New England Patriots @ Houston Texans: Gilmore can make a case for Patriots title defence on Sunday night

Stephon Gilmore
Gilmore and the Patriots defence can shutdown Houston's receivers
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The Texans have bet the farm on this season with their trade moves, but the Patriots defence should show that Houston are still some way off championship class on Sunday night, writes Mark Kirwan...

"And Gilmore is performing similar feats every week by taking on and dominating the opposition's number one receiver. He's become the crucial cog in New England's football-stopping machine. In a league that's veered further and further towards passing, having a shutdown corner like him is invaluable."

New England Patriots @ Houston Texans
Monday, 01:20
Live on Sky Sports Action

Patriots waning offence

It's just over a year since we saw the Rams and Chiefs go blow-for-blow in Mexico City, sharing over 100 points in a game that was supposedly going to redefine and provide a dress rehearsal for the Super Bowl in February.

So much for all that.

A defensive powerhouse Patriots team are strong favourites this season to repeat on their December-to-February charge to the 2019 Super Bowl.

There's a sense this season that Bill Belichick is showing off as tries to win another ring with the minimal amount of offensive output required.

Tom Brady is struggling for options and not looking his sharpest this season. Gronk is gone, replaced with 38-year-old Ben Watson... for now. They've rotated through a few different options at tight end - though not as many as they have at receiver.

Thankfully, rookie N'Keal Harry finally got on the field in recent weeks and made some plays, while Mo Sanu is a useful addition provided he's healthy, but perhaps the biggest problem for Brady has been the lack of production from the running back committee in Foxboro.

The Pats' rushing attack averages 91 yards per game on the ground, placing New England among the bottom 10 teams in the league when running. That's a problem for the QB as defences know they won't have to respect the run so there's less time in the pocket for a risk-averse 42-year-old.

Where they averaged 5.9 yards per play through last season, ninth-best in the league, they're now rocking along at 5.2, good enough for just 23rd.

But then there's the defence.

Gimme more Gilmore

Last week, against the Cowboys, cornerback Stephon Gilmore held Amari Cooper catchless as the Pats D shutdown Dallas and their array of weapons. It's the first time as a Cowboys Cooper has been held without a reception.

And Gilmore is performing similar feats every week by taking on and dominating the opposition's number one receiver. He's become the crucial cog in New England's football-stopping machine. In a league that's veered further and further towards passing, having a shutdown corner like him is invaluable.

The defence as a whole is allowing just 10.6 points per game to opponents. Their opponent completion percentage scrapes just over 53%, seven points lower than next best. Part of that is down to their strength of schedule, but they are clearly a commanding unit.

And they post the same numbers both home and away. That's bad news for the Texans.

Houston's gamble not paying off

The Texans are back on top of the AFC South after beating the Colts last week. A week previously the Ravens defence, with Marcus Peters and Jimmy Smith in the secondary, controlled their talented group of receivers in a 41-7 beatdown.

That result suggested the Texans may not have been wise in mortgaging its future with trades earlier this year. Laremy Tunsil was brought in to bolster one of the worst offensive lines in the league and make a title push. He has made a difference but at the cost of two first-round picks. Deshaun Watson needed more protection at quarterback, but the price paid will cost them in future seasons.

Worst of all, they still don't look like they're on the level of the Pats, Chiefs and Ravens in the AFC despite paying up.

Their running game is pieced together from Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson - that was the Browns backfield pairing to start 2018. Both are fine players, but that's it.

Their defence did have some stars - Jadeveon Clowney now clobbers opponents for the Seahawks, while JJ Watt is, once again, seeing out a season on IR - but the secondary remains as porous as ever. They're allowing almost 260 yards per game on average, the 25th worst rate in the league.

They do have a mouth-watering receiver corps, with DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Kenny Stills and Keke Coutee capable of scary performances on their day, but you'd wonder whether Bill O'Brien, their head coach and a former assistant in New England, has the savvy to make the most of them against the Patriots' unforgiving defence - or anyone else for that matter.

Houston will rely on Watson to create magic by jinking away from pass rushers and making big plays, but if New England can contain his options, he'll run out of time, and so will the Texans.

The Picks

The Patriots are -3 road favourites here and I'm inclined to take them to cover it. They're 11-5 in their last 16 games against the spread, and 8-2 on the same measure against the Texans, while the home team are 1-5 as underdogs both on the spread and straight up in their last six in that spot.

Gilmore should shadow DeAndre Hopkins, the Texans' best receiver, and that means Will Fuller will be the primary threat in passing plays for the Patriots defence. He has speed to burn and put in an impressive performance last week, but New England aren't giving up the big plays he lives on. That leaves very little hope for the hosts. New England to cover at [1.91] is my choice.

The strength of New England's defence and their sputtering offence pushes me in the direction of Under 44.5 total points. Their opponents aren't being allowed to score, but their offence isn't finding the endzone too often either. It makes sense to look at a low scoring game at [1.89].

For a touchdown scorer, I'm tempted by the Patriots D/ST in the anytime market. They lead the league in turnovers this year, and it's hard not to imagine the pressure on Watson eventually paying off and bringing in a score at 7/2.

For a first TD, I'd look at N'Keal Harry at 14/1. The first-rounder from this year's draft is already off the mark for New England and Brady will surely hope that he's still something of a secret weapon this campaign, given he's missed so much time.

You can also combine the Patriots -3.5, Under 46.5 Total Points and the Patriot D/ST for a Same Game Multi of 16/1 on the Sportsbook.

Mark Kirwan,

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