Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Loyalists - Mike & Jake Talking Texans, Gronkowski And The Need To Run The Ball

Every week, two of our bloggers pick each others brains like a couple of zombie baboons - today it's Jacob Bertram from and Michael Hamm from Foxborough Free Press serving up questions for each other in advance of the New England Patriots' Sunday night's flexed showdown with the Houston Texans...

When the Houston Texans got blown out of Miami by the Dolphins back in late October, they stood at 2-5 and were essentially a laughing stock. To that point, they had surrendered 28 points per game while scoring just over twenty per contest themselves. As it turns out, that's not going to win many games.

But since giving up 44 points to Miami, they have given up just 13 per game, including just six points a piece to Tennessee, Cincinnati and New Orleans before laying an enormous 30-point egg to Buffalo last week.

The connection? The running game.
The pressure is on James White and the Patriots running game on Sunday

The Texans are 6-6 and tied with the Indianapolis Colts for the lead in the AFC South and have more than a decent chance of running the table down the stretch if they can just keep the opposition's running game in check. The numbers don't lie: In their six losses, Houston has been gouged for 158 yards per game, but in their six wins, just 70 yards per game.

So it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what it takes to beat the Texans: Run the ball and let their offense beat themselves.

As one might expect, the Bills, Jets, Panthers and Falcons had a ton of success running AWAY from JJ Watt, which usually means running to the offensive left - or weak side, as it were - and with a premium on executing the play action in the passing game, because the Texans are incredibly stingy with giving up yardage through the air, as evidence by the fact that they have allowed just one quarterback to top the 300 yard plateau against them...

...their last five opponents averaging a microscopic 185 passing yards a game, tops in the NFL during that period by a wide margin.

In contrast, the Patriots lead the league in passing and are third in total offense, all while being an abysmal 28th in rushing in amassing their lowest percentage of running plays versus passing plays in 13 years.

Against the Texans, that is going to have to change.

This weeks questions:

James White's had a break out performance against the Eagles with 10 catches for 115 yards and a touchdown. Did this performance finally earn him some consistent snaps going forward and not just when we are down in a game?

Mike: I think what we saw out of White last Sunday is just the tip of the iceberg.

To anyone who follows my blog, it’s of no surprise to them that I am a big fan of James White, so I feel that this breakout game was long overdue – and it really doesn’t matter that it came out of desperation for a team missing three top targets – in fact, it should mean MORE to the team that he was able to step it up with no Edelman or Gronkowski present to set the table.

When Brady pointed at him in the Pattern during the comeback in the Eagles’ game, motioning him into an empty spot in the Philadelphia zone, that showed me that Brady knew he could count on White to get there and to make the catch. White is a solid player and he should be the number one option as a passing back on the team.

The Houston Texans’ defense has allowed one – ONE – 300 yard passer all season long, which was Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles way back in mid-October. Since then, the Texans are giving up a miserly 236 passing yards per game. The thing is, there is no one player besides Watt that really stands head-and-shoulders above the rest, indicating that on this defense, each level works in tandem and feed off of the others – a true team concept. How does the Patriots’ offense attack the most balanced defense in the league?

Jake: The Patriots received great news Friday when it was announced that Julian Edelman has returned to practice. Unfortunately he has already been ruled out for Sunday’s matchup with Houston. With Gronk questionable that leaves us with the possibility that other than Danny Amendola we will be trotting out the Martin and Chandler combo again, along with recently struggling Brandon Lafell. Going against a pass defense as you described, this would seem to leave the Patriots at a disadvantage.

What needs to happen for success on Sunday is the Patriots and Legarrette Blount need to be successful on first and second down runs. They were in the first half against the Eagles, and abandoned it for some reason early in the third quarter. Give Brady some third and shorts and the ability to use play action, and he will have more than 236 yards passing. I guarantee it.

JJ Watt broke his hand in practice this week but reportedly is still going to play. Rob Gronkowski has started practicing this week as well, if both play which injured player will have more of an impact on the game?

Mike: This is kind of like the MVP question, where the criteria is solely a question of which player is most valuable to his team.

