Texans vs Patriots: 10 Keys to the Game for Houston
The Patriots have been having an excellent season up to this point, their 9-3 record only slightly less impressive than the Texans' AFC best 11-1 record.
The Patriots are led by their future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady, and they possess one of the most dangerous offenses in the NFL. Brady does an excellent job of spreading the ball around to his bevy of weapons, but unfortunately for him, his record-breaking tight end Rob Gronkowski will be inactive on Monday.
This game will provide a chance for the Texans to prove themselves to a national audience. The Texans are routinely ignored by the national media in favor of under-performing teams such as the Jets, Eagles and Cowboys, the that might not be the case come Tuesday morning if the Texans manage to come out of Monday with a victory.
Can the Texans cement themselves as the best team in the AFC with a victory over the Patriots? Here are the 10 keys to the game for Houston.
Whitney Mercilus Needs to Make an Impact
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The Texans' pass rush this season has been anything but the dominant self it was last season. Last year, Connor Barwin, Brooks Reed, Antonio Smith and J.J. Watt seemed to pressure the quarterback on nearly every possession.
This year, it has only been Watt who has been applying the pressure. Though he is having an absolutely incredible season, one of the best seasons for a defensive lineman in NFL history, in fact, Watt's efforts simply have not been enough.
Barwin and Reed, the Texans' premier pass-rushers from last season, have combined for a measly total of four-and-a-half sacks so far this year.
Whitney Mercilus, the Texans' first-round draft selection, has five in limited playing time.
Although Mercilus was drafted to provide solid depth behind Barwin and Reed and produce in a three-man rotation with the two other linebackers, he has now been thrust into a starting role due to a recent injury to Reed.
Quite frankly, this is great news for the Texans. Reed has done nothing at all this season, and Mercilus has impressed whenever he has played.
The key to beating the Patriots is to hit Brady often, and Reed would likely not to that for the Texans. Mercilus, however, has been riding a hot streak, and he can be a difference-maker in this game.
The Secondary Needs a Quick Turnaround
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In the past three weeks, the Texans' secondary has looked like the pre-Wade Phillips Texans' secondary. And to surmise that more bluntly, they have been completely awful.
The secondary, plagued by injuries, has been gashed left and right by opposing quarterbacks, and that has caused their defense to struggle significantly.
Though the defense managed to hold Jake Locker in check with six sacks and six turnovers, Chad Henne and Matt Stafford had a field day against them.
If the likes of them can tear up the Texans' secondary, then imagine what Tom Brady could potentially do to them.
The secondary, which can certainly benefit from a healthy Johnathan Joseph playing, needs to find a way to perform well in this game.
The outcome of the game likely depends on it.
Wes Welker Must Be Held in Check
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Wes Welker is one of the primary cogs in what is the Patriots' offensive machine.
The Patriots depend on short, quick passes to move the ball down the field. In this type of scheme, Welker is by far the Patriots' most dangerous weapon.
He runs precise, impossible-to-guard routes, and he always appears to get open for Brady. Welker consistently hauls in loads of receptions, and he is a dependable target to consistently move the chains.
If one can limit Welker, one can stagnate the Patriots' offense.
The problem for the Texans is that they might not have the personnel to stop Welker. Brice McCain, the Texans' most effective nickle cornerback, is on the IR. If Johnathan Joseph was healthy, it is very likely that Wade Phillips would just have him follow Welker around the field.
Jospeh, however, will be a game-time decision, and even if he does indeed play, he still might not be healthy enough to guard Welker effectively. The last time Joseph played through an injury, he got burned by the likes of Jeremy Kerley and Antonio Cromartie.
If Joseph does not guard Welker, that leaves the second-year pro Brandon Harris on him. Not good.
Phillips and the Texans' coaching staff needs to find a game plan to limit Welker, for one undependable Texan defensive back might not be enough.
Stop Welker, limit Brady. Easier said than done.
Establish the Ground Game
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How does one prevent Brady from scoring points? That's simple, keep him off the field.
Fortunately for the Texans, they have just the personnel to do it. Duane Brown and the Texans' offensive line execute the zone-blocking scheme to precision, and Arian Foster has the vision to locate the open holes and cutback lanes.
Foster, also, is an extremely tough running back who can handle a lot of carries and still keep on churning out yardage. The fact that he rarely struggles to play with injuries although he leads the league in carries is a testament to that.
If Foster and the Texans' offensive line play their best, the Texans' offense is virtually unstoppable. At those times, the offense is able to consistently pick up first downs without an effort, and the pounding running game opens up potential huge play-action plays.
Whenever the Texans run the ball well, they rarely lose. If they can dominate the ground game in Foxboro on Monday night, then it is extremely likely that they will come away with a victory.
