 31 games without allowing a 300-yard passer. The Texans are also dealing with injuries in the back end as both Johnathan Joseph and Kevin Johnson were hurt in the Week 2 win in Cincinnati. Brady and his banged-up receiving corps could prove something against the Texans’ banged-up pass defense.
–Texans QB Deshaun Watson vs. Patriots LB Kyle Van Noy. New England doesn’t have a ton of depth at linebacker. With Dont’a Hightower battling a knee injury, Van Noy has taken on a much bigger role in his second season in Foxborough. He’s handling the signal calling for the defense and is also the most versatile, athletic linebacker on the field. That means Van Noy is key in terms of communication as well as matching Watson’s athletic, ad-lib ability. Watson is far from a polished, consistent weapon at this point. But he’s dangerous on any given snap and Van Noy will have to be on his toes.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Patriots LT Nate Solder. New England’s veteran tackle had a tough week in New Orleans, allowing a sack and a tackle for loss and continuing an inconsistent start to the season. Things won’t get any easier against a Texans front that can send J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney at opposing offensive linemen
FAST FACTS: Houston QB DeShaun Watson scored on a 49-yard run last week, the longest by a QB in his first career start in NFL history. … Houston RB Lamar Miller had 107 yards from scrimmage (80 rushing) in the last meeting. He has four straight game overall with at least 85 scrimmage yards. … Houston LB Benardrick McKinney had two sacks last week, his first career multi-sack game. In his past two games vs. New England, he has 24 tackles and a sack. He leads the team with 17 tackles. … In his past three games vs. Houston, Patriots QB Tom Brady has 893 passing yards, eight TDs and one interception. He threw for 447 yards and three TDs last week and now has 52 career games with at least three TDs and no INTs, the most in NFL history. … Patriots RB Mike Gillislee scored last week and has 12 rushing TDs in his past 13 games. He leads the NFL with four rushing scores this season.
PREDICTION: The Texans are the best defense the Patriots have faced so far, but Belichick gobbles up young QBs.