Pats Vs. Houston.

7-Things For Sunday.


Part III.


Greetings Pats Fans,

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6. Houston Is Not Who We Thought They Were- It is hard to think of Houston as a top team now. After their disastrous start, I wrote them off in my mind. "I'd say the first thing that really jumps out after watching Houston is just really how well they're playing now," BB said. "I think Coach O'Brien has done obviously an outstanding job with the team given where they were, 2-5 after the Miami game, won four of their last five games, at the top of the league in almost every defensive category in that time, holding a couple teams to no touchdowns, good teams, too, so their overall production defensively. Offensively not turning the ball over, getting their big plays, balancing their offense off with the running game, getting big plays out of Hopkins. Griffin has come back which has helped them. Brian has played well at quarterback and they're solid in the kicking game. This is a big unit. They have a lot of size, a lot of big, strong players that we have to match up against as well as a group of speed guys." Their defense has suddenly gone elite, with Watt going off like a fire in a fireworks factory.

Now suddenly they are fighting, scrapping, and winning right at the wrong time. They are suddenly an elite defense on 3rd down. "They put a lot of speed and athleticism on the field on third down where it’s Watt, Clowney, Mercilus, Simon, Cushing," BB said. "They kind of all are pretty athletic, have a lot of team speed in their dime package. A lot of times those five guys just cover the five offensive linemen in various configurations. They’re not always in the same spot, but they cover those guys. They rush, they cover, but it’s a pretty athletic group." This is not good for the Pats struggling O-line.

As much as I like our defense matching up against their offense, I hate the way their defense matches up against our offense. "I think Bill has done a great job coaching the team," the real BB said. "He's had some challenges this year. He's started some different quarterbacks and lost their running back. We know Bill is involved primarily with the offensive side of the ball. He has dealt with some other challenges but they're well prepared. The team plays hard. They take advantage of your mistakes. They definitely create scheme problems that make it hard for you to defend them. I think he's done a great job with that. They went on a good winning streak here recently and they've been playing really good team football, complementary football. I have a lot respect of course for those guys on the defensive side of the ball: Romeo, Mike, and so forth. I know they're well coached. I know it's going to be tough. We're going to have to do a good job all the way across the board. I know that they'll be well coached and well prepared, and I've seen that every week on film." This could be a bloody low scoring battle this week. Both teams seem like they are better on defense than offense right now.

And Hoyer is suddenly a winning QB. "I think just even knowing Brian Hoyer, being around him, this is a very competitive guy," Patricia said. "This guy is a guy that goes out on that field every single moment he's out there expecting to win whether it takes all the time on the clock or they get an early lead, whatever it is, this a very competitive player, a very smart player. He studies very hard. He understands disguises, coverages, fronts. He's going to get the offense into the best play possible and he is going to be smart with the football. I would say the biggest thing that they are doing recently and what they have done the last five weeks or so, is really just settling the game down. He settled the game down with the run, he's making quick and smart throws, good decisions with the football, not turning the ball over, he doesn't hold it very long, gets the ball out quickly, doesn't allow the pressure to get there. He does a great job with protection, understands schemes from a defensive standpoint and how to protect himself and knowing when he is protected and when he is not and who to get the ball to when he's not. He's doing great job of getting the ball into the hands of their guys he knows can make great plays for him, Hopkins and Washington does a great job and Cecil Shorts will be out there, and the backs, whichever back is in, they use all four of them. He does a great job from the standpoint of running the offense, keeping it moving on the defense, keeping it in a positive form, not putting them in bad situations. The big element they have, too, is that they can go in and out of the tempo, personnel groups with tempo, he does a great job of understanding that, recognizing that and understanding and taking advantage of where the defense might have some issues, whether it's lining up, whether it's substitutions or just you know how they may have adjusted to that personnel group and getting them in a positive play." The important part of that quote is that they know him.

Having the HC and DC that knows Hoyer as well as his own HC and DC has to be turned into an advantage for the Pats defense. They have the ability to shut Hoyer down. Especially if Justin Coleman is back. It appears that Coleman is on the active roster for this game. He returned to practice on December 4th. He has really proved himself to be a legit third corner. That gives them the three Corners they need to cover the three Houston WRs that can hurt you.