The SWATT Unit Must Be on Patrol
Tom Brady rarely ever gets sacked. This is not because he is an extremely elusive quarterback who avoids pass-rushers with the grace of Robert Griffin III.
The fact that Brady almost never hits the ground is the cause of terrific offensive line blocking and the Patriots' offensive scheme.
The Patriots' line does an excellent job of giving Brady sufficient time to get rid of the ball, which is a major reason why he is considered such an incredible quarterback. It is tough to be bad when you can stand in the pocket for ages.
The Patriots' offense, also, is centered around the short, quick passing game. Brady gets rid of the ball as fast as possible, which makes it nearly impossible for pass-rushers to reach him.
There are two ways to slow down Brady and the passing attack. The first is to have impeccable press man-coverage. If a defense can force to Brady to hold onto the ball for a slightly longer amount of time, then pass-rushers could have a chance of reaching him.
The second way plays heavily into the favor of the Texans' defense. Being able to swat down balls at the line of scrimmage can significantly slow down an offense. It's almost as good as a sack.
J.J. Watt and the rest of the Texans' defense have fully bought into the strategy of knocking down passes, and they must be ready to continue their pass-swatting ways on Monday.
Andre Johnson Must Expose His Matchup
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After a slow start to the season, Andre Johnson has now picked up the slack and is turning in another dominant receiving season.
Johnson has absolutely on fire the past few weeks, and he should provide an excellent matchup for newly acquired Patriots' cornerback Aqib Talib.
Talib came into New England with the expectations of being the savior of a miserable secondary, and so far he has played well for the Patriots. Though he has not been incredible, he has noticeably improved the play of the secondary.
On Monday, Talib's skills will be tested against one of the league's best.
The outcome of the game can likely come down to who wins the matchup between Talib and Johnson. In what is expected to be a high-scoring affair, the Texans need their star receiver to perform.
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The Patriots are the league's best team in forcing turnovers. Coincidentally, the Texans are one of the best at holding onto the ball.
It will be a strength on strength matchup, and both teams will be vying desperately to win it.
Unfortunately for Houston, it is much more necessary for it to win the battle than for New England. If the Texans turn the ball over, it will put the Patriots' dangerous offense in terrific field-goal position. That's easy points for an offense that already has an easy time of putting up huge numbers.
If the Texans do not turn the ball over, the Patriots will still be very capable of scoring a high number of points.
Therefore, the stakes are much higher for the Texans in the turnover battle. They cannot afford to hand that Patriots easy points; the game could very well come down to a stupid mistake or two.
Shut Down Ridley
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Quietly, Stevan Ridley is having a surprisingly impressive season for the Patriots.
The Patriots' offense is typically glorified by the amazing feats performed by Tom Brady, but Ridley is emerging as an increasingly dangerous weapon for the Patriots.
Due to the Patriots' relentless passing attack, defenses can rarely dedicate any extra defenders to stopping the run. In recent years, that was not a problem. The Patriots could simply not effectively run the ball.
Now, however, with the emergence of Ridley, it is a major problem. With defenses falling back to prevent themselves from being torn up by Brady, Ridley is able to consistently find wide-open holes. He regularly picks up huge chunks of yardage because of this, which makes the Patriots' already dominant offense even more threatening.
On Monday, the Texans must be able to shut down Ridley with a limited number of rush defenders. If not, the Patriots' offense could have a huge day.
Be Prepared to Play in a Messy Environment
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The last time the Texans played a primetime football game, it was against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.
The fact that the weather was predicted to be awful—and it was—was supposed to play heavily into the favor of the Bears.
"The Bears excel playing in poor football conditions, it is Chicago football. The Texans, on the other hand, are a dome team who will struggle is messy weather," countless so-called experts claimed.
Well, the Texans beat the Bears at their own game, dominating the physical aspect of the game and not allowing the Bears to move the ball at all on offense.
Now, when the Texans venture into Foxboro, the weather has a high chance of being very nasty. Rain is on the forecast, and this is believed to be an advantage for the Patriots. Tom Brady is excellent at passing the ball, no matter the condition, and many claim that the Houston offense will not be able to keep up with the Patriots in New England weather.
It appears that Houston will just have to beat the Patriots at their own game.
Play with a Chip on Their Shoulders
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For the past few weeks, critics have attacked the Houston Texans. They have lamented poor performances against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Detroit Lions, claiming that the Texans are not true Super Bowl contenders.
To be considered otherwise it just insulting.
Although the Texans refuse to get caught up in their own hype, it must anger them just a little bit to be called out as a weak team with no real Super Bowl aspirations.
A win at New England on Monday Night Football would surely silence the critics, would it not?