HOUSTON — John Simon likes living on the edge.
In fact, he makes his living doing it.
The Patriots defensive end — go ahead and call him a linebacker, he won’t mind one bit — has specialized in setting the edge for the Patriots defense since arriving in September 2018.
“John Simon sets the edge on Friday,’’ assistant coach Jerod Mayo said with enthusiasm when asked what Simon brings to the front seven.
Resembling a rugged lumberjack, the brawny and bearded 6-foot-2-inch, 260-pound Simon smiled slightly when alerted to Mayo’s reaction.
“We make it a high priority in our type of defense,’’ he said. “The way we want to play, having the edge set is extremely important because if there’s no edge out there, then the ball can break free and really it leaves the running back in no man’s land with no one to tackle him. We take it very seriously around here and I try to do my best to make sure that when I’m out there, it’s set.’’
A seven-year veteran who had previous stops in Baltimore, Houston, and Indianapolis, Simon made an immediate impression on Bill Belichick when he “got up to speed in a few days, really,’’ after being signed.
The coaching staff continued to be impressed by Simon’s ability to consistently and continuously increase his responsibilities and his workload.
“He’s played a lot of different roles for us, defensively, and then those roles have expanded this year quite a bit, I’d say maybe a little bit surprisingly because it looked like he had quite a few roles from last year and then starting this year,’’ said Belichick. “But, as the season has progressed and we’ve emerged to where we’ve emerged a little bit to defensively, schematically, his roles have, I would say, expanded not contracted.’’
Simon said that’s really the calling card of this defense.
“I think we just have a lot of versatile guys who can perform multiple roles and guys who know their strength and weaknesses and play off each other,’’ he said. “And we’ve been together long enough now where we communicate well between one another and that definitely helps on Sunday as well.’’
Simon fell into the Patriots’ laps after the Colts cut him because they didn’t think he meshed into their 4-3 look. Simon didn’t take it personally and he didn’t let it shake his resolve.
“I had confidence in my abilities, and I knew I could still play,’’ he said. “It didn’t work out in Indianapolis and that’s just the way the business is — sometimes the fit isn’t there. And this [defense] is very similar to what I ran in Houston, with Romeo Crennel, but we’re doing a lot of little different things here now but just to help me with the vocabulary and how some of the things are worded and just — whatever team I’m on — trying to earn the respect of the guys, producing, and showing that I belong on this team every day. So, you just learn the playbook as fast as you can so you can, get out there and start producing.’’
Simon played under Mike Vrabel at Ohio State and with the Texans and has modeled his game, in part, under the former Patriots linebacker — and part-time tight end. There were times Vrabel would regale his troops with tales from New England.
“He was pretty good about that, sometimes he’d get on a rant, you know, the back-in-my-day-type of thing, but no, he was pretty good.
“But he definitely has those [Patriot] characteristics in him and it rubs off on people for the rest of their lives and he still has those tendencies in how he acts and how he coaches and how he’s still passionate about the game and I think some of that rubbed off on me,’’ Simon said.
John Harbaugh, Simon’s coach in Baltimore, called Simon a player he respected and “personally loved. Harbaugh and Colts general manager Chris Ballard have said they wished they could have kept Simon.
“It’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business,’’ said Simon. “Those comments are nice and all and maybe when you retire you can reflect on things like that. But it’s all about helping this team right now and it is all about getting better because you can always find something that you can improve your game on and that’s the goal right now at this time of year.’’
Belichick is happy to have him on his club.
“He’s a really smart, tough, dependable player. Shows up every day, works hard, does a good job,’’ said the coach. “He’s going to give it to you every day, whether it’s Wednesday, Friday, or Sunday. That’s a good thing.’’
Brady on the run
There was a Clydesdale moment in the second quarter as Tom Brady galloped 13 yards for a first down . . . Some interesting nuggets via ESPN Stats & Info: Five of Brady’s six interceptions have come on the road . . . The Patriots allowed a first-quarter touchdown for the just the third time this season, tied for fewest in NFL . . . The Texans’ 88-yard scoring drive that made it 14-3 in the second quarter was the second longest against the Patriots this season (Eagles, 90) . . . Brady was 7 of 19 for (.368 percent) in the first half, matching his lowest completion rate in a first half in his career . . . The Patriots trailed by double digits at the half for the first time since Week 10 in 2018 when they trailed the Titans, 24-10 . . . Texans are 2-10 all time against New England . . . Secondary issue: The Patriots allowed four passing touchdowns in their first 11 games and allowed four Sunday night.
Sanu, Dorsett back
Tom Brady had his full complement of receivers on hand for Sunday night’s game against the Texans with both Mohamed Sanu (ankle) and Phillip Dorsett (concussion) back after missing the win over the Cowboys.
Sanu went through a pregame workout to test his ankle and gave strength coach Moses Cabrera a fist bump after his final sprint, an indication he was good to go.
There were no surprises on the inactive front, as a few players — cornerback Jason McCourty (groin), defensive tackle Byron Cowart (head), and Ryan Izzo (illness) were previously declared out.
Those three were joined on the inactive list by offensive linemen Jermaine Eluemunor and Korey Cunningham; running back Damien Harris, and quarterback Cody Kessler.
For the Texans, receivers Keke Coutee and Steven Mitchell; cornerbacks Gareon Conley and Cornell Armstrong; defensive ends Carlos Watkins and Angelo Blackson; and linebacker Brennan Scarlett were scratched.
The Patriots, who dealt with a locker room flu for more than a week, took an extra ounce of prevention when traveling to Houston Saturday.
The club used two planes, one carrying their players who had been battling the bug, and another for the healthy guys, according to an ESPN report.
The Patriots listed nine players as questionable because of the illness on Friday’s injury report. The list: linebackers Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, and Kyle Van Noy; cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Joejuan Williams; safety Patrick Chung; offensive tackles Isaiah Wynn and Marcus Cannon; and Eluemunor.
“I think things came around a little bit at the end of the week,’’ Bill Belichick said during his pregame spot on 98.5 when asked about the illnesses. “We’ll see how it comes together today. I think we’ll be ready to go.’’
Patriots kicker Kai Forbath nailed a 53-yarder during warm-ups at NRG Stadium, where the roof was closed. The Patriots are one of two teams that haven’t attempted a 50-plus yard field goal this season, along with the Giants. Forbath missed an extra point in the second half . . . Crennel received pregame hugs and/or handshakes from Josh McDaniels, Ernie Adams, and J.J. Watt, his star defender who is out for the season after tearing a biceps.