The things people do for attention these days...
Arian Foster, if you haven't already heard, is apparently using media as motivation to win on Sunday in the second round of this year's NFL playoffs. Not only is he using this as motivation, he is also advertising it to nearly 350,000 followers on Twitter, by using an excerpt from a column as his avatar.
I have a few thoughts on this.
First, why in the heck does Arian Foster need any additional motivation? Isn't the fact that he's three wins away from the biggest accomplishment of his life enough? Besides, it's not like the Patriots organization itself is responsible for these comments.
Second, if this is something that helps him get ready for Sunday...fine. But, why is he sharing this with all of his fans? Does he not get enough attention as one of the best running backs in arguably the most popular sports league in the world?
I suppose it's possible this is not a motivating factor and Foster is just having some fun, but if that's the case then I must mention the letterman jackets that were worn prior to the 42-14 beating his Texans took from these same Patriots in Week 14. Maybe focus on football instead?
Third, what the heck was columnist Dan Shaughnessy even thinking? What he said in this Boston Globe article, which is what Foster alludes to in his Twitter avatar, is crazy! This is an NFL football team which won its division. I would certainly think that the Houston Texans are capable of turning it on and taking care of business in the playoffs.
Now that I've got that out of my system, let's look at some keys to the game.
Patriots' Keys to the Game
1. If New England can score a touchdown on their first drive of the game, it will go a long way in controlling the outcome of this game. Houston's passing game relies on play action, and if the running game is taken away by securing an early lead, it becomes much harder to sell this type of attack.
2. The Patriots cannot change their game plan at halftime if they get a lead. There's been so many times in the past (Jan. 21, 2007 as an example) where New England jumps out to an early lead, then alters the plan to run the clock out. They can't do this against Houston, as Andre Johnson and a stout defense will make them pay dearly.
3. Much like what was done to Marshall Faulk more than 10 years ago against "The Greatest Show on Turf" in Super Bowl XXXVI, New England needs to focus all of its attention on Arian Foster. Hit that man early on every single play, and you've removed Houston's most effective weapon. Game over.
Texans' Keys to the Game
1. Houston needs to pay very, very close attention to the screen play. Recently, Tom Brady has been throwing a multitude of short passes to WRs and RBs alike. He gets these throws out quickly, so an aggressive jump on the ball here and there could result in some defensive TDs for the Texans.
Who will advance to the AFC Championship Game?
2. Matt Schaub needs to be confident. He should come out throwing and use the passing game to set up the running game. Everyone is expecting the opposite to happen, so this could result in some quick offensive production—swinging momentum and field position into Houston's favor.
3. Slow down the hurry-up offense of New England. Houston's timeouts will be extremely valuable in this game, and not a single one should be wasted. Any time the Texans feel out of rhythm defensively due to Brady's hurry-up attack, they should call for time and regroup. Houston may not be able to save its timeouts for use on the last drive in this one, but if it uses them effectively it won't need to.
Personally, I have a feeling this game will be much, much closer than what we saw in Week 14. My prediction is that New England pulls away in the fourth quarter, taking a 35-24 victory with them to the AFC Championship Game.
What I'm sure of, is that this weekend cannot possibly come soon enough.