The Houston Texans travel to Foxboro again, hoping to avenge their week 14 embarrassment against the New England Patriots. History is on the Texans side, as the team that loses in the regular season has won three of the past five playoff rematches. If not for the Texans loss to the Patriots in week 14, that sent them on a slump, dropping three of the next four, it would be the Texans hosting this game. Last time, the Texans 7th ranked offense failed to produce against the Patriots 25th overall defense. In their previous game, the Patriots got a 21-0 halftime lead, forcing the Texans to throw the ball to catch up. Matt Schaub and Arian Foster are going to need to start fast, control the clock, and slow down The Patriots if they hope to advance to their first AFC Championship.
Matt Schaub vs. Patriots Secondary
Matt Schaub got his first playoff win last week in a close win over a Bengals team that struggled against Arian Foster. Against Cincinnati, the run game and defense took control. To beat New England in Foxboro, Schaub will need to put up points. Andre Johnson had only 4 receptions last week against the Bengals, but was the NFL’s 2nd best receiver this season, managing 112 receptions for 1,598 yards and 4 touchdowns. In their previous match, Johnson and Patriots corner Aquib Talib faced off, resulting in Johnson recording 8 receptions for 95 yards. Johnson, Foster, and the tree tight ends on Houston, are Schaub’s passing weapons. The Texans ran two tight end sets more than any other team in the league, and with versatile fullback/tight end James Casey also catching passes, it give the Texans three large options to throw to out of typical power run sets. The Texans three tight ends, Owen Daniels, Garrett Graham, and Casey have totaled between them 124 receptions for 1,309 yards and 12 touchdowns, surpassing the production of even the Patriots tight ends. With Arian Foster and Kevin Walter both catching 40 passes this season, it gives Schaub six legitimate weapons, that all operate out of power running sets. The Texans like to show power run sets and then work their tight ends deep on play action. Schaub is best when using the play action well, he mixes it up with screens and short passes to Foster, and feeding Johnson. The Texans offense is built on this formula.
Arian Foster vs. Patriots run D
Arian Foster led the league in rushing touchdowns, and generally had another amazing season, rushing for 1,424 yards and 15 touchdowns, and catching 40 passes for 217 yards and 2 more touchdowns. Last week he absolutely went off against the Bengals, rushing 32 times for 140 yards and a touchdown, and adding 8 receptions for 34 yards. If there was any doubt that Foster is the focus of this offense, he eliminated it last week. The Patriots actually have a severely underrated run defense, ranked 9th in yardage, and 6th in average per run. The radical skew between the Patriots pass defense and their run defense is a result of opposing teams abandoning the run, and trying to pass to catch up. Best exampled in the last match between these two teams, down 21-0 at half, the Texans threw the ball the entire second half, resulting in Foster only rushing 15 times for 46 yards. The Patriots Brandon Spikes is one of the leagues best run defending linebackers, but the rookies on the Patriots are a deficiency against the run. Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower have struggled against the run, and with the Texans now having all three of their tight ends back, Houston may look to direct runs to the outside, using tight ends to seal the end against the Patriots young defenders. The Texans need to establish the run early, and keep The Patriots from making them one dimensional, if they are to win this game.
Offensive vs. Defensive Lines
The Houston Texans have a powerful and talented offensive line. Having allowed only 28 sacks, the Texans are 8th in the league, and blocked Arian Foster to almost 1,500 yards. They face a defensive front seven that has veteran leadership in Vince Wilfork, a young and talented pass rusher in Chandler Jones, and a playmaking tackle machine in Jerod Mayo. Jones and Rob Ninkovich are emerging pass rush threats for the Patriots at defensive end, and Texans tackles Duane Brown and Derek Newton will have tough assignments blocking these two. Center Chris Myers facing Vince Wilfork is an interesting match, Myers is giving up 35 pounds against Wilfork, and getting a good push inside may require the Texans to double team the immovable object of Wilfork. The Patriots totaled 37 sacks this season, good for 15th, but did not have a double digit sack producer, relying on the entirety of their front seven to provide a pass rush. This will be a war in the trenches, as the Texans offensive line will step up their physical play, and the Patriots will be concerned about the mix of pass, run, and play action.