The Houston Texans are now playing the best season of franchise history after getting their 11th win against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. The Texans clinched a playoff berth for the second year in a row as well, though because of the success of the Indianapolis Colts aren’t yet able to say they’ve clinched their division as the Patriots have. Even with the Patriots having their division won they are still looking to guarantee they have at least a share of the home field advantage in the playoffs by securing 1 of the top 2 records in the AFC before the season ends. With the Texans sitting at 11-1 atop the AFC the 9-3 Patriots know that winning this game is a big deal and could determine a lot this postseason. The Texans know this as well and will be looking to win their 7th straight game and stay a undefeated on the road this season as they now sit at 6-0 on the season.
On Offense the key to the Texans winning this game will be the ability to establish the run early plain and simple. The Texans lead the league in time of possession and will have to keep Tom Brady and the explosive Patriots offense off the field as much as possible. Foster is coming off a not so good performance against the Titans last week with 14 carries and 38 yards. As I’ve written before the Foster usually always has bounce back performances and should come up big for the Texans. The Patriots allow 100 yards a game rushing and a average carry of 3.9 yards. Foster’s average rush is 3.9 yards so with enough carries he should be affective against the classic bend but don’t break Belichik coached defense. If the Texans are able to get the run going the Patriots will have to load the box and count on a young inexperienced secondary to stop Matt Schaub and the weapons at his disposal. In most previews I’d say the play action will be vital but, I think Belichik will if anything prepare his linebackers for the zone runs and keeping an eye on where QB Matt Schaub is on the bootleg attempt be the offense. I think Schaub will be more effective when he’s running play action passes out of sets when the Texans spread the field. When the Texans played the Patriots last in 2009 the offense was the same we run now. They racked up 439 yards, 144 of those were rushing, Arian Foster had 119 and 2 TD’s, and the Texans had the ball for 31:34 of that game on the way to a 37-24 win.
The Texans defense has its work cut out for it this week facing the NFL’s #1 ranked offense in yards per game as well as scoring. Unlike past seasons the Patriots have a running game and are without all pro TE Rob Gronkowski. And though this is good news for the Texans as they gameplan to stop Tom Brady and that offense, the Texans defense is very beat up. CB Jonathan Joseph was out the last 2 games and Alan Ball sat out last week against the Titans. The Texans are now starting rookie OLB Whitney Mercilus in place of Brooks Reed, Kareem Jackson in place of Jonathan Joseph, and 2nd year player Brandon Harris for CB Brice McCain. With all the shuffling the Texans defense didn’t miss a beat forcing 6 turnovers against the Titans last week and only allowing them to score 10 points. The defense won’t be playing a 2nd year QB in his first year starting on Monday night though, they’ll be one of the best in the game in Tom Brady. To slow Brady the Texans will have to neutralize the run early and force the Patriots to pass the ball. If the Texans can get the Patriots in that position they’ll be in good shape. When the Patriots have to line up and pass for long 3rd downs they’re less dangerous. It takes the slip screens and play actions out of the playbook and that really helps against the Patriots. Without those being serious threats you can send your 3-4 pass rushers freely without worrying about being beat by the quick throws. I’m sure this will be a huge part of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips plan for this weeks game.