By: Russ Goldman
The Patriots enter the Divisional Round of the Playoffs hopefully rested from the bye to face the Houston Texans. The two teams met in early December, and the Patriots won 42-14 in a very dominating fashion. They will meet again this Sunday at Gillette Stadium, and the winner moves on to the AFC Championship Game.
WHERE TO WATCH: The game will be shown live on WBZ-TV 4 at 4:30 PM EST. You can also listen to the game on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.
GAME NOTES: The Texans are coming off a 19-13 Wild Card Weekend Playoff victory against the Bengals at Reliant Stadium. This game wasn’t decided until the fourth quarter, but to their credit, the Texans did enough to secure the win.
On defense, the Texans are led once again by defensive end J.J. Watt, who does have the ability to take over a game. He had 20.5 sacks this season, but he can do much more than just get after the quarterback. He can definitely swat down passes, and is also very good at stopping the run.
On offense, this unit is still centered around running back Arian Foster, who ran for 1424 yards this season. The Texans will feed the ball to Foster often, which will set up their play-action passing game. There is no doubt that Texans offensive game-plan will be focused on touches for Foster.
Matt Schaub is the quarterback, and he is an enigma, because he has the physical ability to be elite, but he just hasn’t been consistent each and every week with his performances. The Texans will need him to raise his game against the Patriots if they expect to win.
The Patriots are playing against an opponent that they beat pretty well last month, but I think it is fair to say that the Texans have the talent to play much better this time around. The Texans are a team that deserve respect, and I feel confident the Patriots are not expecting a cakewalk this time.
Here are my “five keys” which I believe could play a role in a potential victory for the Pats.
1. Vince Wilfork needs to blow up the stretch running plays led by Arian Foster. Wilfork was huge against the run the first time the teams met. He has the ability to unsettle the zone-blocking on these stretch plays to the left that are very successful for the Texans.
If Wilfork has the same impact in this game, that he did in the first match-up, the Texans offense could really struggle. The Texans depend on the running of Foster, and Wilfork could be a huge weapon in disrupting his progress.
2. Patriots defense needs to contain tight end Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham. I have included both of these tight ends in this key because I feel Graham might play a larger role in this game. In his last game he caught three balls for 29 yards, but in this offense, that is a decent contribution.
The main tight end to watch is Daniels, who had nine receptions for 91 yards in his last game. The Patriots defense sometimes struggles with covering the tight end in the middle of the field. Covering Daniels and Graham should be a huge priority in this game.
3. Patriots red-zone defense needs to hold the Texans to field goals. The Texans lately have struggled in the red-zone and have been forced to kick many more field goals then you would want.
In the last game, the Texans kicked four field goals, which really kept the Bengals in the game. If the Patriots can tighten up their defense in this area of the field, and hold the Texans to a few field goals, it could be a long night for the team from Texas.
4.The Patriots need to play fast early on offense to get a lead on the Texans. The “hurry up offense” is the perfect weapon in this game to get an early lead. This style of offense can really set a great pace, and often leads to points.
If the Patriots offense can get an early lead by a couple of touchdowns on the Texans, it might be too much to overcome for the visitors.
This style of offense also tires out a defense, and could cause tired legs in the second half. I say use this offense early as it could really hurt the Texans early and late.
5. The Patriots offense needs to get tight end Rob Gronkowski involved early and often in this game. Gronkowski offers huge value in both the passing and the running game. Some overlook what he brings blocking for the likes of running backs Steven Ridley, and Shane Vereen.
In the passing game, he is such a mismatch for any defender, and even if you cover him, you are probably opening up opportunities for the other receivers.
The Texans as I have stated earlier deserve respect, but to beat the Patriots they will need to change some things. As I wrote several days ago, if the Texans are predictable on both sides of the ball, they could have a tough time coming to Foxboro and getting the victory.
In concluding, I expect this to be a closer game then the last match-up and probably won’t be decided until the fourth quarter. The big difference for me in this game has to be in coaching.
The Patriots change their game-plans each and every week based on their opponent to expose the weaknesses of the other team. The Texans pretty much “do what they do”, and unless head coach Gary Kubiak, and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips show the Patriots something they are not ready for, I find it hard to see them upsetting the Patriots.
I see the Patriots throwing early, and running late to close out this divisional play-off game. I am predicting a 31-21 Patriots victory against the Texans.
What are your predictions? Feel free to post them in the comments section below.
Please feel free to listen to the latest episode of Patriots Fourth And Two which includes an interview with John McClain from the Houston Chronicle, and we previewed the upcoming playoff game.