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Scouting Report: What you need to know about Patriots-Texans 12.12.15 at 3:56 pm ET
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Tom Brady will face a sizable challenge this week in the Houston pass defense. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Tom Brady will face a sizable challenge this week in the Houston pass defense. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

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.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Bill O'Brien, Brandon LaFell, Brian Hoyer
The Bill Belichick-Romeo Crennel factor and how it plays this weekend 12.11.15 at 1:19 pm ET
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Romeo Crennel is calling the defense for the Texans now. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Romeo Crennel is calling the defense for the Texans now. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — There will be no one on the field Sunday night that knows Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel better than Bill Belichick.

That, of course, works the other way, too.

Before Crennel left after the 2004 season to assume head coaching duties with the Browns, Belichick and Crennel worked together for the better part of three decades, starting in 1981 when Crennel worked with Belichick on the New York Giants‘ special teams staff.

“Romeo is a great person, great guy to work with. He and I worked on special teams in New York and then defensively, he was the defensive line coach in 1990, moved up from special teams when Mike Sweatman kind of moved into that role. He did a lot of great things and he was great to work with and we always had a great working relationship. He and Al Groh and I, we were together a lot.”

And winning a lot. Crennel (5) has nearly as many Super Bowl rings as Belichick’s six, including three as Belichick’s defensive coordinator for the Super Bowl wins in 2001, ’03 and ’04.

“He does a great job and I love working with him,” Belichick said. “He’€™s coached linebackers. He’€™s coached special teams. He’€™s coached defensive line. He’€™s been a coordinator. He’€™s been a head coach. He’€™s had a lot of experience. Played for Jerry Glanville at Western Kentucky so little different type of background there but relevant, coached with Coach [Bill] Parcells at Texas Tech and obviously all the NFL stops, so he’€™s got a great background, great work ethic, lot of experience, has got a lot of poise and it’€™s hard to get him really. He stays very poised and composed and at the same time he has a lot of energy. He can really motivate players and teams well. He has a great relationship with the players. [It’€™s] a long, long list of strong points and not too many on the other side of the column.”

Fast forward to Sunday night and Belichick isn’t concerned about Crennel’s resume. He’s more focused on containing Crennel’s defense and figuring a way to keep Tom Brady safe and upright, a key to coming out of Houston with a win.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Bill Parcells, houston texans, j.j. watt
Tom Brady to Vince Wilfork: ‘Take it easy on me this weekend’ 12.10.15 at 7:24 pm ET
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#tbt to a special moment with a great teammate and friend. Take it easy on me this weekend, Vince!

Posted by Tom Brady on Thursday, December 10, 2015

For 11 years, the only time Tom Brady had to worry about Vince Wilfork was in practice.

That changes Sunday night when the nose tackle, in his first year with the Texans, lines up opposite the Patriots quarterback.

Brady, in a “Throwback Thursday” post on Facebook, asked the veteran nose tackle and good friend to “take it easy” on him this weekend.

The request is particularly timely this weekend as Brady has been taking a pounding of late. He’s been hit 32 times in the last three games and sacked eight games.

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Almost 2,000 miles away, Vince Wilfork still keeps tabs on, helps former team at 8:54 am ET
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Vince Wilfork made a lasting impact with his Patriots teammates. (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Vince Wilfork made a lasting impact with his Patriots teammates. (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Sunday night in Houston, Vince Wilfork will be standing on the other side of the field and wearing a No. 74 Texans jersey, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t had an impact on the Patriots this season.

Wilfork and the Patriots couldn’t come to an agreement on a new contract after the Patriots didn’t pick up his option following last season. Without any bitterness, rather sadness, Wilfork made the best “business” decision for he and his family and signed with Houston.

After 11 seasons as a Patriot, he was gone.

But, this hasn’t been a typical departure with any hard feelings as Wilfork said Wednesday on a conference call, he still will always love the Krafts and Bill Belichick, calling New England a “second home.”

