New England quarterback Cam Newton will typically draw the spotlight, whether for praise or criticism, and the Patriots' recent rebound on offense naturally brings the focus on Newton.
On the heels of a four-game losing skid that raised alarms throughout the league, Newton has found a bit of a groove and relatedly, the Patriots appear to be trending in the right direction as they enter Sunday's game against the host Houston Texans.
Newton is 40-of-52 passing for 392 yards and four combined touchdowns in victories over the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens, producing a 106.7 passer rating central to the Patriots' improved play.
A commitment to running the ball -- the Patriots are averaging 173.3 rushing yards over their last three games -- seems to have bolstered the revival, with New England (4-5) cleaved to the ground game Sunday against the Texans (2-7).
"We've certainly tried to adapt our style and what we do from week to week to fit our players the best that we can against the opponent that we're playing, and all credit goes to the players," Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. "They've done some good things.
"We have a long way to go. We've got a lot of improvements we can still make but they've really tried to embrace what we've tried to do the last so many weeks. They've really worked hard in practice to improve and collectively we're making some strides."
The Texans continue to search for answers offensively, particularly in the running game. With starting running back David Johnson set to miss a second consecutive game with a concussion, Houston has leaned more on quarterback Deshaun Watson to augment the ground attack.
Watson has amassed 124 rushing yards over the last three games after totaling 109 over the initial six. Watson isn't explicitly running more by design, but the production is surely welcomed.
"A lot of those is just kind of reaction and just kind of making plays happen," Watson said. "It helps the offense to be able to expand what we do, especially open up the run game a little bit. Most of those plays has just been naturally, just kind of pocket collapsing and me just making a play."
Texans left tackle Laremy Tunsil (illness) headlined a host of Texans who missed practice on Wednesday. Running back Duke Johnson (illness), wideout Kenny Stills (back), safety Michael Thomas (shoulder) and punter Bryan Anger (quad) also missed.
For the Patriots, veteran receiver Julian Edelman (knee surgery) and rookie offensive lineman Justin Herron (ankle) are both on the brink of returning to action after having missed the past three games each.
Edelman (21 catches, 315 yards) and Herron, who started against the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos, haven't been cleared, but their progress will be closely monitored.
"Neither player has had a setback," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday. "They've both progressed in a positive direction. It's just really a question of whether they're ready or not, and is that today, is it (Thursday), is it next week.
"I'm not sure what the time frame is on that, but I think they're all moving in the right direction and the decisions really on this, before we start the clock, we just want to make sure that they're confident and we're confident that they're ready for participation in the next stage of their return to play."
--Field Level Media
Need more winners Against the Spread? Get $60 in Free Premium Member Only picks from Doc’s Sports – A recognized leader and trusted name in sports handicapping since 1971. Click Here.