The Texans and Patriots meet for the second time this time in a loser leaves town playoff game. In the first meeting things went poorly. Ok they went awful. A 42-14 beat down in prime time put the Patriots in position to get homefield and the Texans in a tailspin. Last week's win over the Bengals didn't exactly stirr confidence in the Texans' ability to pull things together, but a win is a win in the playoffs and you take them however you get them.
The Texans now travel to Foxboro, the home of Pawtucket Patriots, chowder, Bill Simmons, Steve Grogan, and of course Dear Leader Bill Belichik. Bill is some kind of wizard or troll, perhaps a dragon. Not a moat. He became a great coach when Tom Brady became a great quarterback...weird. Jim Caldwell went to a superbowl with Payton Manning and went 2-14 with Matt Painter et al...weird. Belichik's coaching tree has been pruned significantly in the past few years and he's had more big losses in the playoffs than big wins recently. That being said, Tom Brady has been excellent this season, so I guess Belichik's been phenominal. This game got even bigger with the Broncos' loss as the winner now gets a home AFC title game. So what are the keys to tomorrow's matchup...
Bash Brady. Tom
Brady doesn't like defenses that invade his personal space. He gets all
pouty and stuff. This plays right into the hands of the Texans who have a
dominate front seven. (I should say front 6, I watched Brady James the last two years with the Cowboys) This is a non-negotiable as the Texans' secondary
covers like a used kleenex. Get in Brady's face, bat down passes and
force the Patriots to move him and adjust the pocket. Tommy likes his
pocket like he likes his Uggs: clean. Move the pocket and you
disrupt his timing and you stand a chance. Give him time and he'll pick the Texans' secondary apart.
Play Ahead. The
Texans' offense is based on the threat of a two pronged attack. The
Texans run to set up the pass and use playaction. They use the threat of
playaction to gash with the run. The threat of both has to be in the defender's mind in
order for the Texans' offense to run optimally. To do that you have to
play from ahead. This also vitally important on the
road. The Patriots boast the best offense in the league but one of the
worst defenses in the league. There are plays to be made
against the Pats and points to be scored. Houston has to get out early so its offense can be fully effective.
Win the Matchups.
The Texans struggled in the first game against the Pats because all to
often they found themselves in awful matchups. Aaron Hernandez against
linebackers. Safeties on slots. On offense, the human fire hydrant Vince
Wilfork was Godzilla running through the Texans' Tokyo. He manhandled
the interior of the Texans' line. This can't be the case if the Texans want to
survive to fight another day. The NFL is a matchup league. You try to
put your best against their weakest. If you win the matchups, you win
the game. Oh and don't turn the ball over. There's that. The Texans have to limit Brady's favorite targets: his tight ends and Wes Welker. On offense the Texans' guards and center have to play better against Big Vince. They certainly can't play worse.
Marbles Gary, Marbles. We're talking about playoffs people. This isn't show friends, it's show business. You're on the road. You lost by 28 to this team a few weeks ago. If you win, you're a game away from the Super Bowl, at your place, against a team you beat a few weeks ago. The Texans have to come out fast and furious and put the Patriots on their back foot. As Mike Lombardi says, you have to play Canadian Football League style (I'll assume minus the sanctioned illegal procedure), i.e. two downs to get a first down, stay away from third and medium to long, and steal a possession. Steal a possession by aggressive fourth down calls, special teams plays, and turnovers. Do that and you have a chance. Don't and you rely on the Pats to make breaks for you. Don't count on it.
The Texans spent the majority of the season looking like an elite team in the NFL. They stumbled down the stretch but still here they are: a game from a home AFC title matchup. Houston is still on schedule, they just have to take down an elite team and quarterback on the road. They can take solace in knowing Baltimore did just that on Saturday night.