The Patriots were able to do something to Texans defensive end J.J. Watt in their Week 14 meeting that no other team was able to do at any point this season: Hold him without a sack, tackle for loss or a pass defensed in the same game.
Watt still made his presence felt with four tackles and a forced fumble, but the Patriots did well to contain him. Part of their success was tied to an ability to identify Watt's whereabouts before the snap and coordinate a protection plan to block him, as he is a player that is often shifted around the line for Houston.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels talked about Watt's alignments during a Monday conference call, and how an offense can track where he will be.
"I think more of the prediction of where he may be centers around what defense they're actually in on the field at the time," he said. "He plays the strong side end, the four or five technique end when they're in base defense most of the time, and then you have an idea of where he's going to be when they sub that base group out and then go to sub nickel or dime packages. You have an idea of where he's going to be more based on the personnel then you do anything that we would be doing or any guessing on when they're going to move him around and so on and so forth.
"They do happen to displace him some, but based on who they put on the field, he generally lines up where you would expect him to," McDaniels continued. "But because he aligns to the strength of the formation sometimes, that's why our guys on the right and the left will both be challenged with handling him along with the rest of their great front on Sunday."
That front has received a boost since the Week 14 matchup in the form of a return from linebacker Brooks Reed, an edge-setting player who had a sack in Houston's win this past Saturday.
"Brooks Reed is another young, talented edge guy that plays with a great motor," McDaniels said. "Certainly he's been disruptive when he's been in there, and gives them another guy to play on the edge. I think [Connor] Barwin and [Whitney] Mercilus, who we saw in the first game, I think they did a really good job, and I think they do a great job. And I think Reed just comes in and really provides some explosiveness off the edge, a guy that can pass rush, can really play in the running game, has great playing style about him, and he'll be another great challenge for us that we didn't see a few weeks ago."
Back in Week 14, the Patriots limited the Texans to just one sack.