FOXBORO -- The last time the Texans rode into town, their pass rush tormented Tom Brady.
They pestered him to the tune of five sacks and eight quarterback hits.
Their rush was so constant they forced three fumbles on strip sacks.
Brady, however, got the last laugh, throwing for 378 yards and five touchdowns in the 36-33 win as he outdueled rookie Deshaun Watson in that Week 3 game.
With the Texans heading to Gillette Stadium for the season opener Sunday, and the Jacksonville Jaguars on deck, at least one variable from the above scenario needs to change.
With Brady now 41, and Jimmy Garoppolo no longer around as the backup and successor in waiting, the offensive line has to do a much better job protecting the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.
Brady can’t be exposed to so many hits. He can’t be another team’s road kill. Not this year.
Sure, Brady has some magical, mystical gumby-like quality that’s allowed him to escape having more serious injuries from all the hits he’s endured over the course of 18 seasons. He’s learned how to fall and protect himself and all that.
Still, J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney and Benardrick McKinney can’t be allowed to tee off on him Sunday. Brady can’t get hurt. It’s just not an option.
Patriots offensive line guru Dante Scarnecchia is well aware of that, and well aware of the threat the Texans front poses. He said Sunday it was going to be a huge challenge for the Patriots line, especially with the four “dynamic” players -- Watt, Mercilus, Clowney, McKinney -- Houston boasts.
“They did get to him (last time). Hey, they’re good. They’re capable of doing that any time,” Scarnecchia said Sunday with respect to the Texans pass rush. “Hopefully we keep the wolves at bay. They’re pretty darn good.”
It wasn’t the best news having Brady’s blind side protector, Trent Brown, missing from practice Sunday. The left tackle was seen walking through the locker room earlier in the day. Brown had surgery on his right shoulder last December but has been healthy and a regular participant throughout the preseason. He’s looked more than capable of assuming the job that was left open after Nate Solder’s departure via free agency.
If Brown misses more time this week, and is at risk of not playing against the Texans, that’s a potential disaster. Right now, it doesn’t seem that dire, just something to monitor as the week progresses.
Right tackle Marcus Cannon, meanwhile, appears on track to be ready to play on Sunday according to Scarnecchia. They’re going to need all hands on deck.
Cannon did not play in that Texans game last year, so his presence would help. He’s done well against Watt in the past.
But it’s not just Watt, who is returning from a broken leg last year. They come from everywhere.
Romeo Crennel, who won three rings on Bill Belichick’s staff, is back as the defensive coordinator, with Mike Vrabel leaving to take over as the head coach of the Tennessee Titans.
Bill Belichick spoke Monday during a conference about Crennel and his craftiness.
“Nobody’s better than Romeo in running a defense, and creating problems for the offense and utilizing his personnel,” said Belichick. “It’s just a very challenging situation for us ... to be able to not only handle players where they traditionally line up, but when he creates schemes that moves them or puts them in places to attack our offense.”
That makes it even a little more challenging.”
Crennel moves his rushers around to give them different looks, and preferred matchups.
“When you take a guy like Clowney, and all of a sudden they move him to linebacker behind the line,” said Scarnecchia, “it’s not because they want him to cover, they want him to blitz, and they want him matched up on a back. That’s a problem.”
James White, Jeremy Hill or whoever is going to have to pick up the 6-foot-5, 270-pound outside linebacker if that’s the case.
Last season Brady was sacked 35 times. At one point early on, he was playing with a bad shoulder given all the hits and takedowns. In 2016, a Super Bowl-winning season, he was sacked just 15 times. The fewer times he’s sacked, the fewer times he’s hit, the better off the Patriots are going to be.
The Texans are going to test Scarnecchia’s line right away. Then it won’t get any easier with the Jaguars, who had 55 sacks last year, second best in the NFL.