|Scouting Report: What you need to know about Patriots-Texans||12.12.15 at 3:56 pm ET|
Here’s everything you need to know when the Patriots (10-2) take on the Texans (6-6) Sunday night at NRG Stadium in Houston:
WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN THE BALL
Who knows? There’s been no rhyme or reason as to how the Patriots have approached the running game the last two contests, which means it’s anybody’s guess as to how it’s going to shake out this week. For what it’s worth, LeGarrette Blount (155 carries, 650 yards, 6 TDs, 4.2 yards per carry), Brandon Bolden (19 carries, 59 yards, 3.1 ypc) and James White (15 carries, 39 yards, 1 rushing TD) will get the work on the ground, but who knows how much that will be. On paper, the ground game figured to be a relatively good matchup against both Denver and Philly, and for whatever reason, the Patriots didn’t spend much time running the ball. It’s not clear if it was an issue with the backs, or a lack of faith in the offensive line when it comes to run blocking, or a lack of faith in the overall execution across the board, but for key stretches as of late, the New England offense was fundamentally one-dimensional. On the other side of the ball, Houston is 21st in the NFL in run defense, having yielded an average of 114.1 rushing yards per contest. That suggests that the Texans might be more vulnerable than most when it comes to slowing Blount, Bolden and White, but Houston’s run defense numbers have been up and down all year long. There were four games where the Texans allowed 135 yards or more, including an astounding 187 yards on the ground in a loss to the Bills last week. Of course, there were four games where they held opponents to under 75 rushing yards. Bottom line? It’s an offense that hasn’t made a commitment to running the ball as of late against a defense that has been inconsistent when it comes to slowing the run. It’s anyone’s guess what is going to happen Sunday.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS THE BALL
This is the biggest and most important matchup of the evening. Can Tom Brady (64 percent completion rate, 3,912 passing yards, 31 TDs, 6 INTs, passer rating of 102.8) overcome the fact that he’ll be without Julian Edelman and (likely) Rob Gronkowski once again, as he goes up against the third-best pass defense in the league? The Texans allow just 218.3 passing yards per game, thanks in large part to the work of defensive lineman/all-star pitchman J.J. Watt and his ability to get after the quarterback. Watt leads the league with 13.5 sacks, but many of the Texans do an excellent job of playing off him and taking advantage of when he commands double teams. Guys like linebacker Whitney Mercilus (6.5 sacks) and old pal Vince Wilfork (who is coming off his best game of the season against the Bills) do well when Watt gets the bulk of attention. Meanwhile, Houston will rely on cornerbacks Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph and safeties Andre Hal and Quintin Demps on the backside to try and slow Brady. For the Patriots, it’ll be Danny Amendola 56 catches, 73 targets, 582 yards, 3 TDs), Brandon LaFell (25 catches, 56 targets, 369 yards), Scott Chandler (23 catches, 41 targets, 259 yards, 4 TDs) and White (22 catches, 32 targets, 210 yards, 2 TDs) who will be charged with getting the New England passing game through another week without its leading options. One more thing: it’ll be interesting to see what sort of role ex-Houston receiver Keshawn Martin (10 catches, 16 targets, 148 yards, 1 TD) might play on Sunday. When he’s been healthy, he’s delivered a nice dose of quickness to the Patriots’ passing attack. His working knowledge of how the Texans’ defensive backs operate could be an interesting wrinkle.
|Matt Patricia raves about Brian Hoyer: ‘This is a very competitive player’||12.08.15 at 9:19 pm ET|
For three years, Matt Patricia had the chance to see Brian Hoyer up close and personal as he backed up Tom Brady in New England.
While the undrafted quarterback out of Michigan State saw limited action action in his three seasons starting in 2009, Hoyer showed enough to Patricia, then a linebackers coach, to make a lasting impression.
Hoyer worked every day in practice as scout quarterback to not only be ready physically, but be prepared mentally. Hoyer was the quarterback who was called into the 2009 season finale as a rookie in the middle of the second quarter. He readiness showed as he was 8-of-12 for 71 yards in the game infamous for the Wes Welker ACL injury in the first half. In three years with the Patriots, Hoyer appeared in 13 games, completing 27-of-43 passes for one touchdown and one interception.
Now, he’s quarterbacking the team he faced on that January Sunday in 2010. Despite a 30-21 loss last week to the Bills, Hoyer has helped the Texans to 6-6 record, good enough for a first place tie with the Colts atop the AFC South. Hoyer has completed 61.2 percent of his passes, throwing 18 touchdowns and six interceptions.
“I think just even knowing Brian Hoyer and being around him, this is a very competitive guy,” Patricia said. “This guy is a guy that goes out on that field every single moment he’s out there expecting to win, whether it takes all the time on the clock or they get an early lead, whatever it is, this is a very competitive player. He’s a very smart player. He studies extremely hard. He understands looks, disguises, coverages, fronts. He’s going to get the offense into the best play possible. And he’s going to be smart with the football.”
