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Five things you have to know about the Texans

11.26.13 at 10:00 am ET
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The Patriots travel to Houston to face the struggling Texans Sunday afternoon. Here are five things you have to know about the Texans, who are last in the AFC South at 2-9.

1. This is not the same team that stood poised to enter the league’s elite at the end of last year. The Texans are in the throes of a nine-game losing skid and currently possess the worst record in the NFL, an almost ridiculous thought considering the fact that at this time last year, they were prepping for a trip to Gillette Stadium and a chance to show what they were made of on the big stage. Since that game in Foxboro last December, the Texans have gone 4-11, and have fallen off the face of the earth. The biggest disappointment has come on the offensive side of the ball, where quarterback Matt Schaub lost his starting job with an abysmal run of turnovers, giving way to youngster Case Keenum. Compounding the issues has been Schaub’s occasional sideline flareups with receiver Andre Johnson, who didn’t sound all that enthused about the rest of his career in a Texans uniform. Johnson (74 catches, 1,002 yards, 5 TDs) is still the go-to guy in the passing game, but with running back Arian Foster landing on IR earlier this year with a back issue, Houston is leaning on a variety of youngsters down the stretch, including Keenum (88-for-160, 1,161 passing yards, eight TDs, 2 INTs), receiver DeAndre Hopkins (39 catches, 554 yards, 2 TDs) and running back Ben Tate (who had seven carries for one yard last week in a loss to the Jaguars).

2. That being said, J.J. Watt is still one of the best defensive linemen in the game. Despite the Texans’ struggles, Watt remains a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate who is capable of dominating at the line of scrimmage. Pro Football Focus has him credited with 10 sacks (tied for the top spot among all 3-4 defensive ends), 24 quarterback hits (best at his position) and 26 quarterback hurries (fifth at his position). Watt remains a handful — a transformative presence up from who will make life difficult for the New England offensive line.

3. They’re really good at stopping the pass. The Texans are first in the league in pass defense, having yielded an average of 172 passing yards per game. (Seattle is No. 2 at 180 yards per game, while the Patriots are ninth in the league against the pass, having yielded an average of 220 yards per game.) Some of those numbers have to be taken in context, as the Texans have been playing from behind over the course of their nine-game losing skid, and teams have been more interested in running the ball and grinding out the clock than they have in throwing it all over the field. But at the same time, they do have some quality defensive backs, including cornerbacks Kareem Jackson (who has struggled with a rib injury as of late) and Jonathan Joseph. (Joseph has a team-leading 13 passes defensed and a pick.) Watt also allows them to play some pretty good team defense in that quarterbacks haven’t gotten too comfortable in the pocket.

4. They’re below average when it comes to stopping the run. Houston is 22nd in the league in run defense, having yielded an average of 118.5 yards per game over the first 11 games of the season. (Of course, it’s worth mentioning that after Knowshon Moreno rushed for 224 yards Sunday night, the Patriots have actually gotten worse against the run, dropping to 31st in the league at 139.7 rushing yards per game.) Five teams have gone for more than 100 yards on the ground against them this season, including the Raiders (who had 165 yards rushing), Niners (177 rushing yards) and Seahawks (179 rushing yards). In this context and with all the talk about the ball security issues suffered by Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount, it’s worth mentioning that Houston is one of the worst teams in the league when it comes to forcing fumbles with four. (Watt has three of them.)

5. Regardless of the record, expect the Patriots to take them very seriously this week. Over the last several years, the Patriots always have to have a game late in the season against what appears to be a considerably weaker opponent, and more often than not, head coach Bill Belichick has invoked the memory of a 2004 loss to the Dolphins in Miami. In that game, the Patriots came into the contest with a 12-1 mark and a six-game winning streak. Meanwhile, the Dolphins were 2-11 and playing out the string under interim coach Jim Bates. But Miami was able to put together an impressive sixty minutes against New England, capturing the 29-28 upset thanks in large part to a 12-point fourth quarter that allowed them to sneak past the Patriots. Over the years, Belichick and Tom Brady have referenced that game as a cautionary tale when it comes to letting down your guard late in the season — expect that one to come up on multiple occasions this week.

