Brady helped usher Hoyer into the NFL -- Hoyer served as his backup for three seasons, signed by the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2009.
The connections between the two staffs go much deeper than that. Sunday will mark the first time Texans coach Bill O'Brien will face the first NFL team for which he worked. He began as a low-level coaching assistant for Patriots coach Bill Belichick, then rose to be his offensive coordinator. Texans offensive coordinator George Godsey helped with quarterbacks in New England, then eventually coached tight ends. Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel was the Patriots' defensive coordinator during three of their Super Bowl-winning seasons. And Texans nose tackle Vince Wilfork left the Patriots this offseason after 11 years with the organization.
ESPN.com Patriots reporter Mike Reiss and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli discuss the matchup.
Mike Reiss: It wasn’t long ago that Bill O’Brien was back here in Medfield, Massachusetts, making the ride up Route 27 to the Patriots’ facility every day as an assistant coach under Bill Belichick. How would you describe his head-coaching tenure from when he was hired in 2014 to now?
Tania Ganguli: It's been a learning experience for him. When O'Brien came to Houston he wanted to change the culture of this football team and he made some dramatic changes around the building to start that process. His tenure, though, hasn't been quite so rigid. He listens to the players and is willing to make changes based off their input, which is something they really appreciate. His knowledge of football and offenses is also very impressive to them and helps his words hold weight. The Texans went 9-7 last season, improving on a 2-14 record the prior year, and while most of Houston was very impressed, O'Brien wasn't. This year he learned again. He made a mistake by benching Hoyer for Ryan Mallett so quickly, and he admitted that to his team. That they were able to move on from that is a big part of why the Texans are 4-1 in their past five games.
The rocky start the Texans had is something the Patriots haven't experienced in a long time. Vince Wilfork had never started a season 0-2 before. It’s incredible that before last Sunday the Patriots hadn't had a two-game losing streak at any point in the season since 2012. How are you seeing this team react to this (currently very short) losing streak?
Reiss: They never really change around here, Tania. It’s like Groundhog Day, 16 years running. Win. Loss. Tie. It’s the same approach. They come in, make corrections, and quickly move on to the next game. O’Brien and those with Patriots ties on the Houston staff can attest to that because they lived it. It takes strong leadership in the locker room and the Patriots have it, starting with quarterback Tom Brady. They’re obviously peeved at the way they’ve played the last two weeks, and there aren’t a lot of smiles around the stadium, but I’d say this is nothing out of the norm for this team. The Patriots haven’t lost three in a row since 2002, so there’s some history that the Texans are up against.
There are still Wilfork advertisements on billboards in New England, which is a reminder that Vince is gone but not forgotten. What has his role been in Houston and how is he playing?
Ganguli: He's started every game and played in 55.4 percent of the team's snaps. The Texans mostly use him on first and second downs, very rarely keeping him on the field for third downs. The Texans use a lot of different line configurations, and sometimes they've even had J.J. Watt line up at the nose. Wilfork has made a positive impact in his role. He had one of his better games of the season this weekend against the Bills. Wilfork had four solo tackles (14 total this season) and played in 44 snaps.
The next-man-up philosophy has always been a Patriots strength, but in what way have you seen the injuries to Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman hurt the most? Do you think we’ll see Gronkowski this weekend?
Reiss: Brady has taken 32 quarterback hits over the past three games -- 13 from the Eagles, nine from the Broncos and 10 from the Bills. Ouch. There are a few ways to look at that, and one is that Brady is being forced to hold the ball longer because the top two players he relies on to get open quickly -- Edelman and Gronkowski -- aren’t in the lineup. As of this point in the week, there doesn’t seem to be momentum that Gronkowski will play. That, of course, is always subject to change.
The Patriots have shown some vulnerabilities the past few weeks. What is the formula you see that needs to happen for the Texans to exploit those and win the game?
Ganguli: Considering how much Brady has been hit lately, the Texans need to continue that. Pressure up front is a big part of how they neutralize opponents. It's why they were able to break the Saints’ 155-game streak of scoring at least one touchdown in a game. When they don't get pressure, they struggle. They pressured Colts quarterback Matt Hasselbeck only one time in their loss at home to Indianapolis. Offensively they'll need to see the calm and confident Brian Hoyer we've seen for the past two months. If you exclude Week 1, which was a complete disaster for him, Hoyer's Total QBR is 74.5, the third best in the league. He's thrown 17 touchdowns and only five interceptions, and only three of those interceptions have really affected the result. He can manage the game and help the Texans to a win if he keeps playing that way.
The Bills did a great job on Watt last weekend. Brady has been hit a lot lately. Can the Patriots keep Watt in check?
Reiss: Based on what has been on film the past three weeks, I’d say no. The Patriots haven’t won at the line of scrimmage consistently enough in their past three games. So they’ll need to flip the script if they are to be successful, and ensuring they aren’t one-dimensional will be especially critical for them, as it often is. This is where getting the ball out of Brady’s hands quickly could help, but without Edelman and likely without Gronkowski, that task becomes even more challenging.