Tale Of The Tape: New England Patriots At Houston Texans
- QuarterbackThe Patriots staged a memorable comeback in beating the Broncos 34-31 in overtime in Week 12. Tom Brady kept his cool despite three New England fumbles on the first three possessions. While the Patriots had little offensive rhythm in the first half of the season, Brady has gotten it back in the last few weeks. Much of that is due to the return of tight end Rob Gronkowski.It’s been a disaster for the Texans this season and many of their closest observers point to last year’s 42-10 destruction in Week 14 at New England as the source of their poor play. Case Keenum has thrown the ball fairly well in relief of the beleaguered Matt Schaub, but he has not been able to lead the Texans to a win and it’s doubtful he will do it here.
- OffenseThe Patriots want to run the ball in order to take pressure off of Brady and their defense, but it may not be Stevan Ridley in this game because he had an egregious fumble that was returned 60 yards for a touchdown. Look for Brandon Bolden and Shane Vereen to get the call running the ball. Gronkowski is a big-time playmaker, while Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola know how to get open.The Texans have a solid offense from a statistical point of view as they rank 10th overall in yards per game. Running back Ben Tate is a gutsy runner who is playing with broken ribs. Wide receiver Andre Johnson is a huge target who wins the battle against most defensive backs. The Texans could get a lift if Owen Daniels (leg) can return from his injury and contribute.
- DefenseThe Patriots have been hurt this year by injuries to Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo, but this unit continues to battle. They are vulnerable against the run – Knowshon Moreno ripped them apart in Week 12 – but cornerback Aqib Talib is an outstanding cover man who can handle big receivers. Defensive end Chandler Jones has 10.5 sacks and 61 tackles.The Texans have an exceptional statistical ranking, but even though they are first in fewest yards per game, it’s not a season where they can hold their heads up high. Defensive end J.J. Watt is a remarkable talent, and he has a team-high 56 tackles and 9.5 sacks. Here’s a telling stat: No Texan defensive player has more than one interception.
- Special TeamsThe Patriots took advantage of a special-teams miscue by the Broncos to win in overtime in their epic contest. Placekicker Stephen Gostkowski nailed the game-winning field goal and he is remarkably consistent in game-winning situations. Left-footed Ryan Allen is averaging 46.0 yards per punt.Special teams have been a problem area for the Texans for several seasons. They struggle to contain their opponents on punt and kickoff returns, although Keshawn Martin has a punt return for a score. Randy Bullock is just 19-of-28 on his FG attempts.
The Patriots have a chance to go after one of the top two seeds in the AFC after their win over the Broncos, so they can't afford a letdown against the struggling Texans.