Spending 11 seasons with the Patriots and being a team captain for the final seven, Wilfork left a mark on his teammates that they still carry with them today even with him gone.

“Vince was like a big brother to me,” linebacker Jerod Mayo said. “He taught me how to be a professional and also a family man. It’s like family.

“He just kind of took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. Just overall, he’s a good person.”

And even though Wilfork is halfway across the country, he still stays in touch with his former teammates and communicates with them regularly.

“I talk to some of those guys once a week, sometimes twice a week, or whatever it may be,” Wilfork said. “Because I have a lot of friends in that locker room. I played football with a lot of those guys for a long time. Our relationship goes beyond football. A lot of times, we don’€™t even talk about football. It’€™s always how the family is doing, how you’€™re doing, how you feel. I always try to give words of wisdom to them, no matter what the situation maybe. If it’€™s football or family related.”

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Read More: Jerod Mayo, Rob Ninkovich, Sealver Siliga, Vince Wilfork
Vince Wilfork: Playing for Patriots ‘meant everything to me,’ but football is a business 12.09.15 at 6:31 pm ET
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Vince Wilfork ended his Patriots career on top, winning Super Bowl XLIX. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Vince Wilfork ended his Patriots career on top, winning Super Bowl XLIX. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — It will be a weird sight to see when Vince Wilfork lines up as part of the Houston defense opposite Tom Brady and the Patriots on Sunday night. After 11 seasons with New England, he was a franchise fixture, playing a center role in helping lead the Patriots to a pair of Super Bowls in that time.

In a conference call on Wednesday, Wilfork acknowledged there was a chance he could have returned for a 12th season with New England on a different contract if he had deemed it the best decision for him and his family.

But in the end, it was time to move on.

“I don’t regret anything I’ve done in my career. That’s just the way things happen. That’s just the way things are,” he said. “Could I have still been wearing a Patriot helmet? I think 100 percent yes, if I wanted to. I think at that point in my career it was kind of best for both sides to do what we did. Like I said, I didn’t leave bitter. The organization definitely didn’t leave bitter. But there was a sadness there just because over the years, what [that] organization meant to me.

“I never want anyone to think I left on bitter terms, or me and the organization we fell out because that’s not the truth,” he added. “We left on good terms, but that’s the way business is sometimes and I think you get caught up in playing football and you forget it’s a business until it’s time to handle it. But I’ll always love the Kraft family. I will always love Bill Belichick and the organization, the teammates, the fans.”

The former New England defensive lineman said he’s “looking forward to seeing my guys” when the Texans host New England at NRG Stadium Sunday.

At the same time, he understands what’s at stake.

“I’m pretty sure I have a lot of guys I would love to see and say hello to, but once that whistle blows it’s time to get to work. They feel the same exact way,” he said. “We’re friends off the field, but once that whistle blows, I guess we’re enemies now.

“But I’ll be back to loving them after the game, but those 60 minutes is the Patriots versus the Texans and I’m a Texan right now and I got a job to do. Hopefully I can do it well.”

One of the guys he’s likely looking forward to seeing is old pal Tom Brady. The quarterback joked on Facebook after Wilfork left that he should take it easy on him when the Patriots met the Texans this season.

“I talk with Tom over the course of the year, and he’s always trying to slide that in,” Wilfork said. “I laugh it off. Tom knows, at the end of the day, we’re both competitive. I would never do anything to try to injure anyone, but I do have to tackle. He should be OK.”

In the end, while he’s in a Texans uniform now, he’ll always treasure his time as a member of the Patriots.

“It meant everything to me,” Wilfork said of his time in New England. “For an organization to give me my first NFL job and be there for 11 years, to win a lot of football, a lot of tough games, win a lot of ballgames, I can never forget that and I never will. New England’s always going to be a part of me. That’s like a second home for me. My family grew up there. Over 11 years, I spent up there and I had a chance to meet a lot of great people.”