Plus, they picked up some guy name Leonard Johnson. "Leonard is young," BB said, even though this is his forth season in the League. "He's played quite a bit of football: has started games, played inside, played outside, has some versatility. We've worked against him in our Tampa practices and so forth, played against him, but it gives us an opportunity to take a look at him. It’s not a position that we have a ton of depth at, so we’ll see how it goes." To say they don't have ton of depth at corner is the understatement of the season.

He has an odd little story. He was placed on season ending injured reserve by Tampa, and then released. BB saw the name, liked what he saw in those practices and picked him up. "When the injury happened," Johnson said, "right away I thought I'd bounce back a lot quicker than what I did. I had no clue it would take that long. Just thank god I'm in position to be on the squad and put my best foot forward." Now the Pats suddenly have two corners behind Butler and Ryan, and they are going to need Coleman and Johnson this week.

7. Pats Secondary- I think it is pretty close to fair to say that as important as JJ is the defense, Hopkins is as important to the offense. "I'll say that from an offensive standpoint, they do a good job of spreading the ball around, but certainly he is a huge target and a huge player for their offense," Patricia said. "He is a big guy, he does a great job of going up and getting the ball, he can run a bunch of different routes, inside-outside vertical routes, he competes very well, he has got good speed, he can get downfield and really stretch it, and he just does a great job of getting open and has a big catch radius. Just overall he is a very good wide receiver, an excellent wide receiver that's a big problem for the defense, and even with everybody knowing that he's a guy that is going to get the ball, he still is so productive in their offense. They do a great job of getting him in different positions to get him the ball. They understand that teams are going to be looking for him and they do a good job of moving him around or getting him different looks and different routes to keep it productive for him, so they do an excellent job of scheming that up." They have to do everything in their power to stop this guy from dominating this game. If they do that they are not a long way away from victory.

The good news is that BB has an excellent track record of being able to take the best guy out of an offense. "Absolutely, you can see a lot of elements of things that we've seen from Coach O'Brien and George Godsey, who's running the offense down there, things we've practiced against in the past, but certainly this offense is kind of their own offense, the 2015 Houston Texans offense, so it's a little bit different," Patricia said. "They have some great players down there that they are putting in some different positions. They do an excellent job using their skill players, all of them, whether it's the receivers, tight ends or the backs. There are certainly elements of our offense that we have seen, our offense that we've seen when Billy was here and George was here, but they do a great job of kind of keeping you off balance and there are certainly some wrinkles that we don't really run here at all, so I think one of the big ones, you'll see the Wildcat, a couple of different players that they'll put in the Wildcat position in their offense and try to catch you off guard with some gadget-type or different-type looks there. You have to talk not only the quarterback position Hoyer and how well he's playing, to run the offense and to get the check-with-me system and to get the ball to the right players and to distribute it all around, but Hopkins, who is an outstanding player, the wide receiver position is just a huge part of their offense. Cecil Shorts, you're going to see him in there in the slot and he's also a Wildcat player, guys that are getting a lot of production in Washington. They are doing a good job at spreading the ball all the way around and then they are trying to create mismatches with the backs. I think the best thing they're doing right now is running the ball, running with consistency and trying to establish the control of the game with the running game and to set up their play-action passes, their boots, their quicker throws, and then also to get the ball downfield. They really have a great complement of offense, a very balanced offense, from a run-pass standpoint. They are trying to make sure that the defense has to defend everything and keep you off guard and then they also have the ability to increase the tempo of the offense and go at a faster pace and be up on the ball and make quick decisions, which is something that Brian Hoyer does a great job of – recognizing the defense, being able to change the pace and go in and out of no-huddle-type situations and personnel groups and just keep everything moving on you so certainly a huge challenge from that standpoint." I know they like to get cute sometimes, and it works.

They put Ryan on Demaryius Thomas, but this week they have to put Butler on Hopkins with McCourty over the top. "It's obviously a big adjustment when you come in from college and your first year in the NFL is always a long road, it's always a difficult one, there's a lot of learning that is involved with it," Patricia said. "He's a guy that really works hard, really is trying to learn what we do and has embraced the coaching and has really tried to adapt to the way that we want him to play. Really, he's done a good job of trying to learn and understand what we do from a defensive standpoint and be able to understand the concepts that we run. That's the biggest thing to have to get used to, and then obviously the consistency of play that we are trying to get and the constant improvement and the ability to change things week-in and week-out. There's certainly still a huge learning curve for him to push through and to learn week-in and week-out this part of the year when we really have to start to play our best football going forward and we are looking for improvement from everybody and improvement from him. I think he's done a good job of understand that this is definitely a tough road and the first year is a hard year, and he's trying to embrace that challenge, and get better every week." Butler has developed into, maybe not a shutdown Corner yet, but certainly a top slow down Corner.

