One of the highlights of a Patriots-Texans game is the chance to hear John McClain hold court.
The Houston Chronicle’s columnist has been covering the Oilers/Texans for 45 years, meaning he predates Earl Campbell.
He’d prefer it if the Texans were good but, since they’re not, he’s happy to give an unvarnished accounting of why not. And that’s why we circled up with him this week on Tom E. Curran’s Patriots Talk Podcast.
After giving a straight-shootin’ summation of the Texans’ front office debacle, we got to Sunday’s meeting between the nosediving, 2-7 Texans McClain covers and the Patriots.
"They've got a really good passing game,” McClain said of a Houston offense led by Deshaun Watson. "They've got two wide receivers, Will Fuller and Brandin Cooks, on pace to have more than 1,000 yards. They never did that before, including Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins when they played together."
“They've got good offensive tackles … they need a running back,” added McClain. “They need to get more physical in the interior. Inside, they can’t stop a clock or a nosebleed. They’ve got to get a better running back and one of two inside players.”
McClain then turned his attention to the Houston defense and its last-in-the-league status in stopping the run.
“On defense, that’s where they need to rebuild,” he said. “Their run defense is pathetic. I told the Cleveland media before (last Sunday’s game) if they didn’t run for 200 yards I’d be shocked and they did. And I’ll say the same thing about the Patriots. … If they don’t get 200 yards I’ll be shocked again.”
Unstoppable force, very moveable object
Patriots' rushing yards per game (2nd in NFL)
Texans' rushing yards allowed per game (last in NFL)
The Browns ran it 41 times for 231 yards in their rain-soaked, 10-7 win over Houston last week. The Patriots have run for 188, 159 and 173 in their past three games. They haven’t been over 200 yards rushing as a team since going for 250 against the Raiders in Week 3 so even for a team as potent on the ground as New England, that would be a leap.
But that’s where Houston is right now. It’s quite a drop from last year when they won the AFC South, a playoff game over the Bills and easily handled a 10-1 Patriots team on December 1.
“Both teams are a whole lot different,” said McClain. “There are 15 new starters for the Patriots. The Texans have 10 new starters. The difference is, the Patriots are coming off a win over Baltimore. The Texans can’t even beat Baltimore in their dreams. I think it will be a close game. The Texans have lost four one-score games. I think the Patriots win a close one and I think it will be pretty low-scoring.”
I don’t disagree on it being close – the Texans play everyone tight and the teams they’ve lost to have a combined record of 46-17 – but I’m sensing points. Lot of them. Both sides.