Keys to the Game
Keeping the Ball out of Brissett/Garoppolo’s hands
Regardless of who takes snaps on Thursday, whether it is a banged up Garoppolo, or Brissett, the Patriots will again need to rely on the ground game to win. If Garoppolo plays, depending on how well he will be able to throw the ball downfield, it will determine how often they go to the ground. However, he is obviously not 100%, so its likely they won’t be able to drop back as much as they did in the previous games. The same will likely happen if Brissett plays. Resorting to the run-game will mean the Patriots run-blocking will need to be at it’s best. TE Martellus Bennett has proved he is a solid at blocking, but if the Patriots as able to get Rob Gronkowski back for this game, it will make things even simpler. When asked to drop back, play-action and quick three-step drops will be most effective to keep the Texans pass rush at bay.
No Explosives Plays
Stopping the Texans offense will be similar to trying to stop the Cardinals offense: No explosive plays downfield. The secondary performed well against the Cardinals, so if they can implement a similar gameplan, they keep the Patriots in this game. This also relates to the run game as well. Despite being heavily under-utilized in Miami, RB Lamar Miller is being put to good use in Houston. Limiting him on the ground and stopping any possible huge gains will be pivotal.
Last week against the Miami Dolphins, New England’s pass rush was somewhat non-existent. If they are not able to get to Osweiler this game, there will be huge issues. A lot of that may have to do with two of the Patriots skillful pass rushes inactive last week (LB Dont’a Hightower, DT Anthony Johnson). If both are again unable to play this Thursday, which may be the case on a short week, they will need to find other ways to bring pressure without leaving someone like Jonathan Freeny one-on-one in coverage. Osweiler hasn’t been perfect this season so far (3 TDs 3 INTs), so if the Patriots can confuse him with different types of pressure, the likelihood of him turning the ball over will increase.
Speaking of turnovers, the Patriots will need to play a clean game, something they haven’t been able to do yet this season. All their turnovers have been on fumbles, so ball security will need to be improved this week and going forward. With a rookie QB or a banged up QB, the Patriots will need as many opportunities to put points on the board as possible. Should something like last week happen again, they will surely lose this game.
Escaping this game with no injuries whether they win or lose will be the most critical key to this game. The Patriots are already banged up on both sides of the ball and are trying to get players back. A repeat of last season or 2009 is not ideal.