New England Patriots: What They Need to Do to Beat the Houston Texans Again
Yes, the New England Patriots did embarrass the Houston Texans on Monday Night Football just one month ago. But don't let that 28-point victory fool you.
While it may have proven that the Patriots are the better team, it certainly didn't prove that the Texans are incapable of beating the Pats. If a couple of breaks had gone the Texans way early or the Patriots had failed to execute certain aspects of the game well, then the game could have easily gone the other way.
With that in mind, here are five things the Patriots must do to avoid a repeat of 2010, when they demolished the Jets in the regular season (45-3), then lost to them in the playoffs (28-21).
Seize the Momentum Early
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In regards to the 2010 playoff game against the Jets, the fatal mistake the Patriots made in that game was allowing the Jets to seize momentum and gain hope early. It was an uncharacteristic Tom Brady interception setting up the Jets' first touchdown that played a massive role in the loss.
Likewise, if the Texans had recovered the fumble before Aaron Hernandez's touchdown in the December meeting, it would have been a different ballgame. Thus, the Pats must avoid making mistakes early, otherwise, they will give the Texans hope that they have a chance.
Rather, the Pats must score first, just to remind the Texans of that feeling they had a month ago of being down and hopeless. The sooner the Texans lose hope, the greater the advantage the Pats will have.
Set Up the Play Action
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In the December meeting against the Texans, Tom Brady and the offense had immense success with play action passing. Part of the reason for this was Stevan Ridley averaging four yards per carry. With his solid play, the Texans were forced to dedicate extra defenders to the box and focus on the run more. As a result, the play action passing game was wide open.
In order to duplicate this success, Ridley and the rest of the New England backs will have to continue their success on the ground. If they can do that, Brady will do the rest by executing a solid play fake then finding Brandon Lloyd deep, Aaron Hernandez in the open field, Wes Welker short or Rob Gronkowski in the seam. In any case, the Pats will be able to gouge the Texans with more play-action if they can first establish the run.
Eliminate the Big Play
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Perhaps the greatest success the Pats had against the Texans in December was shutting down Arian Foster who managed just 46 yards on 15 carries. Second to that, was the elimination of the big play from Andre Johnson.
While Pats probably won't shut down Foster to the same degree again, they can still keep both Johnson and Foster from torching the defense. And this will be imperative as the elimination of the big play will keep the Texans from gaining hope or seizing momentum at any point in the game.
By putting Aqib Talib on Johnson---as they did in December with safety help over the top---the Pats should be able to again hold him to no plays over 25 yards.
For Foster, the Pats need to play disciplined, gap-responsibility football---especially by containing the edge. If the Pats can do this and not miss many tackles, then they will contain Foster just like in December.
Protect Tom Brady
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This one is so obvious, but it's also necessary. In order for the Patriots to score on the Texans defense, Brady needs to stay on his feet, at least long enough to complete passes.
Last game against the Texans, Brady took just one sack amongst six hits. J.J. Watt hit Brady three times, yet never could sack him. This shows that the offensive line doesn't need to perfect, just good enough to get the job done.
It would be far-fetched to think that the Patriots offensive line could keep the likes of Watt out of Brady's face all game. What they can do, though, is the same thing they did last game: Keep Watt and the rest of the Texans away from Brady for enough time so that he can pick apart the Texans' secondary.
All Brady needs is a few seconds on every play and the offensive line can, and---in fact---needs to give Brady this time on every play for the Pats to win.
Spread the Wealth on Offense
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If the offensive line can give Brady the time he needs, then Tom Terrific can find just about any receiver open. What he will need to do is utilize all of his receivers to keep the Texans secondary guessing and everyone involved.
With Gronk hopefully healthy, Brady will have all of his favorite targets: Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez.
Occasionally, Brady will lock to one of these targets and force them the ball. Of his 21 completions in December against the Texans, 15 of them were to either Brandon Lloyd or Aaron Hernandez. In the playoffs, Brady will need to find his other targets---Welker and Gronk---just as much.
The Texans defense can take away one receiver if Brady locks into him, but they can't take away four Pro Bowl-caliber receivers.
Blitz, Blitz and Blitz Some More
Brandon Spikes can make a huge impact if the Pats let him loose and send him on blitzes.
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The majority of the success the Patriots defense has had throughout the season has been a direct result of the blitz packages they have employed. Rather than just sitting back and waiting for quarterbacks to pick apart the defense, the Pats have decided to force the issue by sending extra rushers. The results have been fantastic.
Blitzes don't always produce sacks, but they create just enough chaos to force the offense to make mistakes. When the Patriots send blitzes against runs, they have a good chance of stuffing the run in the backfield. And when they send the blitz against the pass, they force sacks, incompletions and turnovers more often than they get burned.
With this in mind, the Pats need to continue to be aggressive on the defensive side as it will help contain Arian Foster and keep Matt Schaub from getting into a rhythm. Aggressiveness and the subsequent chaos are the best weapons this Patriots defense has and the best way to utilize these weapons is to send the heat consistently throughout the game.