Should New Englanders refer to the Texans as "Patriots South" this week, they'd have every right.
Obviously Houston head coach Bill O'Brien has Patriots ties. He was the offensive coordinator under Bill Belichick in 2011, and he spent five years working in Foxboro. Texans offensive coordinator George Godsey spent three years with the Patriots, two of those coaching tight ends. Starting quarterback Brian Hoyer spent the first three years of his career backing up Tom Brady.
On the defensive side of the ball, Texans coordinator Romeo Crennel may know Belichick as well as any coach in the league. He spent the 1980s with Belichick as a member of the Giants staff, and the two shared a sideline in New England in 1996 when Crennel coached the defensive line and Belichick coached the defensive backs. Crennel returned to the Patriots one year after Belichick did in order to work under his old colleague as defensive coordinator from 2001-04.
Texans linebackers coach Mike Vrabel played under Crennel (2001-04) and Belichick (2001-08) as did veteran Texans defensive lineman Vince Wilfork. Anthony Pleasant, a defensive lineman in New England from 2001-03, is now a defensive assistant in Houston.
"I know they’re well coached," Belichick said when asked about the Texans in a conference call on Tuesday. "I know it’s going to be tough. We’re going to have to do a good job all the way across the board. I know that they’ll be well coached and well prepared, and I’ve seen that every week on film."
Given all the ties to the Patriots coaching staff, the Texans film may show a schematic carbon copy of what Belichick's team typically likes to do.
Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia admitted there are some similarities between the Texans and Patriots offenses, but he pointed out that Houston has its own offensive flair.
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"Absolutely, you can see a lot of elements of things that we’ve seen from coach O’Brien and George Godsey, who’s running the offense down there, things we’ve practiced against in the past," he said. "But certainly this offense is kind of their own offense -- the 2015 Houston Texans offense -- so it’s a little bit different . . .
"There are certainly elements of our offense that we have seen, our offense that we’ve seen when Billy was here and George was here, but they do a great job of kind of keeping you off balance and there are certainly some wrinkles that we don’t really run here at all. I think one of the big ones, you’ll see the Wildcat, a couple of different players that they’ll put in the Wildcat position in their offense and try to catch you off guard with some gadget-type or different-type looks there."
Though defensively the Texans are running Crennel's system, and though one might think that Crennel's system would mirror Belichick's, McDaniels said that's not necessarily the case.
"The Texans defense, they've got a scheme that's kind of their own," he said. "I think comparing it to our defense is . . . I'd say there may be a few similarities to it, but I think each group has their own design and all that. And what we've studied this far relative to the Texans, there aren't many things that they don't do well, and they present a lot of challenges for you in every area."
Even if they don't look the same, the Patriots and Texans defenses have performed similarly in certain areas. The Patriots have allowed 20.6 points per game while the Texans are allowing 22.0. The Patriots are allowing 341.2 yards per game while the Texans give up 332.3. And at 6.8 and 6.9 respectively, the Patriots and Texans allow almost identical yards-per-attempt numbers to opposing quarterbacks.