The Houston Texans prepare to travel to Gillette Stadium and face The New England Patriots in a huge playoff preview on Monday Night Football. The Patriots are happy to have this game at home, in what could be the tiebreaker for home field advantage. The Texans are the one of the leagues best road teams, and will not be intimidated against Tom Brady or the bad weather. A win for Houston would give them a 2 game lead with 3 games left in the season.
Arian Foster vs. The Front Seven
The Texans offense focuses on a power running game lead by Arian Foster. Foster leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns, and is 5th in yardage, trailing Adrian Peterson by 344 yards. Foster is only 36 yards behind Marshawn Lynch for 2nd, and facing 29th ranked Patriots rushing defense he will be looking for a big day. Foster is a bigger back with a violent running style and great speed, all traits that should help if this is a rainy game in Foxboro. Houston runs more out of two tight end sets than anyone in the league, using it to both pound the power run, and work down the field to their tight ends on play action.
Smart play will be essential for Patriots’ tackle leaders Brandon Spikes (85) and Jerod Mayo (118), and largely they and Vince Wilfork will decide the match against Foster. Wilfork demands a double team in the middle, and allows Spikes and Mayo to freely read the play and attack.
Offensive vs. Defensive lines
To surround the veteran Wilfork the Patriots display a list of young talent that includes Rob Nincovich, who is tied for the team lead in sacks (6), and Chandler Jones, who is returning off a three week ankle injury. The return of Chandler Jones allows this defensive front to return to its natural form. Rob Nincovich had been filing in admirable at right end, but Jones return allows him to return to the left side.
The match is better on the right side, as right tackle Derek Newton is inactive. Backup Ryan Harris has performed well, and the rest of Houston’s offensive line has been powerful in the run and extremely solid against all forms of pass rush. The Texans are tied for fewest sacks allowed, and the amazing offensive line has led to Foster’s success and the Texans 6th ranked rushing attack. J.J. Watts and the defensive line will write the story for this game, as Brady’s only weakness is a strong pass rush and large defensive lineman occupying passing lanes.
Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson vs. The Secondary
Andre Johnson’s slump came to an explosive end after having 1 catch for 15 yards at the New York Jets week 5. Since then Johnson has 57 catches for 831 yards in 7 games. Johnson is now 5th in the league in receiving yards with 1,114, his 6th 1000-yard receiving season. Johnson is the wildcard in this game, his ability to break the game open in one play is unique, and his sure hands will be essential in the rain.
The Patriots secondary functions in a lot of zone, and both cornerbacks Aquib Talib and Alfonzo Denard are challenged with limiting Johnson’s effect. Safeties Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory have bright spots and bad ones, combining for 5 interceptions and 3 forced fumbles, while getting beat badly at times for big yardage. Mccourty is more of the in the box type of player, and his role may be another critical match up. McCourty will be defending the Texans hybrid fullback/tight end James Casey and tight ends Owen Daniels and Garret Graham, who have combined to accumulate an amazing 89 catches for 961 yards and 8 touchdowns this season. Matt Schaub has had equal success throwing to his tight ends as he has throwing to Andre Johnson this season. On a rainy Monday night in Foxboro, The Texans will try attempt to do what they do well, run Arian Foster and work Andre Johnson deep on play action.