Beating the Houston Texans is hard enough, and even harder when you are missing offensive weapons. The New England Patriots will be short handed going into this matchup vs the Texans. WR Edelman broke his foot, and is done for the season, but the biggest loss was suffered against the Colts when tight end Rob Gronkowski was injured, and will miss a few more weeks.
Gronkowski’s loss is the worst loss for the Patriots when it comes to weapons since he stretches the field, and is the Patriots best red zone threat. The Patriots can still score, and still have weapons, but none of them come close to Gronkowski. Tom Brady still plays QB for New England which means the Patriots can still score, and score a lot. Something has to give for both teams. Houston is undefeated this season on the road, and the Patriots have won their past 19 home December games in the past decade.The Texans have been exposed a little more then they are use to in recent weeks.
They had to go to over time in shoot outs to win versus the Jaguars and the Lions. The Texans couldn’t generate consist pressure on the opposing QB and both Henne and Stafford picked apart the Texans secondary. The one loss the Texans suffered was at home vs the Packers when Rodgers went off on them scoring 40+ points since they gave him the time to do so. Tom Brady with pressure is good, Tom Brady with time is great.
That brings me to the number one thing New England has to do which is protect Tom Brady. The Texans love to blitz so New England has to protect Brady much better then they did against the Dolphins, and Brady’s reciver’s has to get open for the quick passes. If the Patriots can’t protect Brady then New England isn’t going to win. Brady, of course, can help matters with quick short passes. When the Texans blitz look for Brady to go gambling and shift the offense into a quick pass or a screen pass to Welker. To beat the blitz the Patriots will throw short quick passes all game long.
The second thing the Patriots have to do is stop JJ Watt. If he isn’t generating the pressure then it doesn’t get generated much anywhere else unless its on blitzes. Watt can get to the QB without needing to blitz but against the Packers, Jaguars, and the Lions it looks like no one else on the Texans can.
I noticed the Lions doubled team Watt which New England may need to do in this one. They need to do whatever they can to make sure Watt doesn’t have much of an impact in this game. Watt is also known for swatting passes but rest to sure the Patriots are preparing for that part of Watt’s game by having people come at Brady with racquetball paddles. Belichick really does prepare for everything in a game and in very clever ways.
The third thing is the Patriots need to attempt the run. When the Patriots have the ball inside the five yard line they should try to run it in? Against the Dolphins the Patriots attempted two different passes on play action to Aaron Hernandez and neither worked. This time around the Patriots need to let Ridley attempt to run it in that close to the goal line. The Patriots need to make the Texans think about the run through out the game and not be content with being one dimensional. The Texans run defense is the 2nd best rush defense in the NFL while the pass defense is ranked 19th. The Patriots will obviously throw a lot more passes then running plays which they should, but the threat of the run still needs to be there especially close to the goal line.
The fourth thing is stopping the running game of the Texans. The Texans have one of the best running backs in the game and its no wonder they rely so heavily on Arian Foster. The Patriots have one of the best run stopping defenses in the NFL so something has to give here. Brandon Spikes who I think is the best run stopping linebacker in the NFL will meet his match in this game. Foster rarely fumbles the football and Spikes has been beyond great at causing them this season and the two will meet on more then one occasion in this game. Wilfork, Spikes, Mayo, and Hightower should put a huge dent in the running game and if they don’t the Patriots are in trouble. Spikes must stop the run in this game and put it all on QB Matt Schuab to win, of course, the Patriots offense could help with this because if the Patriots offense is scoring it will force the Texans to abandoned the run.
The fifth thing might be the most important thing for the Patriots and that is stopping the deep passes. Schuab and the Texans offense loves to go deep at least once a quarter. Their deep passes though are usually from play action and boot leg formations, so if New England’s defense can take the run away it should take away the Texan’s best offensive plays. Regardless if they can use play action much or not the Texans will still go deep. Its what this offense loves to do and it’s usually how they score. The Texans rarely drive the length of the field methodically, they usually drive it with at least one or two big plays before punching in the score. The Patriots have gotten better about not allowing deep plays to the wide outs over the past few weeks, and if they can keep the deep plays from happening the Patriots defense may help themselves to a huge win. One would think Talib will be on Andre Johnson with the help of a safety to take away not only the Texans best weapon but their best deep threat. Tailb and Mccourty both on Johnson would damage the Texans ability to go deep, that is if Dennard can play man to man and shut down Kevin Walter. He might need the safety help in this game, but Dennard has been a solid rookie corner all season.
The sixth thing the Patriots need to do is don’t let the talented Owen Daniels burn you. Daniels is a good tight end and Schaub has been throwing to him with success a lot this season and they love to torch the middle of the field and that just so happens to be the Patriots weakest spot. This is the spot where it worries me the Patriots will lose the game. Spikes, Mayo, and Hightower can’t cover. Collectively together they might be the worst group of linebackers in coverage ever, that is how bad they look every game in coverage. This area still hasn’t been fixed and should be an area of concern for New England. The Texans will throw to the runningback in dump off passes over the middle so New England has to have a handle of the middle of the field weather its versus the runningback or tight end. They really need to take Spikes out in passing plays and get in an extra corner to cover the tight end over the middle. The Patriots need to blitz a lot in this game, they need to get pressure to help take the pressure off of their secondary, and Mayo, and Hightower are great pass rushers and even better when they blitz as they are almost unstoppable when they blitz. This will help eliminate chances for the big plays as well.
The seventh thing the Patriots need to do is the one thing they have been consistently great at doing all season on defense. Creating turnovers. The Patriots are only second to the Bears in causing turnovers and it has a lot to do with New England’s success this season. They create turnovers and more times then not turn them into points. Schaub can be generous enough sometimes to turn it over with 9 interceptions on the season along with two fumbles. The Patriots most certainly can get Schaub to throw picks in this game by adding pressure to him and disguising their defense. I think if the Patriots are going to get turnovers it will come by interceptions and a fourth down stand in the game. If the Patriots can get turnovers they can get the win.
One thing that is an advantage for New England is they thrive in big games and in the spotlight and Schaub and the Texans haven’t. This is a good test for both teams, but I wouldn’t read to much into it as both sides are dealing with injuries and the Patriots are missing their best weapon. This game is not much more then to keep pace at getting a first round bye and a teaser at a playoff game that might not even happen when the playoffs roll around. It is a big game, but nobody is going to the Superbowl for winning it right now.