While there will be plenty of players on both sides that will play a huge role in the outcome of the game, none may be as vital to his team’s chances than Texans’ running back Arian Foster.
Foster is coming off another remarkable regular-season performance that saw him lead the league in rushing attempts (351), rushing touchdowns (15) and finish sixth with 1,424 rushing yards. Though his career-low 4.1 yards per carry were disappointing, his durability in the backfield and his ability to stabilize Houston’s offense will be of heightened value in Sunday’s rematch with the Patriots.
These two teams met in New England back in Week 14, with the Patriots on the positive side of a 42-14 blowout.
The efficiency of Tom Brady and Co. proved too much for the Texans to overcome and marked the beginning of Houston’s poor regular-season finish—losing three of their last four games and falling from the AFC’s top spot down to third seed in the season’s final week.
While Houston’s defense shoulders most of the blame for that loss—giving up 27 first downs, 419 total yards and those 42 points—the Texans need to focus on keeping the Patriots offense off the field. Though time of possession was separated by less than two minutes, accepting that Brady will find a way to put points on the board can be mitigated by keeping the ball out of his hands.
Who will win this game?
Not many teams can win a shootout with the Patriots, as proven by their 34.8 points-per-game average this season. While the Texans are certainly respectable on the offensive side of the ball, a more methodical pace would help tip the scales in Houston’s favor.
Though Foster ran the ball only 15 times for just 46 yards and one touchdown in the earlier loss to the Patriots, it is imperative Houston leans on their workhorse on Sunday—even if the huge chunks of yardage just aren’t there.
Matt Schaub is still very green in terms of playoff experience and didn’t necessarily light the world on fire in his postseason debut during last week’s 19-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Houston would do well to alleviate the pressure off its quarterback by continuing to make Foster the focal point on offense.
In three career playoff games, Foster has tallied 83 carries for 425 yards and four touchdowns.
There is an opportunity here for the Texans to be successful on the ground, even against a Patriots defense that finished in the top 10 in rushing yards, yard per carry and touchdowns allowed.
Houston just needs to make that commitment to Foster and the running game.
Follow Jeremy on Twitter @KCPopFlyBoy.