FOXBORO, Mass. — J.J. Watt isn’t the only player on the Houston Texans’ defensive line the New England Patriots will key in on this week.
Old friend Vince Wilfork is playing nose tackle — the same position in which he started his NFL career with the Patriots as a first-round draft pick in 2004 — for the Texans after electing to leave New England in free agency this offseason. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick hasn’t seen much change from Wilfork this season.
“He’s about the same,” Belichick said. “Guy’s played a long career, he’s played the same position. Probably had his best game against Buffalo last week.”
Wilfork has taken on a reduced role for the Texans this season. He played 646 defensive snaps through Week 13 in 2014, and he’s been on the field for just 448 plays this season. Wilfork had his most productive game of the season against the Buffalo Bills in Week 13, when he had four tackles. His stops were for 3 yards, 3 yards, 1 yard and 4 yards.
The 34-year-old has done most of his work on first and second down this season. He’s been on the field for 236 snaps against the run and 212 as a pass rusher. He had a much more versatile role throughout his career with the Patriots.
The Patriots have replaced Wilfork with a rotation of defensive linemen, including rookie Malcom Brown and midseason acquisition Akiem Hicks. Veteran defensive lineman Alan Branch also has taken on a greater role without Wilfork in the front seven. The Patriots have had mixed results against the run this season, though there have been few issues with the rotation at defensive tackle.
Thumbnail photo via Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports Images