Thursday Night Football sucks. It benefits no one but NFL because they get to have a third nationally televised game each week. The teams are playing on a short week, and the quality of play is terrible. Not only is there no time to prepare, but there is also no time for injured players to recover in time to play.
The Patriots released their final injury report on Wednesday night and quarterback Jimmy Garappolo was listed as doubtful. If this game were played on Sunday there is a good chance that he would be able to play, but now the Patriots are down to their third string quarterback.
Much was made about Jimmy Garappolo not being prepared leading up to his first NFL start after sitting behind Tom Brady for two years, so I can’t imagine the ideas people have about Jacoby Brissett’s preparedness this week. Quite honestly, Brissett should be fine.
It is a short week, with very little time for the Patriots to put in an extensive game plan for the rookie, but luckily the game is at home and the Texans have even less time to prepare with today being a travel day. Josh McDaniels is a good enough coordinator, and Brissett showed me enough on Sunday to give me confidence that they will be able to figure something out for tonight’s game.
Brissett made all of the throws he was asked to, and did not try to force anything. Those are the keys to being successful early on as a quarterback. As long as the run game is working the way it was against the Dolphins, Brissett won’t be asked to do much more than manage the game, and with this defense that should be enough to get the job done.
The concerning thing about starting Brissett on Thursday is how good the Texans defense is. J.J. Watt is the best defensive player in football, and I’m not sure the Patriots offensive line is good enough to neutralize him right now. Even if they do players like Jadaveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus are stars in their own right, and will be tough to handle. I would expect Martellus Bennett to play a role similar to that of the Arizona game, where he was asked to stay in and block on passing downs.
Getting the ball out quickly, and knowing when to just take the sack and hold onto the ball will be key for Brissett. Texans corners Johnathan Joseph and Kevin Johnson are both good on the outside, but struggle when forced to play in the slot. This is a massive advantage for the Patriots, who have both Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola playing outstanding football right now. If those two can get open quickly over the middle Brissett will be fine.
Blount should play a huge role again this week. I expect the Patriots to try to establish the run early on, and work on setting up play action to slow down the Texans pass rush. Last season against the Texans Blount was running with success before injuring his hip and winding up on IR. This time around with an improved offensive line he should be effective.
If the defense plays to the level that is expected of them, the Patriots actually matchup well, if not they’re in trouble. DeAndre Hopkins is one of the three best receivers in the NFL, but was held to 52 yards on three catches by Logan Ryan with help over the top by Devin McCourty. McCourty has been utstanding this year, and this plan should work again.
The matchup that worries me is Malcolm Butler on Will Fuller. Fuller is an explosive rookie who excels on deep passes and quick screens at the line of scrimmage. Butler is still dealing with an ankle injury and hasn’t had the burst we’ve become accustomed to seeing. Fuller’s explosiveness could cause McCourty to have to shade him instead of Hopkins, leaving him one-on-one with Logan Ryan. The Patriots will most likely play three safeties for the majority of the game with Duron Harmon over the top of Fuller and McCourty on top of Hopkins.
Last year playing three safeties at all times wouldn’t have been a problem, but Houston’s run game is much better with the addition of Lamar Miller. Dont’a Hightower is returning this week, and his presence will be key in shutting down the run, and forcing the Texans to be one dimensional.
The Patriots lone clear advantage on the defensive side of the ball is the pass rush. Houston’s star left tackle Duane Brown is still out with and injury, and the Patriots should be able to feast off the edge. Chris Long has revived his career this season, and is playing out of his mind. Last year Jabaal Sheard had his best game of the season against the Texans. Expect those two to have a field day, going after Brock Osweiler.
The Patriots are one point home underdogs in this game, marking just the second time since 2006 that they have been home dogs. The Texans are a good football team, and the Patriots are starting a rookie third string quarterback. Just like the Arizona game, everything I know about football tells me the Texans should win this game.
At the same time, everything I know about Bill Belichick and the Patriots tells me that they are going to win this game. The team is at its best when faced with adversity, and this is the toughest situation they have been in in a long time. There are reports that Rob Gronkowski has been telling teammates that he plans to play, and that only furthers my opinion that the Patriots win this game.
The Pick: Patriots 24 – Texans 14