Bill Belichick spent so much time talking up the Texans on Tuesday, it almost sounded like he was trying to convince himself that the Patriots will be facing a good team this week.
“In spite of what their record is, they’ve played very competitively in recent weeks,” Belichick said of the 2-9 Texans. “Strong in every area of the game, got a lot of good players. They’re a play or two away from, I would say, breaking out and winning a whole bunch of games. They’re going to win them, too.”
It probably just won’t be this Sunday in Houston. The Texans were supposed to cruise to another AFC South title after finishing 12-4 last year, but several key injuries and disastrous play by former starting quarterback Matt Schaub have derailed the season. The Texans enter Sunday’s game riding a nine-game losing streak, losing by an average score of 26-15.
Schaub has already lost his job, coach Gary Kubiak may be next, and the Texans’ star players are beyond frustrated.
“You can apologize and say this and say that, but if you’re not getting the job done out on the field, then it really doesn’t matter,” Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson said after Sunday’s loss at home to the Jaguars. “And we’re not getting the job done.”
The offense is missing a few key pieces from the one that faced the Patriots twice last year. Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster is out for the year with a back injury, replaced by Ben Tate and Dennis Johnson.
And Schaub lost his job before Week 7 after throwing interceptions returned for touchdowns in five straight games. The Texans are 30th in points scored (18.1 per game), but undrafted rookie Case Keenum has played admirably in Schaub’s place, throwing eight touchdowns against just two interceptions in five games while completing 55 percent of passes and averaging 232 yards per game.
The Texans have cut down on the turnovers under Keenum (five in five games, after committing 15 in their first six), and have lost his starts by 1, 3, 3, 5, and 7 points.
“A quarterback for them that has great mobility, very athletic,” Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said. “Certainly a guy that we have to give some respect to and a guy that has done a great job to produce in that offense.”
Technically, the Texans have the NFL’s No. 1-ranked defense, allowing just 290 yards per game. But they’re 26th in points allowed (26.3 per game) after allowing five interceptions, a punt, and a fumble to be returned for touchdowns this year.
The Texans have forced just eight turnovers in 11 games (with zero in seven of their games), and they have struggled to replace two starters lost to injury: linebacker Brian Cushing and safety Danieal Manning.
But they still have arguably the most fearsome defensive player in the game in defensive end J.J. Watt, who isn’t producing quite the eye-popping statistics that he did a year ago, but still has 9½ sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and 4 passes batted down.
“He forces you to deal with him on every play. His effort is incredible, his ability is unique,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “He’s as talented a defensive player as you have to play against. I would say at some point in the game, most every one of our linemen will have to block him, because they do move him.”
The Texans do have a couple of excellent cornerbacks in Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson, but overall, the Patriots shouldn’t have much trouble moving the ball on the Texans. Houston has produced just four interceptions this year, and is allowing a healthy 4.2 yards per carry on the ground, 11th-highest in the league.