Well, you rarely hear these words out of me, but here they are. I. Was. Wrong. I still think the Eagles suck; I still think this is a loss that should’ve been an easy win. However, I underestimated the toughness of Philadelphia- I didn’t think they had any guts and I thought they were quitting on the season. That’s on me.
What shouldn’t be forgotten is how the Patriots lost last week, as opposed to Philly truly winning. That makes two straight games that New England has lost games that I conceivably could’ve seen them winning, whether they actually deserved to or not. As it sits now, the Patriots are the 3rd seed in the AFC. Ask how worried I am? (How worried are you Tyler?) Literally not at all. Championship seasons need some period of character building, and this is it. The Patriots will still win the AFC East. They will still get at least one home game. A bye would absolutely be nice, but based on the teams that are in the mix for the six seed, I’m confident in the Pats’ ability to beat each and every one of them. The important thing now is to finish strong in the last four games, starting in Houston Sunday night.
Every conversation involving the Texans is going to begin and end with JJ Watt, who in my eyes is the unquestioned best defensive player in all of football. He absolutely dominates games and can change momentum by himself. Don’t get me wrong, I hate his guts and I think he’s all show, but you cannot question his talent. That will be tough- Houston has one of the better passing defenses in the NFL in terms of yards allowed.
The offense cannot play as bad as it has the past two weeks. I get there’s injuries, but that excuse only goes so far. You can’t have guys dropping passes like they were last Sunday, especially on that last drive. You can’t have Brady throwing into tight double coverage in the end zone. You can’t just not finish your routes like Brandon LaFell. The O-line will have their hands full with Watt, so they’ve got to get back to the basics. The Patriots should stick to controlling the ball for long periods and looking for the shorter to intermediate passing plays. I don’t know why they’ve taken so many down-field chances when Brady isn’t that great at throwing the deep ball and their receivers haven’t proved they can track the ball. The most successful down-field play last Sunday was when Keyshawn Martin drew a pass interference on a bad throw from Tom Brady.
The Texans struggle with the run. I’ll say what I said last week for offensive game-planning…. RUN THE GOD DAMN BALL! Give it a shot, for God’s sake. I won’t ever understand why LeGarrette Blount gets away from the power running style that has made his career like he did on a few carries last Sunday. This is a good time to see what kind of running weapon they have in James White too, since New England knows they don’t have much with Brandon Bolden.
For the Texans’ offense, from what I’ve seen, it’s DeAndre Hopkins and everyone else. Houston has finally decided to stick with old friend Brian Hoyer as their starting quarterback, and he’s definitely been up and down all year long. This past Sunday in Buffalo, he was up- Hoyer threw for 293 yards, 3 touchdowns and only 1 pick. For the Texans to move the ball and score effectively, they need their passing game to show up, because they have absolutely no one that is capable in the backfield. Hopkins aside, Houston has former Jaguar Cecil Shorts III and Nate Washington (he’s still alive?!) in their receiving core. While neither of these names blow me away, it’s not like the Patriots have any corners that I’m completely confident in.
Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich are the key defensive players on Sunday. Hoyer has a history of making bad decisions, especially under pressure. If they can get to him quick enough, he’ll struggle to get the ball to Hopkins. Also, guys in the secondary have to step up. I was completely unimpressed with Devin McCourty’s efforts last Sunday- I think he played awful, especially considering what he is capable of. Malcolm Butler needs to do better too. In both losses, I think he left lots of room for improvement. He’s played really far off the line, which is all fine and good if you don’t get burned underneath. But he has been losing guys, especially on crossing patterns. That has to stop.
Ultimately, I like the Patriots to end this little skid they’re on. It’s December football, and history suggests that this is when they’ll turn it on. Houston will come out firing- their only shot to make the playoffs is to win the division, and they have to take advantage of a banged-up Colts team. Every week can be considered a must-win for them. The trick for New England is to not come out flat. I’d like to see them go build a big lead for the first time in a while in the first half.