Offensive Key to the Game: stopping, or at least limiting JJ Watt

Yes, you can call me Captain Obvious. But just as fans of other teams wail ‘all we have to do is blitz Brady’ and ‘all we have to do is hit Brady’, this is a task that is much easier said than done.

Sebastian Vollmer is very good, but he is going to need help both schematically as well as physically. One idea that I read was to use Marcus Cannon nexy to Vollmer at right guard, which would make sense if Dan Connolly is till having issues with his back. Since Rob Gronkowski is out we should expect to see a lot of Daniel Fells, helping out with both run blocking and pass protection. Fells needs to step up and play better than he did against Miami though; if he isn’t getting it done go to plan B, whether that’s more of Visanthe Shiancoe or even Cannon at tight end.

The best way to counteract an effective pass rush is to run the ball. The Patriots need to commit to the run, and continue to run even if they are stopped and forced to punt on some early drives. Houston is second in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game, but much of that can be attributed to opponents abandoning the run and passing the ball because they are behind in the score. In average yards per carry they rank 12th at 4.1; in other words, slightly above average. Running against them should not be as formidable a task if – and I realize this is a big if – the offensive line has collectively healed.

Recently the team has been missing Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly, which has negatively impacted the running game despite the fine performances of the OL backups. Just like Arian Foster ‘s running sets up Matt Schaub play action passes for the Texans, the same is true with the New England running backs and Tom Brady for this game. Keep the defense guessing run or pass, left or right, middle or sideline. The better the offense is balanced, the better the Patriots’ chances are for a victory.

Houston’s secondary is not bad at all, but has been slowed down by injuries. Jonathan Joseph has been injured; even though he will play I would not expect him to be 100%. Somebody (Brandon Lloyd?) needs to take advantage of the Houston secondary.

It’s an old cliché but use the run to set up the pass. Don’t be fooled or intimidated by the total yards stats of the Houston run defense. The Patriots had too much respect for the run defenses of Arizona and Seattle, which resulted in a poor run-pass balance, and the result was a pair of losses. Get everyone involved on offense, which limits how much the defense can key on one or two players. Obviously the passing game is a bigger part of the New England offense than running is, but I firmly believe the Patriots need to run the ball and not simply go to an empty backfield shotgun against this Houston pass rush.

Against Seattle the Patriots were too predictable. When the Pats sent an extra lineman on to the field as a blocking tight end near the end of the game Seattle bunched nine players at the line of scrimmage. Rather than change the play call to a pass the Pats ran anyways, with nowhere to go; sure enough the result was a quick three and out. When Houston is in their base 3-4, go ahead and throw a quick slant or seam route before the pass rush can materialize; when they go to their nickel take advantage of the formation and run the ball. Consider this: Houston is allowing only 3.3 yards per carry when they are in their base defense, which is the 2nd lowest in the NFL; when they have five or more defensive backs they allow 6.0 yards per carry, which is the worst in the league. Don’t be predictable, take what they are giving you, and keep their defense off balance.

One last thing: I am fully cognizant that statistics for rush attempts and rushing yards typically have more to do with whether a team has the lead or is trying to catch up. I am simply suggesting that the Patriots will have a very difficult time winning against a team that is as good as the Texans if they are predictable and one way to avoid that is to have a balanced run-pass ratio.



This Day In Patriots History


December 8, 2002:
New England Patriots 27, Buffalo Bills 17 at Gillette Stadium

Tom Brady – who completed passes to ten different players – throws touchdown passes to David Patten and Donald Hayes, and Antowain Smith rushes for a touchdown against his former team. On defense Terrell Buckley, Tebucky Jones, Ty Law and Richard Seymour each picked off a Drew Bledsoe pass.


December 8, 1996:
New England Patriots 34, New York Jets 10

Shawn Jefferson had 91 yards receiving, Curtis Martin ran for 94 yards, and the Pats improved to 10-4 while the Jets dropped to 1-13. Ty Law intercepted a pass 38 yards for a touchdown, and Jerome Henderson also had a pick for the Patriots.


December 8, 1991:
New England Patriots 23, Indianapolis Colts 17

The Pats won in overtime at Foxboro on a 45-yard pass from Hugh Millen to Michael Timpson, finishing a 14-point 2nd half comeback victory.

The Pats were down 17-3 in the 4th quarter when John Stephens rushed for a touchdown, and then Millen hit Ben Coates on a two-yard toss to send the game to OT. Greg McMurty had 8 receptions for 119 yards, Marv Cook had 6 catches for 90 yards, and Leonard Russell ran for 82 yards for New England.


December 8, 1985:
New England Patriots 23, Detroit Lions 6 at Sullivan Stadium

Tony Eason ran for one touchdown and passed for another, Craig James ran for 115 yards, and the Pats defense did the rest. Ronnie Lippett had an interception, Andre Tippett and Lester Williams each had a sack, and the Pats limited Detroit to two Eddie Murray field goals, as they improved their record to 10-4.


December 8, 1980:
Miami Dolphins 16, New England Patriots 13 at the Orange Bowl

The Fins came from behind to upset the Pats on Monday Night Football, winning on Uwe von Schamann‘s third field goal in overtime. Matt Cavanaugh‘s touchdown pass to Russ Francis in the 4th quarter gave the Patriots the lead, but Nat Moore caught a TD to force OT.


December 8, 1974:
Pittsburgh Steelers 21, New England Patriots 17 at Schaefer Stadium

Mack Herron caught one pass for a touchdown and ran for another, but the Steelers held on to edge the Pats and knock them out of playoff contention. The Pats held Terry Bradshaw to just 86 yards passing and he was picked off once by Prentice McCray, but his 7-yard TD to Lynn Swann proved to be the game-winner.


December 8, 1968:
Miami Dolphins 38, Boston Patriots 7 at the Orange Bowl

Jim Nance rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown but turnovers doomed the Pats in south Florida. Nance scored on a 30-yard run early in the 2nd quarter to tie the score at 7, but it was all Miami after that as the Pats turned the ball over four times.


December 8, 1963:
Boston Patriots 46, Houston Oilers 28 at Jeppesen Stadium

The Pats took over first place and closed in on an AFL East title, knocking off division rival and two-time league champion Houston on the road.

The Patriots were down by four in the second quarter when Babe Parilli hit Jim Colclough on a 5-yard TD to take the lead. Nick Buoniconti then recovered a fumble and ran it in 7 yards for a score, and then Tom Yewcic hit Art Graham with a 40-yard touchdown pass to give the Pats a 31-14 lead. After halftime the Pats kept their foot on the gas, adding three on the second of three Gino Cappelletti field goals. Another defensive score turned the game into a rout as Bob Suci ran an interception back 52 yards for a touchdown, putting the Patriots up 41-14. The Pats defense was immense in this game, intercepting three passes (two by Suci and one by Dick Felt), recovering three fumbles, and recording a safety in the rout. The Patriots ran for 194 yards, led by Larry Garron (107 yards on 17 carries); Garron finished with 194 all-purpose yards.



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December 8, 1943:
Jim Morrison was born in Melbourne, Florida



December 8, 1947:
Gregg Allman was born in Nashville



December 8, 1980:
John Lennon was shot and killed at the age of 40; most of us discovered this news from Howard Cosell on Monday Night Football




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