After this past weekend’s Wild Card round, the Patriots now know they will be facing the Houston Texans in a week three rematch from the regular season. In their first match-up, the Patriots were able to not only beat Houston but also shut them out with rookie third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett at the helm, 27-0. The Texans are coming off a 27-14 victory over the Raiders without starting quarterback Derek Carr. They will now travel to Gillette Stadium as 16 point underdogs, according to Sportsbook.ag.
But while the Texans will face an uphill battle facing off against Tom Brady and the Patriots, they are not a team to necessarily take lightly. With that, here are five keys for the Patriots in their up-coming meeting against the Texans:
- Contain Jadeveon Clowney – While Clowney did not necessarily rack up a large amount of stats, he had quite the game against the Raiders. Clowney had an interception, four quarterback hurries and two pass deflections. He was also a key cog on run defense, harassing running backs in the back-field while doing a heck of a job sealing the edge against a Raiders offense without their starting left tackle in Donald Penn. Menelik Watson, the team’s starting right tackle, shifted over to replace Penn on the blindside and had a hard time containing Clowney. On a lot of plays, especially early on in the game, Clowney was able to beat Watson in one-on-one match-ups while using his height to throw off rookie Connor Cook on his throws towards him.
- Clowney will have a tougher test this time around going up against Nate Solder. The problem still for the Patriots is Clowney’s ability to have an impact across the defensive line. We saw on some plays against the Raiders, Clowney was lined up at left defensive end and even more inside on occasion as well. Even without All-Pro J.J. Watt playing, the Houston defense has been tenacious all season along their front seven, thanks in no small part to Clowney. If the Patriots can find ways to keep Clowney out of the back-field and avoid his height advantage on passing plays, it’ll be a much easier day for New England.
- Establish the run game early and often – While New England doesn’t necessarily have nearly the quarterback problem the Raiders had with rookie third-string quarterback Connor Cook, the Patriots will need more than Tom Brady’s arm to win this game. Oakland came into this game averaging 120 yards rushing per game and having scored 17 rushing touchdowns (tied for sixth in the NFL) during the regular season. Going up against one of the best offensive lines in football (even without Penn), the Texans did a great job at limiting the Raiders effectiveness on the ground. As a team, the Raiders only managed 64 yards on 21 attempts (3.0 yards per carry) and a touchdown against Houston. That includes lead back Latavius Murray only managing 39 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.
- The Patriots come into this game having averaged 117 yards rushing per game (seventh in the NFL) and 17 rushing touchdowns and 19 rushing touchdowns (fifth in the NFL) during the regular season. Led by LeGarrette Blount, the Patriots have had a dominant season running the ball. And when these teams faced each other in the regular season, Blount had 105 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 24 carries. Succeeding at what the Raiders could on the ground will be important for New England as they go up against a Houston defense that performed extremely well against the run. Obviously Brady will be involved and throwing the ball often, but making sure that a well-oiled run game is in place will be important to keep the Texans defense on their toes. As Houston succeeded in clogging up run lanes and sealing the edge often, the Patriots will need to make sure they do a better job blocking in the run game for Blount and their core of running backs.
- Limiting Lamar Miller’s effectiveness – One of, if not the best, offensive weapons that the Texans have is running back Lamar Miller. In his first season with Houston, Lamar Miller totaled over 1,250 yards from scrimmage and six total touchdowns in 14 games. That includes 211 total yards and two rushing touchdowns over his final two regular season games. But one area where the Raiders were successful was keeping Miller contained despite having 31 rushing attempts. Miller would only accumulate 74 yards and a touchdown despite a large amount of carries. Not to mention, the Texans ran the ball heavily throughout the game as quarterback Brock Osweiler only attempted 25 passes, or six less passes than Miller’s amount of carries.
- Because of Osweiler’s limitations as a quarterback, including poor decision-making and inadequate pocket presence for example, the Texans key to success will be to limit their need to pass the pass and try to run it as much as possible. And after seeing 30+ carries over this past weekend, it’s clear that Miller will function as the team’s lead back and handle most of run work for the Texans. Game-planning around Miller and the Houston run offense in general will force them to throw the ball more, which has led to often disastrous results this season. Keeping Miller at bay will certainly make it much harder for the Texans to succeed on offense in this game.
- Keeping A.J. Bouye out of the picture – Bouye, who has emerged as one of the NFL’s best outside cornerbacks this season, has been a key member for the Texans in their secondary. Because of his break-out this season, he has often been tasked with (and successfully contained) defending number one wide receivers. Against the Raiders, we saw Bouye matched up a good amount against Michael Crabtree. Ultimately, Crabtree finished with only two receptions and 33 yards on seven targets. In the end, Bouye seemed to have a big effect on the Raiders offense as they only had 161 passing yards in the entire game.
- With Chris Hogan functioning as the team’s number one outside receiver when Julian Edelman works in the slot, we could see a lot of Bouye versus Hogan this weekend. And with Hogan’s big play ability (his 17.9 yards per reception was tied for first in the NFL in the regular season), he will be someone that’ll need constant monitoring. With that, the Patriots could look to use emerging rookie wide-out Malcolm Mitchell and Michael Floyd (a player who has seen his role increase each week since joining the team) more in the passing game. The less the Patriots have to deal with one of the best cornerbacks in the league, the better.
- Protect Tom Brady – While this should go without saying, the Patriots will need to make sure they protect their franchise quarterback against a troublesome Texans front seven. Houston was able to sack Cook three times this past weekend while also pressuring him into completing only 18 of his 45 passing attempts for a paltry 40% completion percentage. And while Jacoby Brissett only attempted 19 passes in their week three match-up, it is a given that the Patriots will utilize the pass game more than they did in the previous game against Houston.
- The Patriots offensive line has been mightily impressive this season, allowing 15 sacks on Brady in his 12 games this season and 24 total sacks in the 16 game season. But with Brady coming off a thigh injury that has hampered at times during the second half of the season, it’s possible that Brady could deal with some pocket mobility issues against a rather fast Texans defense. Going up against one of the best defenses in the NFL, Brady will need as much time as possible to dissect yet another team’s defense.