FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Much attention has been turned toward standout defensive end J.J. Watt in advance of the Patriots' Monday night clash with the Texans.
But not to be overlooked is a player on the other side of the ball who is one of -- if not the -- best offensive player in Texans franchise history: wide receiver Andre Johnson. At the age of 31, Johnson continues his dominance, ranking fifth in the NFL in receiving yards with 1,114 in 2012.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick hasn't lost track of Johnson, who recently set an NFL record for the most yards in a two-game span with 461 in Weeks 11-12.
"He's really a special player and does a lot of things well," Belichick said of Johnson. "He gets a lot of deep balls, big target, double moves, go routes, back-shoulder throws. He's a tough matchup for anybody one-on-one. It's like throwing to a tight end, there's always a place to get the ball to him.
"But he's also very good on the underneath routes, the tear screens, even plays like hitches and slants. They hit him and he breaks tackles like he did in the Jacksonville game. He does it every week, really. He can take a short pass and turn it into a long run, he can run by the defense, like he did against Denver on the post pattern.
"He's got a good route tree, he runs good routes, sometimes they put him in the slot, usually it's outside, but they do move him around, and so you've got to find him," Belichick continued. "He's good on the catch-and-run plays, he's good on the vertical routes, he's good in the red area, he can go up and get the ball. He blocks well. He's really a great player. And he's done it for a long time."
While Johnson has the obvious talents to create space on his own as a receiver, Belichick also agreed with the assertion that the Texans do a good job schematically within their offense of finding ways to get him into open space and uncovered.
"Yeah, absolutely, they do," he said. "[Texans head coach] Gary [Kubiak] does a good job, scheme-wise, of balancing everything out: the running game, the passing game, play action, dropbacks, complementary routes, complementary runs. Everything kind of ties together. If you're stopping one thing, then you're probably light on something else, and it won't take them too long to find that and exploit it. He is. He's definitely open on a few plays where it wouldn't matter who the receiver is, he's going to be wide open, going to make a play. But there's also a lot of plays that he makes on his own."
Belichick also took a moment to travel back in time to the months leading up to the 2003 NFL draft, when he and then-offensive coordinator Charlie Weis traveled to the University of Miami to attend Johnson's pro day.
"It seemed like we were in Miami every year," Belichick said with a smile, in reference to the tremendous run of NFL talent that came through the Miami pipeline at that time.
Johnson was a member of Miami's 2001 national championship-winning team, and was awarded the MVP of the Rose Bowl that year after catching two touchdowns during a 199-yard outing. That team was considered one of the best college teams of its era, and the talent showed at the university's pro day, according to Belichick.
"You felt like you were working out the whole team," he said, before adding, "Those are the kind of workouts that it's worth it because you're seeing 8, 9, 10 guys that are going to get drafted and going to play in the league."