The Patriots have played mediocre football the last 6 quarters (including OT) and are in desperate need for a win. Sunday’s matchup vs. Houston has been flexed to Sunday Night Football on NBC. As of late, Houston has been playing much better football, which makes this game very intriguing. Houston had won four games in a row before losing last week to the Bills. Here are three keys to the game for the Patriots.
1. The offensive line needs to step up
The offensive line needs to do a better job of protecting Tom Brady. This issue has really come full circle since the second matchup against the Bills, where it seemed like Brady was getting hit on every drop back. The line also struggled against Denver two weeks ago. Last week against the Eagles, Brady was sacked 4 times. Brady cannot continue to takes hits like this, or we will not have a quarterback come January.
Additionally, the offensive line needs to do a better job of opening up gaps for the running backs. The team could really use a big came out of the running back position to alleviate some of the stress on Brady and the banged up receivers. James White had a solid game on Sunday as the primary passing back. Look for him to factor in more down the final stretch.
The entire problem is not completely the offensive lines fault. The Patriots have been unable to run their quick passing attack ever since the loss of Julian Edelman. It does not help that Rob Gronkowski is also hurt and will be unable to attract coverage down the middle of the field.
2. LaFell needs to be a factor
Brandon LaFell looked absolutely lost and lazy on Sunday. His week started by commenting that Coach Belichick does not show any of the opponents bad plays, but only their good plays. LaFell explained that every week, he feels like his team is playing the best team in the league. Surely Bill Belichick was not happy about these comments and fired back telling the media to ask LaFell if the team has ever seen film of an opponent missing a tackle, for example.
Now onto the game last Sunday, LaFell has been criticized for not finishing routes or showing much effort when the ball was not going his way. LaFell was nowhere to be found on Brady’s second interception down the sideline. LaFell also had another critical drop on the Patriots final drive, continuing the trend he immediately started after making his mid season return. With another game without Edelman and Gronkowski, the Patriots need a strong showing out of LaFell.
3. Contain JJ Watt
JJ Watt is the best defensive player in the NFL. He can rush the quarterback, stop the run, and deflect thrown balls. This would be a good game for the Patriots to return to a 6 man offensive line. This would allow the line to double team and attempt to contain Watt. Last week, Watt was held to zero sacks and quarterback hits versus the Bills. The Patriots additionally need to worry about second year linebacker Jadeveon Clowney and old friend Vince Wilfork.
By Matt Nadworny