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Unfiltered Notebook 11/27: Patriots prepare for explosive Texans weaponry

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When scouting the Texans the first two names that stand out are quarterback Deshaun Watson and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins is second in the league with 81 catches and has developed into one of the best all-around receivers in the game. While Watson has developed into a solid NFL quarterback in his third season, with the fifth-highest completion percentage in the league and is currently on pace to challenge the career highs he set last season.

The two dynamic players will be atop the Patriots gameplan for Sunday.

"As good as there is," said coach Bill Belichick about Hopkins in his Wednesday press conference. "He’s got tremendous ball skills, he’s long, great judgment, great timing to go up and get the ball. Makes some extended catches that I don’t know how many guys other than him could make them. He’s got good hands, good timing, strong hands, as you said. He creates separation with his quickness, his physical size, his length. He’s really never covered because there’s always some place you can put the ball where he can catch it and he has the hands to catch it."

The Patriots will likely look to match top corner Stephon Gilmore on Hopkins, in what should be one of the best matchups in the NFL this weekend. Hopkins has developed over the last couple seasons, becoming a more versatile threat from a variety of spots in the formation.

"I’d say they move him around a lot more now than they did before," said Belichick. "He’s in the slot, he’s in motion, he’s not always on the weak side. He’s there some but they put him in different spots and they do a good job of making it tough for you to cover him."

Watson's ability to get the ball down the field to Hopkins presents one of the bigger challenges the Patriots defense will face this weekend, but they'll also have to keep him from picking up yards with his legs. In an age of dual-threat quarterbacks, Watson can do it all and will be another good experience for a Patriots defense certain to see these kind of offenses along the AFC playoff road.

"Very good in deep passes," said Belichick of Watson. "They lead the league in long balls, deep passes. They all have a lot of production there, especially [Will] Fuller and [Kenny] Stills.

"It's a game where everyone has to be disciplined and at times for us on the back end, you don't want it to happen, but there are going to be plays in the game where we're gonna have to cover for eight, 10 seconds because he's that good," said Devin McCourty. "We're gonna rush him, we're gonna try to make it tough but there's gonna be times he's gonna break a tackle of a guy that gets free to him. He's going to buy time, he's that good back there in the pocket."

Watson is the fifth-leading quarterback rusher with 301 yards and five rushing touchdowns and can do as much damage just from scrambling as he can from designed runs.

"Yeah, he can extend plays, he can run, he can extend the throw, accurate at all three levels," continued Belichick. "He’s a tough guy to handle, hard guy to tackle. He makes plays on his own. Sometimes there’s some plays that are designed for him to handle the ball, carry the ball, but sometimes not. He makes good decisions."

After Watson and Hopkins, the Texans have two good running backs in Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson that have helped give Houston the fourth-most rushes of 20-plus yards this season. They're also the best team in the league when it comes to second-level yards. Keeping them contained to short gains will be a huge priority.

"Both Duke and Carlos are having a good year for them," said Belichick. "Hyde is a strong, powerful runner, hard to tackle, has good quickness, runs with good pad level.

"Johnson plays on third down, but Johnson also plays on all downs so he’s kind of a versatile player, not just a third-down back but again, has plenty of playing time on early downs, as well. Although Hyde gets the majority of carries, but Duke gets plenty of them too. Both those guys have been a good addition for them and I think they complement each other well."

Practice & Injury Report

The Patriots had a number of notable absences at practice on Wednesday, including Stephon Gilmore, Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Patrick Chung and Isaiah Wynn. It appears that a virus is running through the Patriots locker room and hopefully it will not deter an entire week of preparation. Phillip Dorsett and Mohamed Sanu, who both missed the Cowboys game, were both present at practice, a good sign for their potential availability for Sunday against the Texans. There will be no media access at practice on Thanksgiving, but we'll be back on the field to get a status update on Friday, though there will be an injury report released on Thursday as well.

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
S Patrick Chung, Illness/Heel/Chest
LB Jamie Collins, Illness
OL Jermaine Eluemunor, Illness
CB Stephon Gilmore, Illness
LB Dont'a Hightower, Illness
TE Ryan Izzo, Illness
CB Joejuan Williams, Illness
OT Isaiah Wynn, Illness

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
LB Ja'Whaun Bentley, Knee
OT Marcus Cannon, Illness
WR Phillip Dorsett, Concussion
S Nate Ebner, Ankle/Back
WR Julian Edelman, Shoulder
CB Jason McCourty, Groin
WR Mohamed Sanu, Ankle
DE John Simon, Elbow
WR Matthew Slater, Hamstring

FULL PARTICIPATION
QB Tom Brady, Elbow

Locker Room Sound Bites

Matthew Slater on wininng his first AFC Special Teams Player of the Week:

"Very humbled. I say it all the time, I feel so blessed, feel like the good Lord has shown me a lot of favor and given me the experience of a lifetime to be here and play alongside some great men. Certainly I think us receiving that recognition, it should be team recognition. I didn't block that punt by myself, I can point out each and every guy on that play doing his job and it was great team execution. It was very humbling and I'm so thankful to the Lord for still allowing an old man like me to play this game and I'm still having fun with my teammates."

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