X's & O's thought: Beating man coverage

When asking a player or coach about a game in a previous season, the common refrain is: "Last year doesn't relate to this season; it's an entirely different outlook."

That's largely true, but one storyline that generated more traction leading up to a regular-season matchup against the Texans last season was the need for the Patriots' wide receivers to beat man coverage against a defense that likes to bring pressure with additional rushers and fall in behind with man-to-man schemes.

That puts the onus not just on the offensive line to hold up in its protection of Tom Brady, but also the wide receivers to beat the man coverage that they are likely to see. During a 2012 regular-season meeting, the Texans brought pressure (five rushers or more) on 20 of Tom Brady's 37 dropback passing attempts, and the receivers rose to the occasion.

Brady finished with 296 yards and four touchdowns as the Patriots were easily able to defeat the mostly man coverage they saw from Houston, and the wide receiving group drew praise from coach Bill Belichick after the game.

It's a different look in the Patriots' receiving corps this season, but the group has really rounded into form in recent weeks, as has Brady after the whole offense experienced a slow start.

Particularly in the middle of the field and in the underneath passing game -- areas that highlight Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman -- the Patriots will need to be excellent in their route running and concepts.

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels dialed up a number of intriguing route combinations all the way back in Week 1 that led to the best combined effort from Edelman and Amendola of the season, and we may see some of those same slot routes this Sunday in Houston to beat man coverage.