Hoyer’s mental toughness and leadership has been on clear display all season, starting with Week 2, when he was surprisingly benched by Bill O’Brien for Ryan Mallett against Atlanta. Hoyer had to stand on the sideline and be supportive until his next opportunity came.
When the team was getting throttled early in the season, like when they trailed 42-0 after three against the Falcons and 41-0 at halftime to the Dolphins, it was Hoyer keeping things together. Houston started off 2-5 before going on a four-game winning streak. This is the first time Hoyer, who is 24-17 as a starter in the NFL, is going against the team that gave him his first shot in the NFL.
“I would say the biggest thing that they’re doing recently, and what they’ve done in the last five weeks or so is really just settling the game down. He’s settled the game down with the run. He’s making quick and smart throws, good decisions with the football. He’s not turning the ball over. He doesn’t hold it very long. He gets the ball out quickly. He doesn’t allow the pressure to get there. He does a great job with the protection, understanding schemes from a defensive standpoint and how to protect himself, knowing when he’s protected and when he’s not, and where he has to get the ball to if he’s not [protected].”
|5 things to know about Texans: J.J. Watt, Houston still part of AFC playoff picture||12.07.15 at 9:55 pm ET|
Five things you have to know about the Texans (6-6), who will host the Patriots (10-2) Sunday night at NRG Stadium in Houston.
1. After a really rough start, they’ve turned things around.
They’re not an overwhelming bunch by any means, but considering the fact that the Texans on the periphery of the postseason picture, it’s an impressive feat, given where they were a month into the season. Houston started 1-4, and was beset by injury and ineffective quarterback play. But thanks to a substandard AFC South, some occasionally steady play on the part of quarterback Brian Hoyer and the work of an impressive pass defense, the Texans have nosed their way into the playoff picture with five wins in their last seven games. That stretch includes a 10-6 win over the Bengals on Nov. 16, the first loss of the year for Cincinnati. It’s as good a time as any to hail the work of former Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, who was able to keep a leaky ship together during a rough stretch and still guide them to a .500 record after 12 games. They may not make the playoffs, but given the instability under center, if they are able to finish the season .500, it’ll represent a nice stretch for O’Brien and the rest of his staff.
2. J.J. Watt has to be accounted for on every play.
Not really breaking news here, but after a relatively slow start, Watt has come on like gangbusters as the Houston defense has really started to round into form. The Wisconsin product leads the NFL in sacks with 13.5, and plays a sizable role in the fact that the Texans come into Sunday’s game as one of the best teams in the league when it comes to defending the pass. Houston is the third-best team in the league when it comes to slowing air attacks, having yielded just 218.3 passing yards per game. (Weirdly, only one quarterback — Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles — has accounted for more than 300 passing yards in a game against the Texans.) Much of that is because of Watt’s ability to get after the quarterback and force some bad throws. With the issues along the interior of New England’s offensive line, slowing Watt will be priority one for the Patriots. Expect New England to try and utilize multiple blockers in trying to contain the 6-foot-6, 290-pound Watt, who certainly has the capability of ruining a game for Tom Brady and the Patriots.
|Fantasy Football: Week 13 starts, sits||12.04.15 at 9:20 am ET|
It’s money time for fantasy owners. If you are reading this article, you are either very bored or, more likely, you are playing for your life this week — or at least a better playoff seed. Maybe you need a win to get a Week 14 bye. Yes, things are getting serious, and I’ll be around the next few days if you are in need of some help or a second opinion.
Jim Hackett and I will be doing a podcast later Friday and it will be all about Week 13. That will continue on Sunday morning with the this week’s edition of the Fantasy Football Hour. And, as always, I will be ready for your lineup questions when I host our Sunday morning chat at 11 a.m., so head on over if you want a little clarity. I will tweet a link to the chat when it becomes available on Sunday morning.
Cutler is a good Week 13 option at home in a plus matchup with his key weapons ready to go. He’s come up light the last few games, but this week projects to be different. He’s a fringe QB1 option, and you still can add him in more than half of Yahoo! leagues.
Fitzpatrick has been about what you would expect as a quarterback so far, but his stats have been a little better than expected and there are two key reasons for this. They are Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. Both veteran receivers are playing very good football, and it’s making the little bearded quarterback a viable fantasy play when the matchup is right. This most certainly is one of those weeks, as the Giants defend the pass poorly yet handle the run pretty well.
Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins vs. Ravens
It’s the matchup. The Ravens can play the run but have serious weaknesses in pass defense. While I expect the new regime in Miami to run more consistently than the last, I also expect the Dolphins to scheme for the defense in front of them, not generically. The way to move the ball against Baltimore is by throwing. Expect volume and a decent fantasy outing.
|Fantasy Football: Week 12 starts, sits||11.27.15 at 12:45 pm ET|
I’m taking some deep shots today in hopes of helping those in need, so you’ll want to be careful with how you use these recommendations. As I said last week, it’s a good idea to cross-reference these ideas against my full lineup rankings that are up at Rotobahn and will be fully updated Saturday afternoon.
