By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots played lights-out defense in the second half of the regular season. Yet even in Week 3, when they weren’t at their best, they shut out the Houston Texans on a short week. Never mind that the Texans’ own defense gave up 27 points to an offense led by third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett; Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler could only muster 196 passing yards and threw an interception – against a defense that, like most Patriots seasons, was still feeling things out and playing more straightforward in the early-going.

Texans head coach Bill O’Brien witnessed the destruction first-hand and was asked about that game in his Tuesday conference call with the New England media. When asked if the Patriots defense had gotten any better since that game, he gave the conference call equivalent of a shrug emoji.

“Obviously, they shut us out back then, so I don’t know how much better they can get than that against us. They shut us out,” said O’Brien. “I would say that the difference is I don’t think [Dont’a] Hightower played against us the first game.”

Fair point. Hard to get any better than giving up literally zero points. Maybe Osweiler will throw a pick-six, which is sort of like negative points for the offense.

There is, of course, one big difference that O’Brien touched upon: Hightower in, Jamie Collins out. But it appears that the Patriots defense is playing much better as a unit now than it did in the first 10 weeks of the regular season, regardless of whether or not trading Collins to the Browns had a direct effect on them.

O’Brien is aware that the Patriots defense always game-plans against that week’s opponent, and that Osweiler and the offense will probably see some things they didn’t see in Week 3. So what, exactly, does O’Brien have up his sleeve for the Texans offense on Saturday? Because they can’t win 0-0.

“What we see on tape right now may not be what we see on Saturday night. We have to understand that and how important our ability to follow our own rules is going to be, follow the rules of our offense,” said O’Brien.

That sounds like O’Brien is going to try to just do what the offense does best without doing anything differently or taking any chances, which is almost always a terrible idea against the Patriots. If they try to force-feed the ball to DeAndre Hopkins and Lamar Miller, they’re probably going to have a bad time.

But what’s clear, based on how the Patriots finished the regular season, is that their defense is playing much better now than they were when they shut the Texans out in Week 3. The Texans will have to be light years ahead of where they were on offense in that game if they want to be better than a zero in Saturday’s AFC Divisional Playoff.

What are the chances of that?

Matt Dolloff is a writer for Any opinions expressed 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


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