By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots’ quarterback situation has really flipped the team’s unbeatable mystique on its face. The Houston Texans, who come to Foxboro in Week 3 for Thursday Night Football at Gillette Stadium, will be one-point favorites. In what universe would Bill Belichick’s Patriots be home underdogs? Take away Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, and THEN take away Jimmy Garoppolo, and this is where you’re at.
But that won’t stop me from coming up with the worst-case scenario for how the Texans could pull it off.
That’s right, I said “pull it off.” The Patriots may be underdogs in the eyes of Las Vegas bookmakers and they will reportedly be starting rookie Jacoby Brissett. But they’re still at home and that’s still Belichick who’s going to be on the sidelines. Very few believed he could pull off the road win in Arizona, but now he can’t win at home on a short week when anything can happen?
The Texans still need to do some specific things to succeed against the Patriots and leave Foxboro with the W. Those things are far from guarantees. But I was in the Gillette stands for that game against the Eagles last season – the one where everybody foolishly overlooked the opponent and the team lost its damn mind – and that day changed me.
From here on out, I’m not counting any opponent out. But I’ll NEVER count Belichick out. There is still a list of boxes the Texans will need to check off in order to beat the Patriots in Foxboro. Perhaps these scenarios would result in a big win for the Texans rather than a close one, but they still need to happen nonetheless. So let’s go over this week’s worst-case scenarios …
Jacoby Brissett commits one or more costly turnovers. The rookie out of North Carolina State looked OK in his NFL debut filling in for the injured Garoppolo against the Dolphins, completing six of nine passes and managing the offense well enough. But clearly, the kid is not ready to do even close to what Brady or even Garoppolo can do, which would mean a continuation of the dumbed-down Patriots offense you saw after Garoppolo left the game on Sunday – despite reports that the team will not “dial down” the offense with Brissett under center.
Brissett very nearly coughed the ball up with a fumble against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. He certainly looked like a rookie with the way he “protected” the ball on that play …
… But fortunately, James White was there to recover the fumble. The Dolphins went and scored a touchdown on their next drive anyway, but a pick-six or scoop ‘n’ score by the Texans defense would certainly have a different effect on the game than your standard run-of-the-mill lost fumble. However the Patriots end up running the offense, ball security will be paramount for Brissett, more than any kind of “hero plays.”
The Patriots can’t contain Houston’s pass-catchers. You’d have good reason to be confident that the Patriots can contain Texans No. 1 receiver DeAndre Hopkins. They held Hopkins to just three catches on six targets for 52 yards when the Patriots traveled to Houston last season, so it’s fair to wonder if Hopkins can do any better on the road on a short week.
But the big difference between last year and Thursday night is the presence of dynamic new faces and tough matchups on the Houston offense. Rookie Will Fuller has performed well in his first two career games and is a legit big-play threat, especially after the catch. Running back Lamar Miller is also in the fold and can be dangerous catching passes out of the backfield and getting into space.
The Patriots defense couldn’t stop anyone on the Dolphins on Sunday, so they will need a major bounceback effort to stop an offense with plenty of weapons for quarterback Brock Osweiler. If they have a repeat effort of what happened against Miami … it could be a long night.
The Patriots can’t run the ball effectively. With Brissett under center, the Patriots will need to rely heavily on LeGarrette Blount to run the ball well, whether or not the Patriots plan to throw Thursday night. With Rob Gronkowski expected to play, the Patriots could have him back in as a blocker – and make no mistake, Gronk is one of the best blocking tight ends in the league. Pair him with Martellus Bennett and/or an extra tackle and perhaps you could have a gameplan like the Jonas Gray game in Indianapolis.
But just plopping a giant wall of bodies might not work quite as well against the Texans than it did against the Colts’ smaller defensive front. The Texans have several mountainous men in their front-seven who will probably generate plenty more pressure than Indy ever could have against Gray that night. If they can bottle up Blount AND get key turnovers, they will put themselves in a good position to win.
Join the conversation!
What do you think needs to happen for the Texans to emerge victorious?
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.