Deshaun Watson has delivered some of his best performances when on the National stage, in both college and in the pro’s. If the Texans are to win Sunday, he and his teammates will need to summon a level of consistency that has proven elusive, so far in the 2019 season. The task of Tom Brady and the Patriots await a home crowd, still unsure of it’s teams credentials. The Texans will have to find a way to win and hope for an uncharacteristic Patriots late season falter, if the quest for a top-2 play-off seeding is to be realised.
Colour Rush & Familiar Foes
The Texans are yet to lose when dawning their alternative uniform. From Watson’s first start in ’16, on the road to Cincinnati, to the ‘17’s visits of Miami, Tennessee and Cleveland, have all provided victories in the darker tones of deep steel blue. This New England team will provide a much sterner test than those previously faced and they will require a certain focus that’s been lacking this year.
The two franchises have had connecting lineage since O’Brien’s hiring in 2014, former coaches and players have crossed the divide. But most of it pails into significance with the finest quarterback and head coach combination to play the game, in tow. O’Brien has guided the Texans to zero wins, in that span. A record he will be dying to address.
AFC Seeding or Revision of Previous Screenings
The Texans have found many ways to lose against the Pats, albeit, by less of a margin since Watson has taken over at the helm of Houston’s hopes.
The closest encounter came in Deshaun’s rookie year, when Ka’imi Fairburn kicked a late fourth quarter field goal to lead by 5 points, with limited time on the clock, it then seemed like a win was within reach. Everyone connected with Houston, when the camera panned to Bob McNair, shared a similar facial expression, at that moment – this was our time. That moment felt like the answer to all the questions was now in the building. Houston then opt to not go for a 4th and 1 call, punted, Brady marches down the field and game over. Another loss, in a long line of many. That win would have meant more to McNair than most, but it wasn’t to be.
That was the closest the Texans have come, since 2011. Following an uneven outing in week 1 of the 2018 season, another defeat, has seen both sides come under subsequent roster change. The Texans defence has eroded its rushing talent, but the offence has become stronger, the latter has failed to be dependable of account for the former.
The Patriots have been unable to respond to the loss of talent on offence but its defence and special teams, that sets the league’s standard. Yet, it’s easily forgettable they hold a six-time champion quarterback who is still able to produce when the team needs to find a way. Coupled with their innate ability to find form in the late winter months, when it really matters, the Foxborough formula remains.
Father Time and Flimsy Schedules
Every season, Brady and the Patriots are beckoned by media and fans alike on the premise that their time as the perennial football powerhouse, is up. Borne out of much frustration at their unrivalled success and continual Superbowl visits or wins. For anyone watching the last 20 years, will know nothing else. Brady has been throwing passes longer than the Texans have been established as a franchise.
Not many Championship teams have enjoyed this ease of schedule to this point, 11-1 prior to week 13. This has meant proceedings have been straightforward. The Pat’s have the luxury of playing in the AFC East where they annually dominate their three closest opponents to 5 or 6 wins, with limited exceptions. This is game two, of a three game stretch, that was supposed to be the tough section of their run: Dallas, Houston & Kansas City, which is then followed by an in-form and resurgent Bills teams.
The Patriots offence has felt the loss of: centre Mark Andrews, Fullback James Deviln, Tackle Isiah Wynn and include the best tight-end in a decade retiring, it’s clearly impacted their ability to run the ball. This has put pressure on their passing offence and the lack of experience, in the league or the system has visibly frustrated Brady this season.
Brady has shown limited signs of slowing in some area’s, but it would be un-just comment on his supposed decline talents, as any quarterback would struggle due to the incurred changes. Brady is the most cerebral and decorated player in the game’s history. But if any time would provide a chance for a young pretender to strike. It would seem, it might be now.
Health and Points to Prove
The Patriots have had to struggle in this week’s preparations, marred by a spate of illness which struck down more than seven starting players across their depth chart. The Texans have found themselves being out coached in many of the previous outings, so they will hopefully be able to find solace in the fact, that external factors could help level this game day variable.
Watson, Hopkins and the Texans offence has arguably a greater level of all-round talent, perhaps the first time they could make this claim in the O’Brien era. His franchise passer will need to show that the Baltimore game was an outlier and he has the ability to go up against the finest. Nuke Hopkins, Will Fuller, Darren Fells and Duke Johnson have provided reasons for winning games this year and can all be difference makers. When Watson can read the defence, find the right match-up to exploit and release the ball on-time, this offence clicks. The third year, former Clemson star, has shown a varied level of improvement on the mental processing at the line, this Bill Beilchick scheme will provide the most complex unit he’s faced this season.
The Texans were forced to place 1st rounder, Tytus Howard on the IR with a season ending injury and the stand-in Rod Johnson has a huge opportunity to earn his way in the league with this and a further four games remaining.
Passing to Rush or Rushing to Pass
The play calling will need to find balance. Will Fuller’s return to health as a deep ball outlet will allow the Texans to keep the New England secondary honest. The running game is central to Houston and setting up the play action, where Watson is lethal when executed. Expect running back, Carlos Hyde to have a heavy workload to allow a variation of passing in different formations. The return of Jordon Thomas, will enable the Texans to use additional tight-ends sets and set up intermediate passes to get Watson’s rhythm beating early. The Texans cannot afford another slow start and then be force to relinquish their balance. As forcing the ball against this New England defence will only add to their 20 interceptions on the season. Stephon Gilmore leads a commanding secondary that will have to be strained in their assignments, if are to give up yards through the air.
Similarly, on the defensive side of the ball the front seven will be required to get back to stopping the run and not allow New England to seize momentum in the game. The secondary is a work in progress but have shown signs of improvement with the collection of former 1st round picks to help Romeo Crennel adjust their tendencies.
The pressure up the middle with stunts and twists have been impactful against New England’s line and they will need to be creative up front and solid in coverage, to shackle the dink and dunk offence Brady has mastered. Receiving option Julian Edelman will be aided by the return of Dorrsett and Sanu.
Blunders on Special Teams and Ball Protection
As long as the Texans don’t put themselves on the back foot through errors, they won’t leave the offence the task of forcing the issue. But if found naively doing so, then the Patriots are ruthless in capitalising on short fields. It’s been a hallmark of their success as their player’s focus on avoiding mental errors is un-paralleled. Just as their propensity to conjure up a trick play when games are at a stalemate.
The Texans having their most efficient day of the year on special teams and avoiding, penalties and turnovers will be monumental. Giving an impetus to an adversary which has bested your city for its entirety, is not a recipe for success.
All things being equal, offence versus offence, at home, if they Texans build a lead early, then theres a real chance. Watson has an ability, like very few, to flip the switch when big plays are needed, and is more than capable of claiming a much overdue win.
The key will be: can the Texans not beat themselves and let the hunted become the hunter on Sunday Night Football?
NEW ENGLAND AT HOUSTON (NBC) 7.20 CT
SKY SPORTS ACTIONS 1.20 AM (MON)