Losing 42-14 during Week 14's primetime meeting, the Pats went up 28-0 on Houston and put the game away before the third quarter had ended.
Offensively, Arian Foster managed just 46 rushing yards and Matt Schaub completed less than 60 percent of his throws. He also tossed an early interception that really propelled New England's momentum.
Defensively, J.J. Watt and Co. hardly got any pressure on Brady and the Pats went 50 percent on third down. For Houston to pull the postseason upset, getting off the field on third down is imperative.
In order to decipher how the Texans can make victory a reality, let's look back at the regular season matchup. Houston is certainly capable, but avoid and eliminate repeats of previous miscues Sunday.
Note: All screen-caps are courtesy of NFL.com's Game Rewind.
Offense Needs to Convert Third Down
In 2012's first meeting, Houston went a dismal 4-of-14 on third down.
Given the high-powered attack that resides in New England's offense, Matt Schaub and coach Gary Kubiak didn't assist their defense. This is the down in which teams beat Bill Belichick and Brady, because it prevents the Pats from controlling the game tempo.
Just as we saw during the first AFC Divisional Round matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos, converting on third down was huge for Joe Flacco. Schaub must echo those results in moving the chains against New England.
On this play Houston faces a 3rd-and-4 immediately after New England went up 21-0. Despite the game in the Pats' favor at this point, a touchdown drive here and one defensive stop quickly shifts the momentum.
Along with coming out in a bunch formation, Foster motions from the backfield to out wide.
After taking the snap, New England gives a Cover 2 look with a simple pass rush. Schaub, though, gets a little too impatient and makes a quick pass to Lestar Jean. The linebacker makes a fast reaction and the pass falls incomplete.
Notice the distance from the safety to tight end Owen Daniels. Had Schaub been a tad more patient, he would have taken advantage of a wide throwing lane to his left and connected with Daniels to move the chains.
From behind the offense, New England decides not to even go with a complex rush from its front four.
The result is a truck-wide window of opportunity for Schaub to step into. Even if he wanted to take off running, this lane is wide enough for him to get the first via the ground. Again, the linebacker blankets Jean underneath while Daniels is quite open and moving away from the safety.
Schaub just needs to display a bit more patience in these types of down-and-distances. Had that occurred here and the Texans would have moved the chains.
Defense Must Step Up in Sudden Change Situations
Third down is the theme here, but Wade Phillips' defense has to stifle New England should a turnover occur.
The sudden change in situation refers to the defense being forced to immediately get back on the field. How it responds when facing a dire situation can determine the immediate complexion of the game.
Early on Schaub threw a pick on Houston's ensuing possession after a New England touchdown. Houston, only down 7-0, at this point, had the Pats on 3rd-and-10, but Brady converted and threw a touchdown pass three plays later.
Provided Watt and Houston's defense get Schaub the ball back, New England doesn't gain a significant competitive advantage so quickly. Let's check out the game-altering third down.
Not only are the Texans blitzing, but man coverage is being played behind. So, Brady will have a bit less time to make his throw. He must still, however, display patience and make the right decision at the last possible moment.
Also notice the bottom cornerback's body position. He's standing too tall and it costs him as the play develops.
Although he has a Cover 1 safety for inside help, he's slightly too far to the outside. Factor in the body position and his momentum is being carried more downfield. As a result, trying to quickly change directions to keep on receiver Brandon Lloyd, who can go either direction, greatly increases in difficulty.
Not to mention Brady sitting patiently in the pocket.
As Lloyd makes in outward break on the route there's a distinct separation between he and the cornerback. Upon Lloyd's break, the defender must literally turn all the way around to maintain coverage.
This is what happens when a man-cover player doesn't begin the snap with a low-center of gravity. Otherwise he remains in solid position to make a play on the pass. Lloyd then makes the catch and the third down is converted.
From behind New England's offense, we see one disparity between Brady and Schaub. He stands in the pocket for as long as possible. As you can see, the defender boxed in blue nearly gets a hit prior to the pass.
Additionally, Brady fires the rock in a much smaller window and when in the face of a blitz. It's no wonder he has quarterbacked in five Super Bowls.
What's the biggest key to a Houston victory?
It's difficult enough to play against Brady, Belichick and the Pats.
It's even tougher to defeat them, especially on the road with a trip to the AFC Championship Game at stake. Houston certainly got worked in Week 14's showdown, but the Texans weren't extensively outmatched.
New England simply capitalized early on and put Houston on its heels. The Texans were forced to play catch up and that approach never succeeds vs. an experienced quarterback and head coach.
During Sunday's playoff contest, Houston cannot get behind early so fast. Third down is definitely crucial, however, the offense just needs stronger ball control and the defense has to pressure Brady.
Should the Texans keep it close the opportunity of an upset will present itself. Failing to match Brady or keep him off the field will duplicate the previous results of their losing effort.
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