Watt is perhaps the most disruptive force in the game today, while Gronkowski is the preeminent tight end. This comes down to which team is more in need of the spark that each player provides. On one had you have Watt, who is indisputably the best all around defensive player in the league and is annually a legitimate candidate for the MVP award. The most daunting number as it pertains to Watt is that he leads the team with 13.5 sacks, while his teammates have accounted for just 16.5.

In other words, without Watt, their pass rush essentially drops to bottom of the league numbers. On the other hand, Gronkowski, despite missing two games, leads the team in pass targets, yardage from scrimmage, touchdowns and yards after the catch – but besides all of that, New England has still put up 28 points on Philadelphia, which would have been a lot more without Brady’s two red zone interceptions.

Bottom Line: The Patriots can still score without Gronkowski, though it would be infinitely easier with him dictating double teams, while the Texans are toast without Watt bringing strong side pressure. Watt will have more of an impact.

The Texans under Bill O’Brien are winless when their opposition scores 21 points or more, which suggests that their offensive output is hardly prolific. What should be their game plan on offense to ensure they can score more than 21 points?

Jake: To be successful on offense Sunday it comes down to a few things for the Houston Texans. 
I'm sure Billy O is aware that Bill Belichick will attempt to take DeAndre Hopkins out of the game. So, repeatedly looking in his direction Sunday might not be to beneficial. Brian Hoyer needs to find the matchups that don't include Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and Devin McCourty regularly to have success. 

Hoyer should look to the Patriots third corner often played by a safety, or to linebackers matched up with receivers or tight ends. If Hightower plays along with Collins the Texans will struggle to run, putting more of the load on the arm of Hoyer. Houston need success early on the ground, they also need Brian Hoyer to make good decisions if they want to score in the upper 20's Sunday night. Of course the Patriots need not help them by making mistakes similar to the ones in the Eagles game.

Do you think Billy O's knowledge of our offense system along with Romeo Crennel and Mike Vrabel combined defensive knowledge gives the Texans any kind of an advantage or is that all hocus pocus?

Mike: Four years removed from prowling the Patriots’ sideline, enough time has passed where O’Brien probably doesn’t have intimate knowledge of the Patriots’ offense as it stands now, simply due to personnel changes and the fact that Belichick’s offense evolve to take advantage of mismatches, usually on a game-to-game basis.
Crennel and Vrabel have been gone for centuries, but both learned under the Dark Master.  What they should have also learned is that you don’t get to be the best in the biz like Belichick if you don’t understand how to compensate and to attack the oppositions weaknesses. The issue for Belichick is that the Texans are a top three defense against everyone, not just New England.
Familiarity in this respect doesn’t really count, given that the Texans coaching staff are years removed from Belichick’s round table.

The Patriots’ running game has come under scrutiny in the past few weeks for not being all that the fans think it should be. Most are blaming running back LeGarrette Blount for not being the hammer through the middle of the line that he has been in the past, while still other blame the play calling of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who has the offense on pace to have the lowest number of running plays in a season since the 2002 season. In reality, is there even an issue with either of these guys, or have injuries along the line and at receivers negatively impacted the running game?

Jake: I think when it comes to the Patriots running game, it all comes down to situations. There is something to be said about Blount's dancing behind the line, and the offensive line being staffed with rookies at guard. However, I think the biggest problem is when they choose to run and when they choose not to. The last couple weeks have seen the Patriots run at times when aggression was needed and then throw when a more conservative approach would have made sense. 

I am all for letting Brady air it out because most of the time that is the right decision. Yet with how our offense currently stands with his most prolific weapons on the sideline, a more dedicated approach to running might be in order. I've been saying all week I don't want to run in an attempt to gain massive yardage, I just want to run so Brady isn't forced with 3rd and longs repeatedly. Let Brady throw, but put him in the best position to do so with an effective run game

To read all about the Patriots from an old-school twist, be sure to follow us on Foxborough Free Press and on twitter at @ffpblogger, and for a fresh, modern view of the team go to and follow Jacob on twitter as well at @gamegentsdotcom !

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