Fantasy Football: Week 13 waiver wire

11.26.13 at 9:40 am ET
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Welcome to the Week 13 waiver wire, and happy Thanksgiving to all! It’€™s crunch time in most fantasy football leagues as teams fight for a spot in the playoffs or for a playoff bye. I’€™ve done my best to give you a wide array of choices, and I will be adding players all day over at Rotobahn for those of you who play in deeper formats. I’€™ll be back later this week with the starts and sits plus another Sunday chat. I hope to see you there!

QUARTERBACKS

Carson Palmer, Cardinals

You can add him in 60 percent of Yahoo! leagues, and he’€™s been on fire for fantasy purposes the last few weeks. Palmer has the weaponry to succeed, and his schedule is good enough with the probable exception of Week 16 at Seattle, though the Seahawks have taken a big hit in their secondary. Palmer is a fantasy asset in any format.

Read More: Andre Brown, Carson Palmer, Josh McCown, Matt Flynn

In Focus: Charting offensive opportunities for Patriots skill position players

11.26.13 at 9:15 am ET
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Every week over the course of the regular season, we’€™ll present a list of the Patriots’€™ ‘€œoffensive touches,’€ a running tally of which one of the offensive skill position players is getting the most looks. Like our weekly look at targets, it can occasionally be an inexact stat, but it remains a good barometer of how confident the coaches (and quarterback) are when it comes to the skill position players at their disposal. Eleven games into the regular season, here’€™s a breakdown of the New England offense for 2013:

RB Stevan Ridley: 144 (135 rushes, 9 catches), 12 negative rushes, 1 negative reception, 4 fumbles lost
RB LeGarrette Blount: 82 (82 rushes, 0 catches), 8 negative runs, 2 fumbles lost
RB Brandon Bolden: 69 (51 rushes, 18 catches), 4 negative runs, 1 negative reception
WR Julian Edelman: 63 (2 rushes, 61 catches), 6 dropped passes
RB Shane Vereen: 48 (25 rushes, 23 catches)
WR Aaron Dobson: 35 (0 rushes, 35 catches), 1 negative reception, 7 dropped passes
WR Danny Amendola: 33 (1 rush, 32 catches), 1 negative reception
TE Rob Gronkowski: 31 (0 rushes, 31 catches)
WR Kenbrell Thompkins: 31 (0 rushes, 31 catches), 7 dropped passes
QB Tom Brady: 25 (25 rushes, 0 catches), 30 sacks, 15 kneeldowns, 3 fumbles lost
TE Michael Hoomanawanui: 10 (0 rushes, 10 catches)
WR Austin Collie: 3 (0 rushes, 3 catches)
FB James Develin: 2 (0 rushes, 2 catches)
RB Leon Washington: 1 (1 rush, 0 catches)
TE Matthew Mulligan: 1 (0 rushes, 1 catch)
WR Josh Boyce: 1 (0 rushes, 1 catch)

Some offensive notes: The Patriots ran 84 plays on Sunday against the Broncos and 39 of them were in shotgun, a rate of 46 percent. To this point in the season, the Patriots have been in shotgun formation on 330 of their 784 offensive snaps, a rate of 42 percent. (Last year through 11 games, the Patriots were in the shotgun for 393 of their 839 plays, a rate of 47 percent.) ‘€¦ Against the Broncos, the Patriots were in no-huddle for 4 of their 84 snaps, a rate of 5 percent. On the year, the Patriots have operated in a no-huddle on 109 of their 784 plays from scrimmage ‘€” 14 percent of the time. ‘€¦ New England has run 784 offensive plays this year in 11 games. Not counting kneeldowns, 58 have been for negative yardage. Of the 84 plays Monday against the Panthers, four went for negative yardage ‘€” three sacks of Brady, as well as negative runs from Ridley, Bolden and Brady.

By way of comparison, here’s a look at the offensive breakdown through 11 games last season.

