The big AFC showdown is upon us tonight on ESPN at 8 EST. Tom Brady and the Patriots will be squaring off with the one loss Houston Texans and Matt Schaub at Gillette Stadium. The weather expected for tonight’s game is mid-high 40′s, winds 10-15 mph, and 90% chance of rain. The Texans are built like a snow, rain, and muddy condition team since they love to run the football but they are a dome team after all who rarely gets a chance to prepare to play in games like this, but the Patriots know how to run. and throw in weather like this, and they play great in bad weather games so I think the weather favors New England in this match up if it is a bad weather game.
Seven Things To Watch For
Stopping the run: The Texans will come in doing what they do best with a great RB, and that is run the ball. New England has a good run stopping defense, in recent weeks they have given up some yards on the ground, but overall they are very sound in that area. Spikes is the guy who leads the charge in stopping the run, and I don’t think Foster can run through the beast Spikes, but can Spikes bottle him up, and not let him make cuts to the outside, and contain him? I think he can but Spikes, Mayo, Hightower, Love, and Wilfork have to have one of their best games all season as a collective group in order to shut the run down.
Play Actions and Bootlegs: 80% of the Texans offense is play action and bootleg passes. They are so good at it because their running game is usually doing great so if New England stops the run then they should limit the Texans ability to orchestrate the play action passes. The Patriots linebackers will need to be very discipline in this game and not bite on the play action, and “Do their own Job” as head coach Bill Belichick likes to say. If the Patriots can stop the play action passes then they have a great chance of winning the game.
Deep Passes: The Texans rarely have to drive the length of the field in a number of plays. They get up the field and score with only a few plays because they love the deep passes. The Texans offense runs on big plays and the Patriots defense has been known to give up the deep plays. If New England has any shot in this game they must defend the deep passes against the Texans who are loaded with offensive weapons. Andre Johnson should be the number one threat deep and overall in this game in the aerial attack and I expect Talib to play against him since he has the size for the job along with safety help. I don’t think the Patriots or any team can play Johnson man to man, but the Patriots may use Talib to go against Kevin Walter to shut him completely out of the game, and let Dennard and McCourty double up Johnson. The area that concerns me the most is what will New England do to defend Owen Daniels? If it was me Talib would cover the tight end in this game. If its not Johnson going deep it will be Daniels because everybody knows the middle of the field where the linebackers are suppose to cover is the Patriots biggest weakness. I expect Daniels to have a big game, and be the guy Schaub and the offense goes to more then any other player. If the Patriots shut down Daniels this defense has improved in all areas and will get this game for New England. I’d love to see New England keep the linebackers at the line and let the corners take care of the rest. Talib on Daniels, Arrington or Cole on Walter, and Dennard with McCourty on Johson. I doubt that will have happen because the Patriots have a system they believe in and, why not, so the linebackers better be the most ready for a tight end they ever have been because Daniels is better then Chandler from the Bills who torched the Patriots in both games this season.
Pass Rush: Chandler Jones is back in this game and that should boost the pass rush for New England along with Trevor Scott who had a big game against the Dolphins last Sunday. The more pressure New England can get on the QB the better off they are in the passing game. Hightower and Mayo are also a huge part of the pass rush as both are excellent at pressuring the QB. They are almost unstoppable on blitzing plays, and getting pressure on Schuab increases the likelihood of mistakes being made.
Turnovers: The Patriots on defense have been one of the best turnover causing teams in the NFL. If they can create turnovers in this game it will play a role in who wins the game. Schaub has 9 interceptions on the season along with two fumbles. The Patriots can get Schaub to make a few mistakes in this game and the Texans will probably go for it on fourth down plays if they are close enough to do so because they know they need all the points they can get, and if that happens it will be interesting to see if the Patriots can stop RB Foster from picking it up, and getting a turnover that way.
Offensive Line: They have a tall task for New England tonight. blocking the Texans’s pass rush and blitzes. The big question is how much and often will the Texans blitz Tom Brady? Blitzing a great QB can lead a defense to getting burnt badly. The Texans have a great pass rush no doubt about it but it mostly comes from one player named J.J. Watt. If he is getting to Brady it will be a long day for Brady but if New England stops Watt it will be a long day for the Texans defense. They don’t generate pass rush outside of Watt much or that’s what it looked like when they faced Jacksonville, Detroit, and Green Bay. Watt is the number one guy on defense New England has to stop and if they need to double team Watt then by all means that is exactly what they should do. The Texans pass rush is different from the 49ners because they usually get their pass rush from blitzes. The Patriots game plan for it will probably consist of a lot of short, quick passes up the field. The Patriots offense makes a living methodically going up the length of the field with short passes. The game plan of throwing short passes probably won’t be much different then usual considering it is the best way to beat the blitzes along with screen passes.
Running Game: The better the running game the better the offense for New England. The Texans are beyond amazing against the run so it will be interesting to see how much the Patriots will try to run and how successful they will be. If and when New England is inside the five yard they have to try to run it in, most teams want to pass inside the five and I have no idea why, but try the run first at the very least. New England needs points and Ridley needs to try to make it an balance attack.
Wide Receivers: Can they get open in this game better then they did against Miami? Gronkowski being out is a huge loss and hurts New England the most in the redzone. Welker, Stallworth, Lloyd, and Hernandez is the weapons Brady will be working with. It’s not the biggest group of wide outs in the world that is for sure, and not a deep threat to their name so Brady needs to be spot on in this game. Hernandez is the player maker with big play capability, when he catches the ball his ability for yards after the catch is incredible and it will be needed in this game. Welker the solid guy who is a chain mover. He has to work himself open for Brady and concentrate on first downs. Stallworth, I have no idea if he will be used much but lets hope he isn’t rusty, and uses his speed to cause some unexpected havoc. Lloyd doesn’t get the ball thrown to him so I doubt he will be making deep plays tonight, but New England at least needs to try with Lloyd and use his talent with his footwork in the redzone.
The Texans will test how much the defense of New England has improved and will test how well the offensive line is playing and if the Patriots weapons are actual weapons in big games or not. New England should welcome this test and use it to know how far they have come and how they have to go.