The Patriots rank No. 1 in the NFL on third down on offense (52.6 percent conversions), while the Texans rank No. 1 on third down on defense (28.4 percent).
They’re a good defense on every down. Third down, they rush well and they cover well. [Kareem] Jackson and [Johnathan] Joseph outside have done a good job for them all year but they’ve had other guys come in there like [Brice] McCain got hurt but he’s done a good job for them; [Glover] Quin comes down and plays in their dime defense and he’s done a good job in coverage as well.
Then of course they can rush. They’ve created a lot of long yardage situations, they’ve been ahead and so that’s helped their pass rush. They’re a good third down defense – one of the best in the last nine, 10 years statistically—to be under 30 percent is pretty impressive. They do everything well: they rush, they cover, they blitz, they mix it up but you have to really work to convert on third down against them.
Third downs will be in particular focus this week, with the Patriots fielding a depleted offensive line.
The hope is that they will get left guard Logan Mankins and right guard Dan Connolly back for this game—both practiced on Wednesday. That will be a big factor in their ability to protect Tom Brady. The importance of cohesion can't be overstated, especially in picking up blitzes from one of the most blitz-happy defenses in the NFL (43.9 percent).
No matter who is on the field, third downs figure to be a very compelling battle between these two teams.
Here's some more news from around the AFC East.
New England Patriots
Bucky Brooks of NFL.com gives his take on why the Patriots offense is built for postseason success.
Kerry Byrne of SportsIllustrated.com gives his take on why Tom Brady has made his case for MVP.
Joe Buscaglia of WGR 550 Sportsradio points out that the Bills offensive line is looking a bit more green now with a lot of injuries to their starters.
B/R Dolphins featured columnist Thomas Galicia lists the top 13 free agents the Dolphins should target this offseason.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand or via team press releases.