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Scouting the Matchup: Avoiding turnovers key for Patriots offense versus the Texans

WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN

Considering the quarterback situation, this part of the New England offense takes on added importance this week. LeGarrette Blount's performance in Sunday's victory over Miami was encouraging. Blount ran for 123 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries in that contest and picked up much of that yardage after QB Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a shoulder injury, making the New England offense somewhat one-dimensional. Blount and the rest of the New England backs will be operating behind a young offensive line and facing a Texans defense that is allowing an average of 96.0 yards per game on the ground. The Patriots will have to have some success through the air to loosen up the Houston defense and find running room, otherwise it will be a long night. Advantage: TEXANS

WHEN THE TEXANS RUN

The Texans addressed their need for speed in the backfield when they signed free agent Lamar Miller to a four-year, $26 million deal in March, and it looks like they're going to make him earn his money. Miller, who brings a breakaway threat to the Houston backfield, has carried the ball 53 times for 189 yards in Houston's first two games. Houston upgraded its offensive line in the offseason by selecting Notre Dame center Nick Martin in the second round of the draft and acquiring guard Jeff Allen through free agency. But Martin, a projected starter, is expected to miss the season with an ankle injury. The Patriots have allowed an average of 81.0 yards on the ground in the first two games and has been stout in that department other than one 45-yard run by David Johnson in the opener at Arizona. Advantage: PATRIOTS

WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS

New England may have to take a conservative approach through the air if the injury to Jimmy Garoppolo forces rookie Jacoby Brissett to start at quarterback. It would certainly help to have tight end Rob Gronkowski, who has yet to play this season. New England's offensive line will certainly be challenged. Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt was named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year for the third time last season, when he had 17.5 sacks. Watt had 1.5 sacks against Kansas City on Sunday. Outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus has become an exceptional pass rusher as well. He has 17 sacks in his last 14 games, including two in Houston's opener against Chicago. Houston has veteran cornerbacks in Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph, who are capable to keeping the Patriots in check with Brissett at the helm. Advantage: TEXANS

WHEN THE TEXANS PASS

New England's string of consecutive games with at least one sack ended at 30 games when the Patriots failed to register a sack in Sunday's win against the Dolphins. Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill passed for 389 yards in that game and came close to leading a monster second-half comeback. Houston has a pair of excellent wide receivers in rookie Will Fuller and Pro Bowler DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins (113 yards) and Fuller (104 yards) each had more than 100 yards receiving last week against Kansas City, and the Patriots allowed a pair of 100-yard receiver against Miami. Houston is averaging 234.5 yards passing per contest and quarterback Brock Osweiler has three touchdown passes and has been intercepted three times this season as he has struggled to maintain consistency thus far. Advantage: PATRIOTS

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Texans are hoping rookie running back Tyler Ervin (San Jose State) can give the team a boost in the return game, which was subpar last season. Houston's Nick Novak make 18 of his 21 field goal attempts last season, and all three misses were from beyond 50 yards. Novak made three kicks in Houston's 19-12 victory over Kansas City last Sunday. Few kickers are as reliable as New England's Stephen Gostkowski, but Gostkowski missed a 39-yarder that would have put the Patriots up by 10 points late in the fourth quarter of last week's victory over Miami. Danny Amendola averaged 11 yards per return on three punt returns against the Dolphins and the Patriots will look to shake off rare lackluster performance against the Dolphins. Advantage: PATRIOTS

OTHER FACTORS

The No. 1 question entering this game surrounds New England's quarterback situation. If the rookie Brissett is forced to play, and all indication point in that direction, that will impact the Patriots offensive game plan. Brissett will be facing lots of pressure from Watt, Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney and will need to avoid obvious passing situations. Avoiding turnovers will be the key for Brissett and the Patriots offense. Since 2002, the Patriots are 104-15 in games in which they don't throw an interception. Working in the Patriots favor is the fact that they will be playing at home (New England is 110-20 in its last 130 home games) and has shown an exceptional ability to win close games. Since 2001, the Patriots are an NFL-best 39-16 in games decided by three points or less, and Thursday night figures to be a tight one. Advantage: PATRIOTS

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