W2W4: New England Patriots vs Houston Texans

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When the Texans Pass the Ball:

Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

The Texans allowed veteran receiver Andre Johnson to leave in free agency as dynamic young playmaker DeAndre Hopkins continued his rise to the elite wide receiver status in his third NFL season. Last year, Hopkins had 76 receptions for 1,210 yards and 6 touchdowns. This season Hopkins already has 86 catches for 1,169 yards and 10 touchdowns with four games left to play.

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Hopkins has size, speed, agility, and great hands and the Clemson product is a complete wide receiver. He can line-up anywhere on the offense either inside or outside and can run every route on the route tree. Hopkins competes well for the ball while it is in the air and has excellent separation skills.

Behind Hopkins the Texans are short are short on play-makers. Cecil Shorts is interchangeable with fellow veteran Nate Washington. Neither of them are serious threats and do not do much to scare opposing defenses. Shorts has 40 receptions in nine games and Washington has 39 in ten games. Rookie Keith Mumphery is an intriguing prospect but failed to carve out a role on offense and is limited to special teams.

At tight end second year player C.J. Fiedorowicz is the primary tight end. The 2014 third round draft pick has prototypical size at six-foot-six and 265 pounds. Fiedorowicz is not the best blocking tight end but is solid. He is not a great receiver but he has soft hands. He is not athletic and is not able to create separation in the passing game. He does nothing outstanding but is good enough to get regular playing time and contribute occasionally in the passing game.  

Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Head coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia are familiar with Texans starting quarterback Brian Hoyer as Hoyer learned behind quarterback Tom Brady in New England. Hoyer inexplicably lost his job to Ryan Mallett earlier in the season but quickly reclaimed the job after Mallett imploded. Hoyer is a smart quarterback with an average arm and has 18 touchdowns with just 6 picks. He has a solid offensive line in front of him which FootballOutsiders.com ranks as the 9th best in pass blocking in the league.

The Patriots will counter with defensive end Chandler Jones and his 10.5 sacks. Jones actually had the league lead in sacks for a while but has not got to a quarterback in the past three games. He has seen extra attention although the return to health of Jabaal Sheard and Dominique Easley should help generate pressure and take some attention from Jones.

Will he play? Gronk travels with team to Houston

The Patriots will likely continue their defensive plan of matching the improved Logan Ryan and safety Devin McCourty to bracket Hopkins in coverage. That would leave Butler able to matchup on either Washington or Shorts and take them out of the offense. Patriots fans may want to see Butler match-up in single coverage with Hopkins, but they have the luxury of double-teaming him with the lack of passing threats in Houston. Having Jamie Collins back also helps in coverage of Fiedorowicz.

The Patriots have been excellent against the opposing passing attacks and have allowed 300 or more net yards through the air in a game to just Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning in 2015. Brian Hoyer is not at that level so look for the New England pass defense to continue their strong play this week in Houston.


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