1. Brooks Reed
The second-year linebacker seemingly saves his best for the playoffs. His 4.5 sacks in 3 postseason games matches the total of soon-to-be NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt.
I expect Watt to come through with another big game. But he can’t be the only Texan putting heat on Tom Brady. Whether it’s Reed, Connor Barwin or Whitney Mercilus, the Texans have to move Brady out of his comfort zone and force some hurried throws or it’s going to be another long day in Foxboro.
2. Brandon Harris
Harris is in the spotlight more than ever this week. He will be lined up in the slot opposite Wes Welker more often than not. And how Harris performs against the league’s best possession receiver will play a huge role in the Texans chances this Sunday.
Harris was pressed into the nickel role when Brice McCain went down with a leg injury in November. He has gone through some growing pains but the coaches like his ability and tenacity.
Harris did a decent job on Welker in the first meeting with the Patriots, holding Brady’s favorite target to 3 catches for 52 yards. But the numbers look better on the surface because Welker dropped a couple of easy catches. And Harris also committed a key penalty that helped lead to the Patriots first touchdown.
3. Danieal Manning
Somebody has to cover Rob Gronkowski and Manning is the best man for the job. The Patriots All-Pro tight end missed the first Texans-Patriots game with a broken arm. But he’s back now and that means more problems for a Texans defense that gave up 42 points to New England back in December.
Gronkowski poses major matchup problems for the Texans. Bradie James can’t cover him. Glover Quin is a better match-up for Aaron Hernandez. Barrett Ruud may be an option but Manning is the best bet from a combination of size and speed.
No matter who draws the coverage, the Texans need to keep Gronk from going off if they’re going to upset the Patriots and advance to the AFC Championship game.
SportsRadio 610 Sports Director Robert Henslee has been covering the Texans on a daily basis since they were approved as the NFL’s 32nd team on October 6, 1999. Follow Robert on Twitter: @SportsRadioRH