Texans vs. Patriots: Players to Watch in Thrilling AFC Battle

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistDecember 10, 2012

FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 18:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots stands behind center against the Indianapolis Colts during the game on November 18, 2012 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Contrary to popular belief, tonight's Monday Night Football game is a head-to-head showdown between Matt Schaub and Tom Brady.

Tonight's contest is shaping up to be a great game between the 11-1 Houston Texans and the 9-3 New England Patriots. A win for Houston would solidify its status as the best team in football. On the other hand, the Patriots could likely make the same claim should they pick up the win.

Each team's quarterback is going to play a key role in leading his team to victory. Brady has the fifth-best passer rating in the league, with Schaub not far behind him at ninth.

Although they may be getting the lion's share of the headlines, here are four other players to watch in the MNF matchup.


J.J. Watt

You could make an argument that J.J. Watt is worthy of the Most Valuable Player award with his performance in 2012. He has been a wrecking machine behind the line of scrimmage.

Watt has racked up 16.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. Even more astoundingly, he has deflected 15 passes. As rules changes have made the passing game key, pass-rushers like Watt are becoming more and more pivotal for a defense's success.

The Texans' pass defense has been one of the their biggest weaknesses recently, so Brady could pick them apart. The easiest way to stop this will be for Watt to harass Brady in the pocket. If he can get some pressure on the pocket, he'll force Brady into making errant passes.


Wes Welker

The Patriots receiving corps looks like a MASH unit. Rob Gronkowski is out with a broken forearm, Julian Edelman was placed on injured reserve with a foot injury and the trio of Brandon Lloyd, Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker is listed as questionable.

Bill Belichick has always been very crafty with the injury report, so generally when a player is listed as questionable, it means he's as healthy as an ox. However, it's clear that the unit is having some health problems.

The injury to Gronkowski means that Welker needs to carry more of the offensive burden.

He had a four-game stretch of over 100 yards receiving in Weeks 3-6. It was only last Sunday that he eclipsed the century mark again, however.


Kareem Jackson/Jonathan Joseph

It's clear that the only chance Houston has of winning is by neutralizing Brady and the New England air attack. The Texans have a very good defense against the run, so Stevan Ridley will likely find yards hard to come by.

That leaves the onus on Kareem Jackson and the Houston secondary. Jackson leads the Texans in interceptions with four and is second to Watt in passes deflected with 12.

Jonathan Joseph has been a little banged up recently, but he's listed as probable on the injury report. He's had two picks and deflected another eight passes this season.

Joseph, Jackson and the rest of the Houston secondary will have to perform better than they have in the past few weeks—when Jake Locker and Chad Henne both threw for over 300 yards passing—in order for the Texans to win this game.