The New England Patriots steamrolled the Houston Texans in the teams’ first meeting this season, cruising to a 27-0 Week 3 victory with a third-string rookie quarterback at the helm.
With the Patriots and Texans set to meet again Saturday night in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs, here’s a look at how Houston has changed as a team since that forgettable September matchup.
(For a peek at the Patriots’ changes, click here.)
BROCK OSWEILER IS … WELL, BROCK OSWEILER
When the Texans traveled to Gillette Stadium for that Thursday night blowout, they hadn’t yet discovered what a disaster the Osweiler signing was. The $72 million quarterback couldn’t even make it through his first season in Houston without losing his job, which he did to backup Tom Savage in Week 15. An injury to Savage thrust Osweiler back into the spotlight for the playoffs, however, and he admittedly did have one of his better games of the season against the Oakland Raiders in the wild-card round.
Oakland’s defense pales in comparison to New England’s, though, so Osweiler will have his work cut out for him this weekend. Expect him to look wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins’ way early and often, especially if the Texans fall behind quickly.
JADEVEON CLOWNEY IS A PROBLEM
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft was a one-man wrecking crew against Oakland, intercepting a Connor Cook pass and getting a hand on two others in Houston’s 27-14 win. The Texans are without three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, whom the Patriots largely neutralized in Week 3 anyway, but second-team All-Pros Whitney Mercilus, Benardrick McKinney and Clowney have been excellent in his absence, helping to make Houston’s defense one of the stingiest in the NFL.
The Texans allowed the fewest yards in the league during the regular season but were only slightly above-average in points allowed (20.5 per game; 11th) and struggled to create turnovers (17 takeaways; tied for 26th). It’s almost impossible to imagine them beating the Patriots if they do not win the turnover battle by a wide margin.
HELP UP FRONT
An underrated absence for Houston in Week 3 was former first-team All-Pro left tackle Duane Brown, who missed the game with a torn quadriceps. Now healthy, Brown was instrumental in keeping Raiders star pass rusher Khalil Mack away from Osweiler last weekend, and Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia showered him with praise during his weekly conference call.
“He’s a phenomenal player,” Patricia said of the veteran offensive lineman. “Athletic, he’s got good feet, he’s big, he’s long, he can handle power, he has really good hands. So if he gets his hands on you, he can punch and really control the pass rush or get his hands inside in the run game. He’s usually always in excellent position. Good pad level, good hand placement, good feet. So that is a big challenge for us.”
Thumbnail photo via Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports Images