Texans vs. Patriots: 5 Matchups That Will Decide MNF Clash
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Folks, the game between the Houston Texans and New England Patriots on Monday Night Football features two perennial Super Bowl contenders from the AFC.
In other words, there's a high probability that Tom Brady lines up across from J.J. Watt when late January rolls around.
To that end, Watt vs. Brady is just one exciting matchup we'll get to see when kickoff commences. Watt is a complete defensive player capable of disrupting any offense in any situation.
Brady, on the other hand, obviously remains among the select few of elite quarterbacks and orchestrates one of pro football's most efficient offenses. So, to get prepared for this Monday night clash of titans, let's break down Watt, Brady and the rest of the Texans vs. Patriots matchup of Week 14.
Tom Brady vs. J.J. Watt
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Examining this one-on-one matchup requires analyzing a lot of minuscule details.
In short, Brady must always be wary of Watt's presence even when not dropping back.
On the other hand, Watt cannot give away potential stunts to a specific gap or reach up too early when trying to deflect a pass.
Once the ball is snapped, though, Watt needs to immediately get extension from the first lineman that tries to block him. Not doing so will provide Brady with enough time to dissect Houston's vulnerable coverage and win the possession battle.
As for Brady, he can't hold onto the ball very long. Watt enters the contest with 16.5 sacks, which ranks No. 2 in the league, and he's tied for No. 8 in passes defended—as a defensive end.
Therefore, Brady cannot constantly be looking underneath for Wes Welker and Co. In turn, taking chances downfield will at least prevent Watt from causing pressure in the backfield and when sneaking into short coverage.
Andre Johnson vs. Patriots' Coverage
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Andre Johnson is the key factor for the Texans in this game.
For one, the Pats rank No. 29 in pass defense by allowing an average of 280 passing yards per game.
Unsurprisingly, Johnson averages nearly 93 receiving yards per game and gets 15.1 per catch. Not to mention, Houston ranks No. 10 in passing offense.
So, it's clear that Bill Belichick's defense has quite a bit to prepare for.
Johnson, however, cannot always face double coverage. Matt Schaub is solid at spreading the field elsewhere and dedicating more attention to Johnson also leaves less run defenders to stop Arian Foster.
On the contrary, any time Johnson is manned-up, expect Schaub to take a chance. Because of that potential deep threat and New England's coverage vulnerability, the Pats must play constant press coverage and present a zoning safety over the top.
The end result doesn't require losing a defender in coverage, which allows the Pats to play better against the run. Because if anything is to Houston's advantage, it's the ground game.
Patriots' Run Defense vs. Arian Foster
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New England is facing quite the challenge in Houston's offense.
While attempting to stop Andre Johnson from making a big play downfield, the front seven must still shutdown Arian Foster.
Well, that is obviously easier said than done.
Nevertheless, the focal point for the Pats needs to be Vince Wilfork and the defensive line. This unit has to defeat every one-on-one blocking situation and must never miss tackles.
The Texans' offensive line is too well-versed at chip-blocking to the second level and extending running lanes, which allows Foster to immediately dart downfield. Additionally, Foster possesses excellent ball-carrier vision for cutbacks, counters, zone stretches and traps.
Isolating this aspect comes from the linebackers simply playing gap discipline and not overrunning a play. Houston attacks downhill and doing so sets up play action. For New England to minimize this damage, continuously blitzing will force the Texans into a one-dimensional approach.
And New England can be quite opportunistic in coverage, despite allowing plenty of yards.
Pats' Ground Game vs. Texans Front Seven
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New England's rushing attack doesn't receive enough credit.
Stevan Ridley averages 4.5 yards per carry and Brandon Bolden gets 5.4.
Defending the run and controlling the line of scrimmage, however, is the forte of Wade Phillips' defense.
Houston ranks No. 2 against the run and gives up only 87.6 rushing yards per game. One unforeseen advantage for the Pats, though, is Houston allowing an average of 4.1 yards per rushing attempt.
Make no mistake about it, the Texans are capable of completely shutting down the Pats and making them one-dimensional. Still, New England also slams for an average of 4.2 per attempt and ranks No. 8 in rushing offense.
With New England presenting a two-back threat, expect plenty of man coverage with a Cover 1 safety from Houston. The Texans have to blitz and get pressure on Brady while stuffing the run, because New England's greater offensive explosiveness will win a shootout.
Just like the Pats, however, Houston is also rather opportunistic in coverage. And stuffing the run puts more pressure on Brady against the Texans' pass rush, which then creates more turnover chances.
Matt Schaub vs. New England's Blitz Package
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The one distinct competitive advantage Bill Belichick brings is a complexion of blitzes.
As a result, Matt Schaub must read consistently well pre-snap—otherwise, he will get sacked early and often.
Blitzing is also a crucial need for the Pats, because Schaub has only been sacked 15 times entering Week 14. Also, because of such a reliable ground game and dependable receiving targets, his ability to survey the field and pick apart a defense goes overlooked.
So, to prevent Schaub from deciphering New England's defense simply calls for a barrage of interior blitzes.
Blitzing up the middle forces longer throws to the outside, briefly shields Schaub's vision down the middle and forces the pass-protecting backs to address inside.
A byproduct of that are more one-on-one situations outside and fewer screens and draws that the Pats will have to defend. On the flip side, we must anticipate Tom Brady attacking Houston's suspect coverage, as a high-scoring affair is to New England's favor.
Plus, all this forces Schaub to perform in playoff-type atmosphere with Tom Brady on the other side.
Prediction: Patriots 38, Texans 31
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