Three things to watch for as the Patriots take on the Texans Sunday (1 p.m., CBS), with a specific glance at Deshaun Watson versus the Patriots defense, Houston being able to beat Tom Brady and the status of Rob Gronkowski.
1. The great unknown
Bill Belichick is the master at figuring out opposing QBs and the more game film, the better. Interestingly enough, Belichick has struggled at times when he faces rookie QBs. The great unknown is concerning. The Pats have five losses to rookie QBs under Belichick’s watch – to Geno Smith, Mark Sanchez, Colt McCoy, Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson. The Pats also needed a last second drive to beat EJ Manuel and the Bills once upon a time, and struggled to solve the then-lowly Raiders and Derek Carr a few years back.
The Pats will see rookie QB Deshaun Watson on Sunday. Watson did considerable damage to the Bengals last week on the ground, rushing five times for 67 yards – including a 49-yard TD scamper. While the run was impressive, Watson has struggled throwing the ball so far in his young career as he has just a 68.3 passer rating in two games played.
2. Blueprint to beat Tom Brady?
The Texans defense, minus JJ Watt, gave the Patriots fits in the divisional round of the playoffs last season and laid down the latest blueprint for how to slow down the Pats’ O (Atlanta in the first half of the Super Bowl and Kansas City in Week 1 used some of the Texans formula). In last January’s playoff game, in which the Pats were up just 17-13 at halftime, the Texans picked off Tom Brady twice and gave him a 68.6 passer rating for the game. Brady completed just 18-of-38 passes in the contest.
The key to beating the stout Houston defense may be to run the ball. The Jaguars pounded the Texans in Houston in Week 1 of this season, 29-7, and gave the ball to Leonard Fournette 26 times for 100 yards and a touchdown. Houston’s strength is its pass defense as it finished second in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game (201.6) last season.
3. The big hurt(s)
Rob Gronkowski (groin), Danny Amendola (concussion) and Dont’a Hightower (sprained MCL) all practiced this week for the Patriots, meaning that it’s likely all three see action on Sunday. The Pats will need contributions from all of them if they want to walk away victorious against a team they could very well see this coming January as well. Gronkowski led the Patriots in receiving this past Sunday against the Saints, catching nine of six targets for 116 yards that including a 53-yard touchdown. Amendola led the Pats in receiving in the Week 1 loss to Kansas City, catching six of seven targets for an even 100 yards.