Houston faces long odds on Sunday.
The Texans are now 14-point underdogs against the host New England Patriots in the Week 3 contest between the familiar foes.
In the last three meetings, including January’s AFC Divisional Round contest, the Texans have lost by a combined 88-22 score.
Given the myriad injuries and lineup shuffling with the Texans, the odds are against the visitors even covering the odds. Yet there is a chance for Bill O’Brien’s squad to pull off the shocker over Bill Belichick’s defending Super Bowl champions.
Here’s how Houston can make it happen…
Get to Tom Brady early and often
New England’s offense is punctuated by big plays, with Tom Brady looking to take shots down the field and surveying the best possible matchups. With starting CB Kevin Johnson out and fellow starter Johnathan Joseph playing with a wounded shoulder, the legendary Patriots QB could pick apart the Texans down the field.
That’s where the Houston defensive front comes into play. J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney highlight what is arguably the most talented pass rush in the league. Mike Vrabel’s defense can bring pressure from all over the formation, with quality rushers like Benardrick McKinney coming from the second level.
Thus far the unit has not been great. McKinney has two of the team’s three sacks through two games. This is the week where Watt, Clowney, Christian Covington and the rest of the front must make life difficult for Brady. New England’s offensive line is an average one, so there should be opportunities.
Win on special teams
Houston’s special teams are an interesting study. Punter Shane Lechler remains one of the very best at his trade despite being over 40. Young kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn has impressed in his brief tenure, too. The specialists are very good.
Yet the rest of the special teams have been a struggle. Tyler Ervin doesn’t make tacklers miss often enough as a return man. The blocking in front of him is often uncoordinated and ineffective. The coverage units often make the return blocking look epic by comparison. There is a fundamental lack of discipline and cohesive effort, one which has persisted from last year.
If the Texans are to steal a win in New England, special teams have to come up with an unexpected big game. Springing Ervin for a big return, or blocking a kick or pinning the Patriots deep in their own end and controlling field position would be a great way to help Houston win.
Take shots down the field
Houston’s passing offense has been as non-threatening to opposing defenses as a duck to a wolverine. The Texans rank dead last, and last by a wide margin, in both yards per attempt and yards per completion.
It is incumbent upon Deshaun Watson to look down the field. The Patriots defense has shown vulnerability to the deeper passes. New England ranks 27th in yards per completion, and tape review confirms they do not cover the deeper realms very effectively. With DeAndre Hopkins looking spry and nifty Bruce Ellington returning to the lineup, Watson has weapons which can exploit the Patriots’ biggest weakness on defense. Even a big pass interference penalty can help turn the tide.