New England Patriots vs Houston Texans: 5 Matchups to Watch

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NFL: AFC Divisional-Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots
NFL: AFC Divisional-Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots /

New England linebacker Dont’a Hightower vs Houston running back Lamar Miller

A knee injury slowed Hightower at the end of the season and saw him miss Week 16 against the Jets (he was not even needed as New England rolled 41-3 on Christmas Eve). With a solid performance to knock off the rust in week seventeen against Miami, Hightower was assured an extra week of rest and has been completely removed from the injury report.

Hightower is one of the best run defenders in the NFL and has a knack for creating pressure on A-gap blitzes. He was on the second-team All Pro team. Hightower is excellent against the run with his massive size and lateral mobility.

He uses that deceptive speed and his high football IQ in zone pass coverage showing a knack for dropping back enough to prevent large gaps in the middle of the defense. His closing speed and hard-hitting style keep dump-off passes from being converted to first downs.

His run defense will be needed on Saturday night as the Texans will try to keep the ball away from quarterback Tom Brady by running the ball, extending drives, and winning the time of possession. To do that, they will lean on running back Lamar Miller.

Miller led the way for the Texans’ offense in 2016 after being signed as a free agent from Miami. Miller rushed for 1,073 yards and five touchdowns. A great receiver out of the backfield, he has strangely been underutilized as a receiver with just 31 catches for 188 yards.

Miller rushed 21 times for 80 yards in the Week 3 matchup. He is well known to the Patriots after his time in Miami. He is shifty, deceptively strong, and has great vision.

The Texans were 3-1 when Miller rushed for 100 yards or more. They were 7-2 when he rushed for 70 or more yards. With the iffy quarterback play all season, Miller is arguably the most consistent and valuable weapon they have in Houston.

His most powerful use is setting up the play-action passing game. Getting the safeties close to the line of scrimmage allows Houston to strike deep with Hopkins and Will Fuller. Without play-action, Brock Osweiler has problems fitting the ball into tight windows.

If Hightower is strong in the middle of the defense, the Patriots should be able to hold down the Texans’ offense.