With the final contest of the weekend being a rematch of the “Monday Night Massacre” from week 14, the third seeded Houston Texans will travel to New England to face the second seeded Patriots to get another crack at an opponent who completely manhandled them in every facet of the game just one month ago.
Houston Texans (3) @ New England Patriots (2)
Of all of the games this weekend, this one seems to be getting the least amount of attention, mostly because the conventional wisdom around the league is that this isn’t going to be a close contest. To say that is far from accurate might push it just a little bit. Going back to their Monday Night game in early December, that one was over in the first ten minutes. For Houston to have any shot in this ballgame, they have to play as close to perfect as they ever have.
It’s quite difficult to figure this Texans team out sometimes. For the first three quarters of the season, they looked every bit the Super Bowl contender. They were absolutely smashing the lesser teams on both sides of the ball and looked to be cruising to the first top seed in Houston NFL history. Then one week, the defense started to struggle and the offense had to pick up the load. Next thing you know, they’re winning back to back games that became a shoot out. But, regardless of the outcome, most knew something was up.
Unable to keep the pace with the new found struggles of the defense, the Texans ability to put up points dropped off drastically. And when they ran into a hot Patriots team during the final stretch of the season, they got toasted on national television. Again. Even after a playoff victory over Cincinnati this past weekend is under their belts, the offense still seems to be struggling more than it has in three years. And if any team can force you into a shootout, it’s the Patriots.
For New England, it’s just business as usual for Belichick and the boys. Another home playoff game against a team that they’re heavily favored to beat. But perhaps complacency has become the problem in New England. When you really start digging into it, the Patriots haven’t won a Super Bowl in eight seasons and the string of playoff losses in recent history have become haunting. For all of the praise and adoration this franchise gets, they are starting to seem more like the Yankees of the NFL than the 49ers of the 80′s and early 90′s.
For this game, the biggest killer for Houston is that their linebacker play is much lesser than last season. When all pro Brian Cushing tore his ACL and was lost for the season, you knew this would happen. But starting a guy who was cut from the Saints back when their defense was ranked dead last in the league has to be something that has Tom Brady smiling. What the Patriots do over the middle of the field is consistent and nothing short of amazing. And that’s against great linebacker play. Against this, things could get ugly fast for Houston.
To take control of this game and give themselves a shot in the fourth quarter, Houston has to dominate the time of possession. Their defense is playing much better, but at a talent standpoint, there are many guys that Brady can easily abuse. So the Texans need Arain Foster to have his typical playoff performance. He has to run well and the Texans must do a better job at converting third down and getting the ball in the end zone instead of settling for field goals time and time again.
For a team like New England that can score points in bunches, just kicking field goal after field goal like last week will come back to bite you in a big way late if you don’t consistently have red zone success. This all comes back to Matt Schaub, who is struggling the most I have seen since his first year in Houston. The Texans offensive line has to do a better job of keeping Vince Wilfork in check this go around. To completely stop him is wishful thinking, but they’ll have to do a better job at containing him to keep Schaub’s jersey clean.
A lot of people are referencing two years ago when the Patriots took apart the Jets in a 45-3 spanking, only to play them a month later in the postseason and lose. For me, I think that is the exception and not the rule. Houston has been struggling on both sides of the ball for over a month now and even in a wild card win, they didn’t show me those issues have been properly addressed. I see Schaub trying to do too much and making some mistakes as well as the defense being unable to contain the Pats tight end sets. They’ll hang tough for most of the game, but be unable to convert late in the fourth and fall short.
It’s closer than the final score indicates, but they prove they still have a long way to go and they’ll be kicking themselves all Summer for not locking down home field and playing the Ravens at home this weekend while New England and Denver beat each other up.
Patriots 34 Texans 19
Tagged with: AFC, AFC Divisional Playoff, AFC East, AFC South, Arian Foster, Baltimore Ravens, Bill Belichick, Brian Cushing, Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans, Matt Schaub, New England Patriots, New York Jets, Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork