Pats Preview: Pats Vs. Texans
As the New England Patriots prepare for their Week 3 game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium, here are some story lines to follow:
Getting Healthier- Although they will be without running back Rex Burkhead Sunday, the Pats have gotten healthier among their group of offensive skill players. Both Rob Gronkowski, who left last week's win over New Orleans with a questionable injury, and Danny Amendola, who missed the game last week with a knee injury and concussion, announced that they would be playing against Houston this week. Along with the two veteran stalwarts, the Pats have also got expectations that Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett, who both got banged up in last week's win, will play Sunday. With the expectation that all four players will be healthy an on the field against the Texans, the Pats offense, which got a boost last week, should hit another high on Sunday.
Questions Revolving Around the Tackle Spots- The Pats enter the game with some uncertainty around the offensive line. That's not an ideal situation to have, going up against a defensive front as strong as the one Houston boasts. It will be interesting to watch the battles along the edge between the Patriots' offensive tackles and Houston's ends. Left tackle Nate Solder is still shaking off the dust, after missing the entire preseason slate due to an undisclosed injury. He has had moments where he has struggled in both games so far this season and was repeatedly beat last week by Saints defensive end Cam Jordan. He'll have to be better Sunday, as Houston's J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney are big upgrades from Jordan. On the other side of the line, there are questions about the health of veteran right tackle Marcus Cannon, who injured his ankle last week and has been dealing with a concussion. If he is unable to go, the Pats will have a real question mark as to who will step up in his absence. Both backup tackles, Cam Fleming and LaAdrian Waddle leave a lot to be desired and will be hard-pressed to keep the ferocious rush Houston will be sending after Tom Brady.
Dion's Prime Time- With Burkhead out with an injury, expect shifty running back Dion Lewis to see an increase in action, offensively, for the Pats. Lewis hasn't played a real significant role through the first two weeks of the season, but has the ability to break a big play every single time he touches the football. There's no one better to ask about that than the Texans, either. In last year's Divisional Round win over Houston, Lewis scored three touchdowns three different ways (rushing, receiving and returning kicks). Lewis almost single handedly beat the Texans, so it wouldn't be a shock to see him play a large role again on Sunday.
Stopping Mercilus- While both Watt and Clowney provide serious threat off the edge, an area the Texans exploited in last year's Divisional Round battle with the Pats was the interior of the line. The way Houston attacked the interior was by lining up outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus over center David Andrews' head and having him rush the "A" gaps to get to Brady. Andrews wasn't fast enough to cut him off, after snapping the ball. This time around, the Pats will have to make a concerted effort to keep the guards tight and chip off on Mercilus, if he lines up over Andrews, because that could be the difference in a Pats win or loss.
Return Of The Leader- The Pats offense isn't the only unit that will be getting a key player back on Sunday. Linebacker and defensive leader Dont'a Hightower is expected to be back on the field against Houston, following his absence due to a knee injury last week. With Hightower likely to be back on the field, the Pats defense should be able to continue to work on getting itself in mid-season form.
Malcolm Go! Or Malcolm No!- After getting benched to start last week's game and playing limited snaps, it will be interesting to see how Super Bowl 49 hero Malcolm Butler will be used on defense this week. Butler acknowledged that his play so far this season has been less than the standards set by himself and others and vowed to keep working hard to get back to his expected high level of play. With third cornerback Eric Rowe questionable for the game, after leaving last week's game early with a groin injury, the Pats might be forced to play Butler as much as usual and hope his game turns around.
An Interesting Test- Sunday will provide an interesting test for the Patriot defense, which has been run through by two strong offenses to start the season. Houston's offense has been lethargic through the first two weeks and while they turned to rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson last week, they still have a lack of real scoring threats within their offense. If the Pats can't find a way to hold a not so great offense, with injuries, being led by a rookie quarterback to few yards and points, it could be a sign that this New England defense is a real weak spot.
Prediction- The Texans are sure to bring the heat on Brady and Company on Sunday. With added weapons on offense, Brady should be able to get the ball off quickly and thwart some of the rush. The Pats likely won't be as explosive offensively this week as they were last week, but they shouldn't need to be. Houston's offense has proven to be so weak, that not only should the Pats be able to outscore them, but the New England defense might even be able to get some more positive momentum going with stops. The Pats should be able to win by more than a score.
Pats 28, Texans 13