Reporting Brien Straw
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It’s finally here. Will the battle between the Texans and Patriots be a preview of the AFC Championship game? Does a win tonight put the victor in the drivers’ seat in the AFC? Is this the [next] most important game in Texans’ history? Lots of questions, but what truly will be answered in Foxboro, MA tonight? Glad you asked, because I’m delighted to tell you – and let you know the 5 keys to victory.
- Win 1st Down: Patriots actually run more than they pass on first down (210 run versus 202 pass), and are effective (4.48 per rush / 7.67 per pass). People will talk about how effective the Texans are defensively on third down – and how effective the Patriots are offensively on third down. Here’s why, the Texans are good defensively on first down more often leaving teams in third and six or more yards needed for a first. The Patriots are usually in a third and five or less. If the Texans want Tom Brady and the Pats offense on the sidelines, win first down and force the Patriots into third and longs. New England converts 3rd and less than five at a 70% clip, third and more than five at just a 41% rate.
- Texans DL versus Patriots OL: There are essentially two successful methods to slowing down Tom Brady and beating the Patriots.  The New York Giants method, get pressure with your front four, play coverage.  The New York Jets method, blitz heavily for pressure, and have your outstanding corner (see: Revis & Cromartie) play man successfully. Truthfully, I see the Texans employing the NYJ strategy especially with Jonathan Joseph set to play, and Wade Phillips penchant for blitzing. Regardless, I think the Texans front – beyond just J.J. Watt will need to be effective. At center, Ryan Wendell has been very good (Chris Meyers good), BUT, both guards – Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly are banged up but expected to play. Mankins is nursing lower leg (ankle & calf) problems, Connolly a bad back. Therefore it is essential that Shaun Cody (and his back-up Earl Mitchell), be effective. The Pats tackles (Nate Solder & Sebastian Vollmer) are “Top 20” tackles, but Watt and Antonio Smith still must win those battles as well.
- Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson versus Bill Belechick: If I’ve heard it once, it seems like I’ve heard it 1,000 times by those who closely follow the Patriots, like a kid opening his favorite gift on Christmas Eve, the Patriots always take away one major weapon of the opposition’s offense. My assumption would be that the Pats will want to eliminate either Andre Johnson or Arian Foster. Most Pats homers…err fans…err analysts think New England will neutralize Foster without effort, so Belechick will scheme to stop ‘Dre. If the Patriots can stop AJ they’ll fix their biggest problem in the process – giving up the “big play.” Schaub to Johnson must be something the Patriots cannot defend if the Texans are to be successful.
- On a side note: the Patriots have given up at least 100 yards rushing in eight of their 12 games. I see no reason why Arian won’t get 100, and I’m sensing that Ben Tate will be very effective. I’d also use both to take advantage of New England linebackers in pass coverage.
- Texans secondary versus Patriots receivers: If my assumption that the Texans will employ the “New York Jets” blitz Brady strategy and leave Joseph and Jackson in man coverage, the game will come down to the “ancillary” coverage the Texans must provide. The Texans have allowed more than 300 yards passing each of the past three weeks, while just twice the first nine weeks. Additionally they’ve allowed opponents to convert on 3rd down passing more than 10 times in three of the last four games. Correcting this is the most concerning issue for me – not only for this game but the remainder of the season. The playoffs are all about stopping elite quarterbacks and passing attacks. When the Chad Henne’s and Jake Lockers of the world can exploit your “B-list” cover-men, you’re in trouble. Whether it be, Harris, or Carmichael, or Manning, or Quinn or Ball, or the newly signed Stanford Routt, the Texans will not reach their ultimate goals (like beating the Patriots and going on to win the Super Bowl) without improved coverage. It is too much to ask for another “lock-down” cover to emerge from this group, but the guaranteed completion against these guys has got to stop.
- On a second side note: it will help the secondary immensely if the outside linebackers can start getting more pressure on opposing QB’s.
- Win the turnover margin: If this number on the jukebox sounds familiar, it should. Like the Bears, the Patriots are excellent and dominating in turnover margin. When the Texans traveled to Chicago, the Bears were leading the NFL in turnover margin. Same goes for tonight. The Patriots lead the NFL with a +24. (Anyone want to guess whose second? That’s right it’s the Texans – +14!) Like the Bears, the Pats don’t win if they don’t win the turnover battle (in their three losses they’re a -3).