Tonight is the huge AFC first round divisional playoff game. The Houston Texans vs. The New England Patriots in a rematch from December 10th, a Monday Night Football Game. In that game the Patriots beat the Texans 42-14 on a cold crisp night in New England. This time around both teams are much more familiar with each other and are more then ready for this game. The one thing that helps the Patriots is people talking more about the other team, an all week the Patriots have definitely heard more about the other team. Most of the talk is how can the Texans win, ways for the Texans to pull off the upset, what some writer said about the Texans and how a few Texans players responded to that, and what the Texans have been saying leading up to the game. The one thing that is being said about the Patriots is people bringing up the 2010 Jets, making comparisons to the Texans and to the Patriots, all week long that has been going on, so New England has been well reminded of what happen in the playoffs 3 years ago. All this talk though, might give New England the advantage along with the home field.
Seven Things to look for:
Offensive Line: Tom Brady’s offensive line must protect Brady. The biggest task for the Patriots offensive line will be blocking J.J. Watt and the Texans blitzes. I don’t think the Texans blitz to much in the last game, so they may come out trying to blitz a lot in this game and the Patriots offensive line must recognize those times and make their blocks. J.J. Watt might get moved around on the line, but New England must dedicate themselves to blocking him because if they can block him, they will stop any pressure on the QB. If they can stop Watt, The Patriots should move the ball on the Texans then. The Patriots might double up Watt, because Watt is great at getting pressure on the QB and if he does, the whole defense is hard to stop, therefore hard to win the game. The Patriots might double up on Watt.
Rushing Game: The Patriots need to test the run game early and often. They will need Ridley to protect the football and get yards on the ground to keep the Texans honest t0 the running game. Anytime the running game is going pretty good, the Patriots offense is a much better offense, so look for Ridley to get some carries early to counter the aggressiveness of the Texans. Woodhead is always a guy to watch for, he will help in the running game and sneak out in the pass, and if nobody is paying attention to him, he might be racking up a lot of yards today.
Passing Game: Tom Brady needs to be standing up right, if he is, the rest is up to the QB Brady. Tom Brady can look and find his open targets with enough time and should shred the Texans especially if the Patriots wide outs are getting open. Brady may go to the short quick passes to avoid any pressure. The no huddle, fast pace offense, should be featured a lot in today’s game, since it is most effective. The one thing Tom Brady can’t do is force the ball to any one player, like he does from time to time. The Texans played man to man in the last game and forced New England to take a lot of deep passes, since the Patriots successfully went deep, the Texans may look to take away deep passes and make New England throw short passes and try to come up and make the tackles. The wide outs for New England must get open, they can’t allow for their selves to be covered by one player of the Texans. I would guess the Texans will focus their defense on Gronkowski, Welker, and Hernandez, leaving Lloyd out there in man to man. I think Lloyd will be huge in this game on the Patriots offense, so Brady needs to look to Lloyd in this game more then he has all season, and I expect Lloyd to be the X-Factor.
Run Defense: New England has one of the best run defense in the NFL. Stopping the run is a must because if you stop the Texans run you stop the Texans. The first thing for New England to do is take away the run of the Texans, New England will look to commitment to that first. I expect the Texans to come out throwing, however, since the last time they played New England, the Patriots stopped the run. The Texans will try to use the passing game to open up lanes for the running game. The Patriots must be prepare for that to come into play, but over all the Patriots need to stop Arian Foster, not only in the run game, but also the pass game as well. The Texans like to throw dump offs to Foster in the open field, which happens to be the Patriots weakest spot on the defense, since the linebackers can’t cover the middle of the field. New England needs a player in position for those scenarios. Wilfork, and Spikes will be huge in stopping the run, if they can contain Foster, then the Texans will have a hard time scoring.
Pass Defense: The pass defense has had its moments of good and bad over the course of the season. For the playoffs, Alfonzo Dennard, and Aqib Talib are back, just in time, so now McCourty can move back to safety which is where he is best at, and Arrington can go back to covering the slot. The last time these two teams met, the Patriots played man to man in the secondary to stop their wide outs and to my amazement, it worked. But you can’t always do the same game plan since who you have to face that team again. It is all about being prepared and ready to adapt, and switch things up. They might give safety help with Talib on Johnson, or they may give safety help to Dennard on the other big WR for the Texans who has had success, especially deep. The Patriots need to cover the middle, and the linebackers are awful at that. If Foster is in the middle of the field, ready for a screen pass or a dump off, then Hightower needs to be right there, ready to do what he did when he was at Alabama, light up the receiver, or in this case the rusher, with a mega hit, to make sure he can’t catch that ball, or hold onto it. The tight ends for the Texans must be an importance to the Patriots to stop. They love to go over the middle and make plays, Owen Daniels especially, and then Graham. The Patriots must respect their abilities to make plays and move the the first down marker. They need to stop the tight ends as well as any WR because these tight ends are just as important in the Texans pass game as any other player. Look for the Patriots to keep eyes on them at all time. The play actions and bootlegs are the favorite passing plays of the Texans. They will use those all game if they can, so New England needs to take those away by being discipline, and of course, stopping the run, which is the most important thing for the Patriots to do.
Pass Rush: The Patriots need to get pressure on QB Matt Schuab. You need pressure on every QB you play to help your defense out. Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Trevor Scott, and Justin Francis must all generate pass rush on blitzes and not on blitzes either, to keep the heat and pressure on the QB. The more pressure you generate on the QB the more likely they will make a mistake. The linebackers are huge in this too, Jerod Mayo and Donta Hightower, when they blitz they are usually successful, and make big plays for New England. I like these two linebackers when they are called to make plays on the opposing QB. When New England is playing aggressive, their defense is playing much better, so I think in this game, you’ll see a very aggressive New England defense, and they might blitz more then the Texans in this one.
Turnovers: Turnovers are huge, they can either, make or break a team. The Patriots have been one of the best teams all season at creating turnovers, regardless, if that is by fumbles or interceptions. I don’t think the Texans will be fumbling the football as Foster is great at holding onto the football but they can get Schuab to make a mistake. Put pressure on him, they may get him to hurry a throw, and throw an interception, or have good schemes in the defense and confuse Schuab, and that could lead to a turnover. I do think you’ll see a turnover by the Texans in this game, and if that happens, the Patriots need to capitalize on it.
The Patriots defense will be a factor in this game, lose or win, and the Patriots really need their defense to play great and not like something the Patriots fan have become use to seeing from their defense, especially in the playoffs. The defense needs to step up in the game and help out their offense, and get off the field on third downs. The Patriots offense needs to be consistent, if they want a chance to win. Tom Brady, of course, needs to do what he does best, which is pass, and run his offense in a great fashion. This will be a very tough game for the New England Patriots, but not impossible, they can win, just need to be prepared with a great game plan. The regular season doesn’t matter now, it is the Playoffs.