Read More: offensive opportunities,

Target Practice: Tracking opportunities in Patriots passing game

11.26.13 at 7:00 am ET
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Targets have been compiled by the NFL since the start of the 2009 season, and while it remains a vaguely imperfect stat ‘€” a badly thrown ball from a quarterback can often go against the record of the receiver as opposed to the quarterback ‘€” it remains a good indication of the confidence level a passer might have in his pass catcher. Here’€™s a look at the target breakdown for the New England passing game after the first 11 games of the 2013 season:

WR Julian Edelman: 61 catches on 89 targets
WR Aaron Dobson: 35 catches on 72 targets
WR Danny Amendola: 32 catches on 50 targets
WR Kenbrell Thompkins: 31 catches on 66 targets
TE Rob Gronkowski: 31 catches on 49 targets
RB Brandon Bolden: 18 catches on 24 targets
RB Shane Vereen: 23 catches on 32 targets
TE Michael Hoomanawanui: 10 catches on 14 targets
RB Stevan Ridley: 9 catches on 10 targets
WR Austin Collie: 3 catches on 7 targets
FB James Develin: 2 catches on 2 targets
WR Josh Boyce: 1 catch on 6 targets
TE Matthew Mulligan: 1 catch on 2 targets
TE Zach Sudfeld: 0 catches on 3 targets
RB LeGarrette Blount: 0 catches on 2 targets
RB Leon Washington: 0 catches on 1 target
TE/OL Nate Solder: 0 catches on 1 target

By position
Wide receiver: 163 catches on 290 targets
Running back/fullback: 52 catches on 71 targets
Tight end: 42 catches on 68 targets
Other: 0 catches on 1 target

By way of comparison, here’s a look at how the targets broke down through the first 11 games last season.

Read More: targets,

Chandler Jones loves the ‘guys that Bill Belichick has put on this team’

11.25.13 at 9:08 pm ET
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Sometimes it takes more than just pure toughness to get back into a game when all hope appears lost.

Chandler Jones reminded everyone of that Monday in the hours after he and the Patriots defense limited Peyton Manning to one second-half touchdown and held steady as Tom Brady got the team back in the game.

“I feel like it’€™s more than the mental toughness,” Jones told WEEI.com’s Chris Price. “It’€™s just the kind of guys that Bill Belichick has put on this team. I feel like we have guys that are willing to put 110 percent on every snap on every play. You can talk about Brandon Spikes. He had a great game. He went out there and he recovered a fumble. It’€™s certain things, just the camaraderie and the brotherhood and how we work so well together and that’€™s the progression you’€™re going to get.”

Jones was one of five defensive players to play all 90 snaps. Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Rob Ninkovich and Chris Jones) were the other four and are certainly among the “guys” to whom Jones was referring.

After playing 73 minutes of draining football, including a sack and six total tackles, what was the day after like?

“First thing I’€™ll say, I’€™m very sleepy, to be honest with you,” Jones said, after tweeting “goodnight!” at about 3 a.m. on Monday. “But I feel great to go out there and get a good win and to see our team battle like that for more than 60 minutes, actually. I looked at the snap count, we played 90 snaps defensively, so [inaudible] and have to keep moving forward.”

Does Jones feel good about where his team is right now with the post-Thanksgiving stretch looming?

“Personally, I feel like we have to take it one game at a time, one play at a time and try to execute and be perfect that one play or that one game ‘€“ never look back, never look forward, just take it where you are now,” Jones said. “That’€™s my take on that.

“Just go ‘€“ just keep going, don’€™t stop. No matter what the score is, just keep going. That should be the motto for everyone not just the rookies, but for any team and not just for our team. Any team that saw us play the other night, I’€™m pretty sure that there are other players that watched that game and it just goes to show don’€™t stop, just keep going.

“It was an emotional win but it’€™s over. I would say take some time off and celebrate but I celebrated it last night in my dreams when I was asleep. That’€™s about it and we’€™re moving on to Houston.”

