The Patriots kick of their regular season opener with the Houston Texans on Sunday and by no means will this game be an easy game for either team. Historically, the Patriots haven't struggled with the Texans but the Texans are more talented than previous years and should provide more difficulties for the Patriots offense.
The Texans typically run a man to man scheme which suits the Patriots offense very well. The Texans ran a cover-1 defense on 43.5% of their defensive plays in 2017. A cover-1 defense is a man to man scheme where the cornerbacks cover the receiver in front of them and a high safety drops into a "deep third" zone for over the top help. A line backer normally covers the running back and the strong safety covers the tight-end. The only other teams to run man to man defense more than the Texans are the Chiefs, Patriots, and Titans.
A cover-1 defense might cause some issues for the Patriots considering their unusually weak receiving group. Since the Pats don't have a true deep threat to help clear out the deep safety it might make their quick routes over the middle a bit more challenging. Although when was the last time Brady had a true "deep threat," probably Randy Moss.
The Patriots need to stick to their quick routes and use their tight end Rob Gronkowski to draw the safety away from the play to create an openings in the middle of the field. Gronk has been very effective when playing against the Texans, he has racked up 1,530 yards on only 90 receptions for 17 yards per reception. Outside and crossing routes will be key in their game this week.
In the photo below you'll see a perfect smash concept that would provide many options versus a cover-1 scheme. Gronk would run the deep route and the free safety will likely follow. Once the safety follows you have two 5 yard slants to chose from or a crossing route on the backside. On the off chance that the safety doesn't follow Gronk, Ill take his chances one on one.
Now on the other side of the ball the Patriots run a mixture of zone and man. After Deshaun Watson tore his ACL it was evidently clear that the Texans would have to become a running team. The Texans ran the ball 448 times last year opposed to 223 passing attempts by their backup Tom Savage. The Texans are gonna have to utilize their skill positions. If the Patriots come out in a man coverage they need to use Lamar Miller's catching ability out of the backfield. They gotta utilize the best wide receiver in the league in Deandre Hopkins and give Hopkins the ball in space and also allow him to use his size with 50/50 balls. Deshaun Watson can use his feet to extend plays for either running gains or to allow his receivers like Hopkins or Will Fuller break away from the man coverage.
If the Patriots line up in a zone scheme Watson's patience will certainly be tested. Watson will have to sit back and let the play develop opposed to trying to scramble too early. The Texans might wanna try some run-pass option plays to allow Watson to truly understand what coverage the Pats are in. The Texans could also go with some high-low route concepts to attack the deep middle or deep outside. For example The Texans could run Hopkins on a Post route and have Will fuller run a quick slant or an out route. The slant or out routes will also give Watson some lenience on his drops, he will be able to drop anywhere from one step to three steps depending on what kind of blitz schemes that the Pats may throw at him.