Patriots Cheat Sheet: Week 14, Primetime Rumble With the Texans
The Monday Night Football match up between the 9-3 New England Patriots and the 11-1 Houston Texans is expected to be one of the best games of the regular season for good reason. It will be a battle for supremacy in the AFC as well as for seeding in the postseason, and both teams are approaching the game as a must-win.
Houston’s defense will be one of the best the Patriots have seen all season, particularly their defense against the run. On the other hand, the Patriots offense is the most prolific in the league and will be the best that the Texans have come up against by far. With home-field advantage the Patriots will have the opportunity to start the game with momentum, which they will have to do if they plan to win an all-out battle with the best team in the NFL.
It’s rare that the biggest match up of a game involves a defensive end, but in this game everyone will be watching what J.J. Watt can do against the Patriot offensive line to get at Tom Brady. Watt has 16.5 sacks on the season putting him at second in the NFL behind Aldon Smith of the San Francisco 49ers. The New England offensive line has done a pretty good job this year of getting Brady the time and space he needs, but they are also battling some serious injury issues with their starters right now. Last week against a soft Miami team, the injuries were an easier cover up. Against the prolific production of Watt, it could be an issue.
Aside from Watt though, the Texans defense doesn’t have outstanding tacklers, something that could work to the advantage of guys like Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker who are shifty enough to evade poor tackling. Watt actually leads the team in combined tackles with 60, followed by safety Glover Quin who has 59. In comparison, Jerod Mayo has 116 tackles, Brandon Spikes has 85 and Devin McCourty has 65. The Patriots’ advantage at the linebacker position will be important in combating offensive stars like running back Arian Foster and wide receiver Andre Johnson.
Players to watch
Johnson has battled injury issues over the past couple of years, but this year his health has put him back in as one of the top ten wide receivers in the league with numbers very comparable to Welker’s. The difference between the two though is that Johnson is a bigger, stronger guy that has the ability to catch the longer passes. He only has four touchdowns on the season, but his presence on the field as a target for Matt Schaub will be a nightmare job for the Patriots’ secondary. Their only hope will be that Vince Wilfork and the defensive line can keep Schaub rattled and uneasy enough to impede his passing game and force him to hand the ball off a little more.
The good news for the Patriots is that their rushing defense has been excellent all year, and they will look to continue that against Foster. The bad news is that the Texan’s defense is even better, particularly in the red zone. While the Patriots have allowed eight rushing touchdowns, the Texans have allowed only two. Without go-to end zone target Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots will have to continue to be creative in terms of finding ways to get themselves the touchdown.
Fortunately, and maybe surprisingly, the Pats do have a running back that is on par with Foster. Stevan Ridley has been a breakout star this season, and his production has consistently kept him at the top of the pack in the NFL. Both backs have fumbled just twice, and Ridleys 1,010 yards and nine touchdowns compares nicely to Foster’s 1,102 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Injuries in Week 14
As expected, tight end Rob Gronkowski is out (forearm/hip) for the game.
The long list of players listed as questionable on offense includes TE Aaron Hernandez (ankle), WR Brandon Lloyd (knee) and Wes Welker (ankle), OL Nick McDonald (shoulder), OT Logan Mankins (ankle/calf) and OT Sebastian Vollmer (back/knee).
Listed as questionable on defense are DT Ron Brace (elbow) and Kyle Love (knee), S Patrick Chung (shoulder), G Dan Connolly (back), LB Don’t’a Hightower (hamstring) and Brandon Spikes (knee/ankle) and DE Chandler Jones (ankle).
Checking in with the coach
One of the biggest issues facing the Pats this week is that pressure that Watt will be looking to place on Brady, and Belichick answered questions on that in his media session on Saturday.
He was asked about whether it’s common for the Patriots to call a double team on a guy like Watt or whether there’s something already in place.
“I think it depends on how you have it set up, how that play is set up or how your game plan is set up” said Belichick. “We’ve faced guys before, I’d say guys you have to game plan for – the [Dwight] Freeneys and the Jason Taylors and guys like that – whether they’re inside or outside guys and you just have to decide how you’re going to handle them … You don’t want to be double teaming one guy and letting somebody else come free.”
He also went on to talk about the difficulty of offensive lineman communicating on the fly in situations like that.
“ I’d say it’s more visual communication and you just have to have your rules” he said. “All five guys have to see the same thing. So if one of them sees it differently than the other one, it’s probably going to be a problem. …It’s about all of them seeing it the same way. But the communication of, ‘I’ve got this guy, you take that guy,’ is really, I don’t think there’s a lot of that – it just happens too fast.”