As always, I will be here Sunday at 11 a.m. for our weekly chat. Bring your lineup questions and I’ll do my best to help. And don’t forget to tune in to the Fantasy Football Hour this Sunday at 8 a.m. when Jim Hackett and I will discuss trending Week 12 topics and crucial game day information.
Brian Hoyer, Texans vs. Saints
The matchup is syrupy sweet, and he has enough healthy weapons to take advantage of it. DeAndre Hopkins has taken his game to another level, and the Saints simply do not play there. Cecil Shorts is healthy, and so is deep threat Nate Washington. The table is set here, so use Hoyer if you are looking to stream a quarterback in Week 12.
Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins at Jets
The Jets are banged up on defense and the injuries are to their crucial players, like Darrelle Revis and Sheldon Richardson. I’d be all-in on Tannehill, but he may be without his security blanket, Jarvis Landry. Still, if this was a chess match, the Jets are down a queen and a bishop while Tannehill loses a knight. He has a good chance to post QB1-type numbers.
Josh McCown, Browns vs. Ravens
Baltimore has been hit by an injury tsunami, and you have to wonder what that team has in the tank right now. Matt Schaub inspires no one at this stage of his career. The Browns should be able to do some things throwing the ball, and at the end of the day McCown should have serviceable numbers, and he has the potential for a plus performance if things break right. He’s a guy you can probably get, too.
|Wednesday morning NFL free agent/trade roundup: Ryan Fitzpatrick reportedly set to become next Jets QB||03.11.15 at 11:40 am ET|
The NFL new league year got started with a bang on Tuesday with a number of big trades and free agent signings. Things continued on Wednesday morning with more moves being made across the league.
Here’s a quick roundup of the moves made late Tuesday night and Wednesday morning:
— According to Pro Football Talk, it is expected the Texans will sign quarterback Brian Hoyer. Once that happens they are expected to trade Ryan Fitzpatrick to the Jets, making him New York’s next quarterback. Fitzpatrick is in his 11th year in the league, most recently playing for Houston last year, playing in 12 games. He threw 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
[UPDATE, 12:10: ESPN’s Adam Schefter says the trade is a go with the Jets and New York will send a late-round pick back to Houston.]
— Jacksonville signed tight end Julius Thomas. Thomas spent last season in Denver, but signed a five-year, $46 million deal to move to North Florida.
— The Jaguars also announced they have signed Jared Odrick, formally of the Dolphins. Odrick is a quality pass rusher, a former first round pick.
— Running back Frank Gore has officially signed with the Colts, after deciding to back out of an agreement to sign with the Eagles. It is a $12 million deal over three years, according to his agent Drew Rosenhaus.
— San Francisco will cut wide receiver Stevie Johnson, according to The Baltimore Sun’s Aaron Wilson.
— According to Fox Sports 1’s Mike Garafalo, former Chargers running back Ryan Matthews is expected to sign with the Eagles.
For more Patriots/NFL free agent news, visit weei.com/patriots.
|3 Patriots-related thoughts as clock ticks down to official start of free agency||03.09.15 at 1:50 pm ET|
The free agent running back market is expected to receive a bit of a jolt with the news that LeSean McCoy and the Bills have set on a five-year deal with $40 million with $26.5 guaranteed. (In addition, any deal free agent running back DeMarco Murray receives should also be in that same range.) Those will undoubtedly impact the Patriots and any plans they may have for Shane Vereen. While Vereen won’t be in that neighborhood, McCoy’s deal could be a sign that the market for third-down backs like Vereen could be better than it has been in recent years.
For the Patriots, the idea of facing Ndamukong Suh twice a year certainly isn’t appealing, especially when he’s paired up with two excellent edge rushers in the likes of Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon. Suh is one of the most complete young defensive tackles in the league, as he’s managed to build a resume not just as a run stopper but as an interior pass rushing presence as well. But at the same time, New England has always found a way to neutralize Suh — in two career regular-season games against the Patriots, he is 0-2 with one sack and seven tackles. Ultimately, in a division that was already full of really good young defensive fronts, this creates an even greater priority for New England when it comes to protecting quarterback Tom Brady. Several mock drafts have already marked the Patriots as needing an interior offensive lineman in the draft, and Miami’s pickup of Suh likely adds to that need.
Tom Brady‘s backups continue to find work, as it was reported Monday that Brian Hoyer appears to be on the move to Houston to join the man who supplanted him in the No. 2 role in New England back in 2011, Ryan Mallett. (Mallett reportedly agreed on Monday to a two-year, $7 million deal to stay in Houston.) Meanwhile, it’s expected that Hoyer’s move will be made official when free agency officially begins on Tuesday, although ESPN reported Monday that Hoyer will get an offer from the Jets. Including Matt Cassel (who signed with the Bills), the Patriots could face former QBs in as many as three games in 2015.
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