Thursday Night Football: Texans vs Patriots

Let’s take a look at the first matchup of Week 3, with the Houston Texans taking on the New England Patriots in Foxboro.

Houston Texans

Quarterback – Two weeks of Houston Texans offense has shown us that:

  1. They have two of the best wide receivers in the league in the established DeAndre Hopkins and rookie Will Fuller.
  2. They’ve been running with the lead, with a 42% passing rate in that split.
  3. They’re not passing the ball a lot (51% of plays, 30th in the NFL).
  4. Fuller still isn’t priced high enough on DraftKings ($4,800).

Brock Osweiler hasn’t had to really open up the passing attempts vault yet because they’ve had a lot of game control, due in large part to a top ten defense. This Thursday, in New England, that looks to change as Vegas has the line at 40.5 and a pick ‘em between the two teams.

We’ll see if the game script opens up the offense more and how Osweiler rates as a result. As of now, he’s 31st out of 34 QBs on Football Outsiders’ DYAR rankings, a result of a pretty vanilla approach to the game. Facing the Patriots probably won’t enhance it, but we’ll likely see more of the offense given the competitiveness of this game.

Even at $6,000 on DraftKings and $7,200 on FanDuel, it doesn’t seem like, given the approach of the Texans offense, that Osweiler will pile up the points against New England.

Running BackLamar Miller has certainly had the opportunity he didn’t get in Miami, as he’s received 53 carries and six targets (six catches, too) in the first two games as the Texans have been mostly in control of games.

What hasn’t been there is any sort of explosiveness out of Miller, with his longest gain out of those 53 carries being 12 yards. According to Football Outsiders, the Texans rank seventh in power success and second in stuffed rank, meaning the Offensive Line is doing its job, but they are also ranked 28th in second level yards and 27th in open field rank, two categories pinned to Miller’s prowess.

Looking specifically at his rankings in their RB DYAR section, Miller finds himself 41st, speaking to the inefficiency of his running thus far. Like Osweiler, the lack of burst could be due to a game control format, where Houston coaching was perfectly happy to ram the ball into the middle of the line to protect the lead, kick field goals, and let the defense win games. It’s something that we called out as we looked at this team coming into the season – would the Texans continue to be a free-wheeling team when they had a lead and that great defense? Through two weeks the answer is definitely no.

Miller is miscast as a bull runner anyway; he works better on the edges. As this game forecasts to be closer, it’ll be interesting to see how Miller does against a defense that has been gashed for 4.18 adjusted line yards, 25th in the league thus far. As the Patriots usually take away the other team’s top play, presumably DeAndre Hopkins here, it’ll be up to Miller to get some extra yards to change things up, not just the initial yards the line gives him.

He’s $7,200 on DraftKings, which makes him the fourth most expensive back but he’s $7,000 on FanDuel, which makes him 12th there. The floor on FanDuel, salary wise, is considerably higher, whereas DraftKings has a much lower salary floor for productive RBs. So Miller is not in play for me on DraftKings, but may consider him in some lineups on FanDuel.

Wide Receiver – Despite what I’ve just written up top, where Osweiler and Miller have been somewhat pedestrian despite the 2-0 start, Hopkins and Fuller have been better, each ranking in the top 15 of Pro Football Focus’ WR ratings and 16th and 26th in Football Outsiders DYAR ranks. Not bad considering, again, the Texans have not been wide open with their offense as was hoped coming into the season.

With the understanding of a closer game script and less likely to be grinding out a win in the second half, we might see more passing from the offense, and that will likely mean more attempts to Fuller, given the already stated trait of the Patriots scheming to take away the top option of a team. Fuller has been getting marvelous quality of targets, getting downfield throws despite, again, the relative averageness of the passing attack.

Hopkins is always going to get targets, but the forecasted game script will likely call for Fuller if the Patriots are indeed going to oversell on covering Hopkins. This might drive Fuller’s average depth of target down a little with more volume, but we’ll take it. Fuller is priced still very inexpensively on DraftKings, where he’s $4,800. Hopkins is more reasonably priced for this matchup/game script on FanDuel, where he’s $7,900, than DraftKings where he’s the fourth highest WR at $8,600.

Tight End – If the game does open up more for this offense, then at tight end the player who would benefit the most is Stephen Anderson, who leads the team in routes run from the tight end position with 27, one more than Ryan Griffin. It’s Anderson that ranks 15th on Football Outsiders’ chart and Pro Football Focus has him rated higher as well. With the Patriots giving up touchdowns and yards to Jordan Cameron last week and ranking 27th through the first two weeks in TE defense, it’s worth noting as a deep sleeper play here. Anderson is rock bottom minimum priced across the industry.

Defense/Special Teams – You can’t grind out a win without an excellent defense, and so it goes that the Texans are one of the top 10 defenses, per Football Outsiders. It’s their pass rush that’s been most stellar, gaining nine sacks and an 11.8 percent adjusted yard rate, best in the NFL. Their run defense has been less so, ranking 24th in adjusted line yards, just above the Patriots. It’s their second level defense that’s been gashed, and the injury to Brian Cushing won’t help there. It could be a LeGarrette Blount game given those variables, as the Patriots will look to protect their QBs given their lack of depth at the position.

New England Patriots

Quarterback – Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a sprained AC joint injury to his right shoulder in Sunday’s victory against the Dolphins and New England has said he is doubtful for Thursday’s game. Assuming Jimmy doesn’t suit up then it will be rookie Jacoby Brissett under center. Against a Texans team that has allowed just 26 points and has 6 sacks through two games and has not allowed a TD in 6 quarters, Brissett should not be considered even at his price.

Running Back – With Jacoby Brissett most likely starting in this matchup it only makes sense that the Patriots will try and lean on the running game. Against a lesser defense both LeGarrette Blount and James White would warrant consideration, but this is a quality Texans defense. No New England running backs are on our radar.

Wide Receiver – When considering the Patriots wide receivers we have to remember that it is not Brady or even Garoppolo that is throwing them the ball. This fact makes us not even consider Danny Amendola or Chris Hogan in this game. The one skill position player that is intriguing though is Julian Edelman. Not only is Edelman likely to see plenty of targets on short passes, but he is also listed as the backup QB assuming Garoppolo sits. It is not out of the question to think that a QB that relies on his running ability at times, facing a stout defense with a fierce pass rush, could sustain an injury in this matchup. This is not likely, but the possibility alone makes Edelman an intriguing GPP option this week.

Tight End Rob Gronkowski has apparently told his teammates he plans to make his season debut this evening. The fact the both Gronk and Martellus Bennett will be on the field limits targets for each. With a rookie QB throwing them the ball we will not be paying for either of these tight ends in DFS this week.

Defense/Special Teams – The Houston Texans offense has not been very explosive so far this season nut with Lamar Miller, DeAndre Hopkins, and Will Fuller leading their skill position players they can blow up at any time. The Patriots rookie QB could easily put the defense in bad positions with turnovers in this game. These facts leave us with no interest in the New England defense.