Cecil Shorts and Nate Washington are not going to win the game for Houston. Cecil and Nate are not going to bail Hoyer out. That is what Hopkins does. He makes the plays that win the game for the Texans on offense. "Well again I think you've got to force players to make those plays," BB said. "He makes a lot of them. Beckham makes them. Those guys make them, but you can't give them the easy ones. If he makes a great play, good throw and a good catch, you've got to live with it. As soon as you try to stop those, you're going to give up plays that are just easy plays. I think you've got to make them execute those great plays. Are they going to hit a couple? Yeah. They're not going to hit every one. They'll hit one, it'll be on the highlights on Sunday night, but you've got to force them to do that. I don't think you can give them easy access, easy yardage, easy throws. That's just suicide. You've got to force them to make those great plays and compete the best you can on them." They have to sacrifice two or three players on every down to contain Hopkins. He does more for their team than any WR they have faced this season, including Odell (I love that name, Odell).

Hopkins ranks third in both yards and receiving TDs (10). He is a big time deep threat. "Obviously he’s an exceptional player," Harmon said. "[He's] big, fast, strong. He goes up and attacks the football. If you want to get challenged at any time, this is a week where the receiver is going to challenge the whole secondary. I'm excited for this challenge. He's a great player. What more can you want than playing a game in December that means everything to us right now, and playing against an exceptional talent. I’m excited and ready to take on this challenge."  But he is not a huge threat after the catch this season.

Oddly only 142 of his 1,169-yards receiving have come after the catch. I think that is because he is doubled and tripled so much that once he catches the ball two or three DBs are on him quick. He clearly can be dynamic with the ball in his hands, just not this season for some reason. He is obviously targeted a ton. He is targeted twice as much as the other two guys Hoyer likes to throw to. But he barely catches 57% of his targets. So Hoyer is in the habit of throwing it to him when he is well covered by the double. Hopkins comes away with a lot of catches in tough coverage. But he also gives up some INTs.

This is a very simple week. They contain Watt and Hopkins they win relatively easily. "He's a tough receiver. He goes up and gets the ball," McCourty said. "He makes plays. He'll be a tough matchup for us." Houston has more players on defense that can pick up the slack for Watt. Turning Watt into one-handed JJ is a big help for the offense.

The defense has to step up and give Hopkins as much attention as it takes to take him out of the game. And that is not going to be easy. I think they need to Odell him more than Thomas him, and put Butler on him with McCourty over the top. I love what Ryan has done this season. He has been their most underrated and under appreciated player on the roster. Did you know that he actually leads the Patriots in tackles? That is amazing. The most important aspect of this game just became (since Watt became one-handed JJ) stopping Hopkins at all coast, and we win

7. Post Script- Great news in Patriots land. Suddenly everything is turning up roses. Gronk made the trip to Houston, but Hightower didn't. So while Gronk is reported to be in the game, Hightower is obviously out. Getting Gronk on the field suddenly makes Amendola and LaFell all the more effective. Even if he doesn't catch a pass, the offense is better.

Also, in EvenBetterLand, the Bengals just thumbed up everything. They lost their QB, their TD scoring tight end, and the game to give them 3 losses on the season. Plus, the Broncos just missed a field goal that would have tied the game, and are still down three in the 4th. Raiders forced to punt with about 8-minutes to go in the game. Then Thomas dropped the ball on 3rd down to force the punt with 7-minutes to go. The friggin' Raiders missed the FG attempt with 5-minutes to go. Mack sacked Osweiler on 1st down. Now they have to go for it on 4th and 5 on the wrong side of Midfield, and Vernon Davis dropped the ball to hand Oakland the Win with 3:45 to go at the 37 yard line. Of course, the Raiders being the Raiders, they get a block in the back penalty trying to run the clock out. So of course they are forced to punt it back to Denver with 2:35 on the clock. But Khalil Mack gets his fifth sack of the day on 2nd and 4, and Osweiler throws it out of bounds on 3rd down. Denver has to go for it on 4th and12 again, and he gets pummeled as he throw, and even the Raiders can't blow this game. Broncos lose.

It looks like the Pats could be in sole possession of 1st place of the First Bye, by the end of the night.

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