Texans-Patriots, The Rematch: Top 5 Ways for This Outcome to Be Different
We know, we know. The last time these two teams met, the Patriots slaughtered the Texans along the same lines of what Alabama did to Notre Dame earlier this week.
That doesn't mean it will automatically happen again. Even in New England.
Want evidence? It doesn't take going back very far. In December 2010, the Patriots blasted the Jets, 45-3, on Monday Night Football. Sound familiar?
Barely over a month later, the Jets cruised past those same Patriots at Gillette Stadium in the divisional round of the playoffs, posting a 28-21 win that wasn't even as close as that score indicates (Tom Brady added a largely cosmetic touchdown with 24 seconds left).
The biggest factor in turning the tide for New York was a remarkably improved performance at quarterback. After Mark Sanchez threw no touchdowns and three interceptions (27.8 rating) in December, he turned it around with a brilliant game in January, tossing three touchdowns without turning it over once (127.3 rating).
Two years later, a similar turnaround from quarterback Matt Schaub would provide an immense boost to Texan hopes. Here's a look at the top five things the Texans must change in order to flip the script.
5. Catches from receivers besides Andre Johnson
Schaub wasn't at his best in the prior game, but he also didn't have much help. On the opening series, Lestar Jean dropped a third-down pass that hit him directly in the hands -- one that would've been good for 20+ yards and a first down in New England territory. In the second quarter, Kevin Walter whiffed on a routine fourth-down catch that would've extended the drive and placed Houston, at a minimum, in field-goal range. Tight end Garrett Graham didn't play at all due to a concussion.
Outside of Johnson, no Houston receiver or tight end had more than two catches or 31 yards. That's not good enough to score the points necessary to beat a Brady-led team in Foxboro. The good news is that the Texans had their most diverse receiving breakdown in weeks during the Wild Card win over Cincinnati. Owen Daniels caught a team-high nine passes for 91 yards. Graham appeared healthy and caught three passes for 29 yards. Walter added four catches of his own -- his highest single-game total since mid-November.
Continuing that level of success is essential in New England to keep Bill Belichick's defense honest, thereby making them respect the entire field.
4. Pressure from the front four
Teams that give the New England offense problems usually do so because they're able to pressure Brady without blitzing. Think back to the Giants and their fearsome defensive lines in both of their Super Bowl wins against the Patriots.
Brady averages a mere 3.03 seconds before pass on his dropbacks, representing the quickest delivery in the NFL. That means that most blitzes won't even have time to get there, and only leave the secondary even more vulnerable on the back end. For the year, Brady has 20 touchdowns and 0 interceptions -- by far the best ratio in the NFL -- against five or more rushers. In the earlier matchup with the Texans, Brady went 13-of-19 for 148 yards and three touchdowns against extra rushers.
Historically, Wade Phillips defenses do blitz a lot. But he's capable of making adjustments. In that first game, the Texans took the Patriots out of rhythm in the middle of the game by forcing four consecutive punts, including three 3-and-outs. The biggest individual key was J.J. Watt. Even though Watt didn't record a sack, he hit Brady three times and forced several other hurried throws. If Watt along with Antonio Smith, Earl Mitchell and Connor Barwin can get that sort of pressure without help from blitzing safeties, that's the best chance the Texans have to stymie New England drives.