The New England Patriots welcome The Houston Texans to a rainstorm in Gillette Stadium on Monday Night Football. This match of the top two teams in the AFC is a possible preview of the AFC Championship. On Monday, the fate of home field advantage through the playoffs could be decided. The Patriots trail the Texans for home field advantage in the playoffs, and a win would put them closer to taking that advantage, and having this contest at home has to be comforting, despite the 80% chance of rain and high wind on Monday night.
Tom Brady and Weapons vs. The Secondary
Monday night Tom Brady faces a Texans secondary that may be the only weakness on an otherwise superb Houston defense. Ranked 19th in the NFL in yards allowed, the Texans passing defense has allowed 20 receiving touchdowns this season. Comparatively, Houston has allowed only 2 rushing touchdowns, mostly because of their stout run defense, and teams have been forced to pass while trailing the Texans. Houston’s secondary is banged up, Alan Ball is questionable, but the return of Jonathan Joseph comes just in time. The Texans will play look to win individual match-ups against the Patriots wounded receivers.
Wes Welker has been extremely productive despite fighting injuries on a weekly basis, and is on the cusp of breaking 100 receptions for the 5th time. Aaron Hernandez made a huge comeback last week, and will look to continue his success. Brandon Lloyd has been unproductive lately, but with Hernandez and Welker being slot type players, Lloyd will need to have success on the outside to spread out Houston’s secondary. The weather is not in Brady’s favor, as throwing and catching may be difficult in a rainstorm, but if Brady can spread out Houston’s defense and abuse a suspect secondary, it will lend well to New England’s success.
Offensive vs. Defensive Lines
J.J. Watt is on his way to a defensive player of the year award and MVP consideration. Watt’s impact on the Texans defense goes far beyond his stat line of 83 tackles, 28 for a loss, 32 quarterback hits, 16.5 sacks, a forced fumble and 2 recoveries, and an amazing 15 passes defended from the defensive line. Watt is the disruptor, but in the absence of any other legitimate pass rusher, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has schemed 10 other players to a sack this year. Capitalizing on the pressure Watt creates has lead to success for many other Houston defenders.
New England’s offensive line has held together amazingly, despite having multiple injuries. Having allowed only 19 sacks, they are tied for 4th in the league. Much of this can be attributed to Tom Brady and his amazing decision making and quick release. Logan Manikins is questionable, but expected to play. Mankins' effectiveness against Watt will be tested early, and if Watt and the rest of the Texans defenders can get Brady seeing tree trunks in his way, it will add to Houston’s chances for success.
Seven Ridley vs. The Front Seven
Part of Brady’s MVP level success this year is the resurgence of a New England rushing attack, lead by Stevan Ridley. Ridley and opposing running back Arian Foster have comparable numbers this year, Ridley has 92 less yards and 4 less touchdowns, but has received 58 fewer carries than Foster. Ridley will try to find room facing the Texans 2nd ranked rushing defense.
Houston linebacker Brooks Reed will be out until the playoffs, but Houston will get Bradie James back, and his leadership will help an already stout run defense. Rookie linebacker Whitney Mercilus had 2 sacks last week in his first start. Watt is great against the run as well, and the Texans safeties Glover Quinn and Daniel Manning are good run defenders, and very active in the box. Ridley and the running game will help to take pressure off Brady, but The Texans one loss at home against the Packers showed the way to beat Houston is through the air.