Read More: chandler jones, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, nfl

Julian Edelman comes through again in clutch for Patriots

11.25.13 at 7:06 pm ET
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As a free agent, he didn’t inspire the same passion as any of the other big names who were coming or going from Foxboro this past offseason. But Julian Edelman has had just a big an impact in 2013 as any one of the free agent moves that impacted the Patriots.

Edelman, who signed a one-year deal to come back to Foxboro after taking exactly one free-agent visit — the Giants — has been immense for the New England receiving corps this year. Through 11 games, he has a team-high 61 catches (tied for 11th in the league) for 610 yards and four touchdowns, all of which represent career-highs for the former college quarterback.

But it’s not just the numbers that are impressive — it’s how they’ve been compiled. Time and again on Sunday night, when the Patriots needed to move the chains, Brady went to Edelman. The former college quarterback responded with nine catches for 110 yards and a pair of touchdowns, his second two-touchdown game of the 2013 season. That stat line includes four of the 10 longest plays from scrimmage against the Broncos, with the capper coming on a 43-yard reception in the third-quarter where he got two Denver defenders to bite on a fake work himself into the open.

‘€œHe’€™s been so dependable and consistent all year for our team,’€ quarterback Tom Brady said of Edelman, who has accounted for 24 percent of all of Brady’s completions through 11 games. ‘€œHe’€™s been the one veteran player on our offense that’€™s been in there and has been around. He always does a great job. He’€™s tough, smart, disciplined. It’€™s fun to see him do well because he deserves it.’€

Which means that despite the resurgence from tight end Rob Gronkowski, running back Shane Vereen and wide receiver Danny Amendola — and even though his numbers have taken a small hit since he started the season on a red-hot pace — Edelman figures to play a sizable role in the passing game going forward.

“[Sunday], my number was called a few times and I was able to have a couple opportunities and I just try to take advantage of them,” said Edelman. “A couple games back it was [Kenbrell Thompkins], [Aaron Dobson], Danny [Amendola.] That’€™s our job ‘€“ our job is to be able to get open and catch the football, and I was able to do that a few times.”

Edelman, who has seen 28 of his 61 catches go for a first down, not only has tremendous offensive value, but is really distinguished by his work as a punt returner. He’s averaged 11.7 yards per return over the course of the first 11 games, and has become one of the most consistent returners in the league the last few seasons — he has one of the best career averages in the history of the NFL when it comes to return yardage.

Against the Broncos, he had three returns for 39 yards, including a 20-yarder. He wasn’t immune to the fumble issues that plagued everyone on Sunday because of the wind and cold — he muffed a punt return of his own in the early going before corralling the ball.

The conditions made it a rough one for everyone.

“I fumbled a punt after I muffed one, so that’s not that good,” Edelman said. “[The wind had] a pretty decent effect in the kicking game, more so than the passing game. But I mean, both sides had to deal with it. I mean, we muffed one, so I’€™ll probably get yelled at for that one, so we’€™ll see.”

Even if he does hear it from the coach when it comes to post game film review, there’s the very real likelihood he’ll also hear some good things.

“Julian did a great job,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said after the game. “First of all, he did a good job of handling the ball, especially in the third and fourth quarter there. Made a couple good runs with the ball in his hands, also got open, caught the ball. The end route he got there gave us the field position in the overtime, it was a big play.

“Julian is a tough competitor.”

Read More: Julian Edelman, Tom Brady,

Pats-Broncos highest-rated prime-time November game in 17 years

11.25.13 at 1:45 pm ET
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Sunday night’s Patriots-Broncos game on NBC posted a 17.0 overnight rating and 28 share, making it the highest-rated prime-time November NFL game since a Steelers-Dolphins game in 1996.

The rating peaked at 17.9/34 from 11:30-midnight, during the game’s closing minutes.

The game is the fifth-highest-ranked game in the eight-year history of Sunday Night Football on NBC, excluding NFL Kickoff games.

Denver had the highest rating of metered markets with a 48.2/71. Boston was second at 37.3/59, followed by Providence at 30.2/46.

The rating was a 26 percent increase over last year’s Season 12 Sunday Night Football game between the Packers and Giants.

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