Five Big Questions Facing Patriots In Week 5 Matchup Vs. Texans

The shorthanded Patriots visit Houston for a must-win game


Oct 9, 2021

Here are five big questions facing the New England Patriots as they head to Houston this Sunday to take on the Texans:

1. What will the offensive line look like?
We know the Patriots will be without at least two O-line starters, as right tackle Trent Brown and right guard Shaq Mason both have been ruled out with injuries. They could be missing as many as four, with left tackle Isaiah Wynn and left guard Mike Onwenu both still stuck on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Neither practiced this week, and it’s unclear whether either will be cleared in time for Sunday.

Regardless, New England will be fielding a makeshift starting five around center David Andrews. Expect to see some combination of Ted Karras (guard), Justin Herron (tackle), Yasir Durant (tackle/guard), Yodny Cajuste (tackle), James Ferentz (guard) and/or Alex Redmond (guard) filling out the vacant spots. Ferentz and Redmond are on the practice squad but could be elevated to the gameday roster. Cajuste has yet to play a regular-season NFL snap.

This, obviously, is bad news for a position group that already was performing well below expectations this season. The Patriots have allowed nine or more quarterback hits in each of their three losses and have struggled to run the ball effectively, ranking 29th in yards per carry and 24th in Football Outsiders’ rush offense DVOA.

And that was without one starter (Brown, who hasn’t played since the opening series of Week 1). Without four, things could get ugly, even against a Texans defense that ranks near the bottom of the league in most statistical categories.

2. Will Jamie Collins play?
And what will his role be if he does? Collins signed with the Patriots on Wednesday to begin his third stint in New England. The Patriots hope the athletic 31-year-old (32 later this month) can provide valuable depth to a linebacking group that’s lacked explosiveness and has been beaten down by injuries this season. (Ja’Whaun Bentley, Kyle Van Noy and Josh Uche all have missed games.)

Asked Friday whether Collins will play against Houston, head coach Bill Belichick replied: “We’ll see.”

3. Can the Patriots run the ball?
They couldn’t at all in last week’s loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, becoming just the fourth team since the NFL-AFL merger to finish a game with negative rushing yards (-1 on eight carries). The Texans have fielded one of the league’s leakiest run defenses this season (28th in yards allowed per game, 31st in DVOA) but clearing holes could prove difficult with a patchwork offensive line.

On a related note, we’ll see if New England shuffles its backfield after J.J. Taylor’s fumble last week. Taylor has just 8 yards from scrimmage on seven touches this season. The Patriots could choose to reinsert rookie Rhamondre Stevenson, who’s been a healthy scratch since losing a fumble and blowing a blitz pickup in Week 1.

4. Will the defense make Davis Mills see ghosts?
Mills, a second-round rookie thrust into action when Tyrod Taylor was injured, was terrible last week, throwing for just 87 yards with four interceptions as the Buffalo Bills embarrassed the Texans 40-0. We all know how successful Belichick-coached teams are against rookie quarterbacks (22-6 during his Patriots tenure), and New England already has bamboozled one this season, picking off Zach Wilson in a Week 2 win over the New York Jets.

The Texans have scored a total of nine points in Mills’ two starts. The Patriots’ defense has allowed 17, six, 21 and 19 points in its first four games.

5. Can the Patriots bounce back?
A simple question, but an important one. The Patriots sit at 1-3, with losses in each of their last two games. If they hope to contend for a playoff spot this season, this game — against a rebuilding Texans team that gutted its roster and is starting a third-string rookie quarterback — is a must-win. The Patriots showed encouraging tenacity last week against the defending champion Buccaneers. Can they overcome their O-line deficiencies and take care of business this week as 9-point road favorites?

Thumbnail photo via Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports Images
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