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork,
Bill Belichick praises Vince Wilfork: ‘He had a great career for us’ at 2:26 pm ET
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Vince Wilfork ended his Patriots career on top, winning Super Bowl XLIX. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Vince Wilfork ended his Patriots career on top, winning Super Bowl XLIX. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Vince Wilfork spent 11 seasons in New England and certainly left his mark on the organization.

“Look, he did a lot for us. He had a great career for us,” Bill Belichick said Wednesday. “Great, great player. For his size, very talented. Like the interceptions he had, you don’t see a lot of guys make those plays in the position he played. I think that speaks to his athleticism.”

Wilfork was selected in the first-round of the 2004 draft (No. 21 overall). At time of his departure from New England after last season, he was the second-longest tenured player on the team besides Tom Brady.

Belichick said Wilfork had a calming influence to him, which was an important trait to have in the locker room. Wilfork’s impact when beyond making tackles on the field.

“Vince always had a real good poise,” Belichick said. “He had an emotional side to him, I’m not saying that. I don’t think you can play a game without it. But he also had a very calm and poised side where [he’d say], ‘OK, what do we need to do? How do we need to do it? What adjustments do we need to make? OK,’ then go out there and do it without it being a big frenzy. He was a very settling influence on his teammates as far as that type of thing went, too.”

For his career with the Patriots, the defensive tackle finished with 516 tackles and 16 sacks. He was also a team captain in each of his last seven seasons.

“He was great,” Belichick said of Wilfork’s leadership. “Team captain for multiple years. Great leadership on and off the field. Really smart player. Understood concepts, understood what it took to win, how to prepare to win, how to compete, how to make adjustments.”

Despite Wilfork and the Patriots not agreeing on a deal for him to return this season, there is no animosity between the sides, but with how competitive Wilfork and the Patriots are, Sunday night in Houston should be fun.

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Josh McDaniels hints Patriots will need double teams to handle J.J. Watt 12.08.15 at 2:09 pm ET
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J.J. Watt sacks Drew Brees for one of his league-leading 13.5 sacks. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

J.J. Watt sacks Drew Brees for one of his league-leading 13.5 sacks. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

There’s never a good time for any offensive line to be taking on the challenge of containing a defensive force like defensive end J.J. Watt.

But for the Patriots struggling offensive line unit, the timing probably couldn’t be much worse. They are coming off a three-game stretch when Tom Brady has been sacked eight times and hit 32 times. Now they have the responsibility of trying to handle Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus and old friend Vince Wilfork.

“This defense as a whole is as good a unit as we’ll face,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said Tuesday in a conference call. “It certainly is up there in a lot of those statistical categories. They did a good job of stopping people in the running game, stopping the pass. They create an incredible amount of negative plays, which puts the offense in a lot of negative situations on third down, and they lead the league in third-down defense.”

Watt, the reigning NFL defensive player of the year, is at it again with a league-leading 13.5 sacks.

“J.J. Watt is as good of an individual player as we’ll play all season. He’s got a great motor. He plays the game extremely hard. He’s physical. He’s aggressive. He’s fast. He’s quick. He closes to the quarterback in the pass rush. He chases the ball down from behind in the running game. There’s really no area of the game that this guy isn’t a significant factor and contributor for their defense.

“And then to top it all off, he’s not always in the same spot so we’re going to have to have a lot of guys prepared and ready to handle and be ready to block him, if he happens to be aligned over them or near them. That responsibility probably won’t fall on just one person. We’re going to have to do a good job of preparing for him. He’s as disruptive of a player as we’ve faced all season. We’re going to have to try to limit the number of opportunities that he has to create types of plays because when he does, they usually change the outcome of the drive, the play or potentially the game. He’s a very unique guy. We’re going to have to do a really good job of trying to hopefully limit the opportunities he has to make those types of plays.”

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