Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Through Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
With back-to-back wins and a potential season-defining upheaval in their pocket, the Patriots will look to get things done on Sunday against the Texans.
The Patriots’ resurgence was sparked by some of the youngest players on the roster. Two of those players have monumental opportunities ahead of them against Houston, with a chance of playing a big part in a win, and perhaps gaining some recognition in the national conversation. Which title is most likely to increase?
Plus, the two NFL veterans in the game that will provide an entertaining game. Let’s start, though, on the Patriots’ offensive end of the ball …
When New England has the ball: Michael Onwenu vs. JJ Watt
Michael Onwenu has been the Patriots rookie class leader so far in 2020 and is arguably one of the best freshman football players this season. He can really blend into that conversation on Sunday, when he takes on one of the league’s elite defensive linemen.
Unlike most top pass throwers, JJ Watt lines up on the left side of the defensive lineup for Houston, opposite the right tackle. Last week’s starting lineup seemed to indicate Onwenu had won that job against Jermaine Eluemunor, so that should be the game this week.
Watt has been one of the most dangerous edge players in the game since joining the NFL in 2011. But now in his 10th season, Bill Belichick has noticed a new edge in his game.
“I honestly think JJ’s experience is very valuable to him,” Belichick said on Friday. “Obviously he’s got a lot of talent – he’s long, he’s strong, powerful, very fast – but his experience and anticipation are exceptional.
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How will the 2020 sixth round pickup count? That will be a key question for the Patriots this week. Belichick interrupted the game on Friday.
“Face a player who does not have as much [experience] as JJ does and hasn’t played against him, I think you really need to be aware of the stuff JJ has up his sleeve, ”Belichick said. “I know Mike studied him hard and he’s going to be ready to go, but until you’re up against a guy JJ it’s hard to replicate him in training or what it’s going to be like during. the game.
If Onwenu can keep Watt at bay (he’ll likely have some help in the form of Ryan Izzo and / or running backs), the Texans’ biggest defensive weapon will be neutralized and the Patriots should be able to tear up the 32nd. Houston rank. run defense. Otherwise, it’ll be a much needed boost for the struggling Texans defensive unit.
One important thing Onwenu has on its side is history and the Patriot Plan. Belichick has historically had all the answers for the five-time All-Pro. In seven career games against the Patriots (regulars and playoffs), Watt has recorded just five tackles for a loss and just a half-sack. His Texans lost all seven contests.
Can the Patriots and Onwenu keep him at bay again? Such a performance would likely give Onwenu the national attention he deserved so far this year.
When Houston has the ball: JC Jackson / Stephon Gilmore vs. Will Fuller
Not only does Houston have the worst running defense in the NFL, their offensive running game isn’t particularly strong either. It doesn’t help that running back Duke Johnson and left tackle Laremy Tunsil have spent the week dealing with non-COVID illness.
That being said, if the Patriots can limit Houston’s attack from the air, they’ll be in good shape. That means shutting down Will Fuller, who became the Texans’ most effective receiver after the DeAndre Hopkins trade.
JC Jackson is already on a roll with interceptions in five straight games, and now has the extra chip on his shoulder from the Pro Bowl fiasco. If he can continue his ascent to a true No.1 on Sunday, the Patriots’ defense should have a dominant day.
However, if Stephon Gilmore is healthy and returns from a knee injury (which seems likely), he could draw the Fuller match for most of the match. But even if it does, expect Jackson to rotate occasionally as the team get Gilmore back in shape. It’s something the Patriots have been heavily focused on this year, with just about every player coming back from injury.
The side Patriots, and in many ways the Gilmore and Jackson duo in particular, have sometimes stepped back for taking a step back from where they were last season. Sunday is a great opportunity to remind everyone that they are still part of the elite cornerback tandems of the game.
Bonus: Bill Belichick vs. Romeo Crennel
It’s rare to see a game where the opposing coaches both have more than 40 years of NFL experience. Add to that that they’ve known each other for almost that entire amount of time – and won three Super Bowls together – and there’s an interesting storyline here.
Bill Belichick and Romeo Crennel first worked together in 1981, as special teams coaches for the New York Giants. They also made stopovers together as assistants in New England (1996) and with the Jets (1997-1999). Belichick hired Crennel as the Patriots ‘defensive coordinator in 2001, a role he held on the Patriots’ first three Super Bowl teams.
“I learned so much from him. He’s a great teacher, great communicator, motivator, fundamental coach with a really good understanding of the big picture, as well as the finer details of almost every position and every little plan, ”Belichick told About Crennel earlier this week. “I have been very lucky to work with a lot of great coaches in my career, but he would be right at the top of this list. I think about the world of him and appreciate his friendship and have enormous respect for what he has accomplished in his career and great appreciation for everything he has done not only to help me as a ‘head coach, but when we were both assistants and we worked side by side, he was a great teammate and someone I probably learned a lot more than I would have taught him. He’s a great man, a great coach.
Crennel also spoke about their time together during his availability with the New England media.
“Well that was great [working with Belichick]. It was a great opportunity for me because I was a young varsity coach when I arrived and Belichick was already there and he had a few years under his belt at a young age, ”said Crennel. “He led most of the positions on the football field. I think all of these experiences have helped make him the great head coach that he is.
How will the chess match between two coaches who have decades of knowledge about their opponent go? It should be fun watching the game play out.
For more info on these clashes and Sunday’s Patriots-Texans game, check out the Patriots preview podcast below:
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Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group or its affiliates. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or by e-mail to [email protected].