Although they haven’t shown it since getting blown out by the New England Patriots in Week 14 on Monday Night Football, the Houston Texans have one of the top ten offenses in the league with a workhorse running back, an insanely talented wide receiver, a solid group of tight ends, an excellent left side of the offensive line (including the center), and a usually steady quarterback in Matt Schaub.
But, unfortunately for the Texans, Schaub has been anything but steady and is coming off of about a handful of poor performances to finish the season. After tearing up the Minnesota Vikings, star running back Arian Foster has also run into some problems lately and the Texans have managed just 81 and 80 yards in their last two games respectively.
Below are my three keys to the game for the New England Patriots defense in their goal to stifle the Texans offense once again.
1. Shut down Foster
To be honest, it’s not that hard to do. Arian Foster’s yards per carry average in losses is significantly worse than in victories, and the Texans love establishing the run with him. He had 351 carries in the regular season, and that sheer amount of carries for an offense keeps the defense off balance and allows the quarterback to excel; provided Foster is generating enough yards per carry. His YPC is actually a fairly mediocre 4.0, but that average regresses once you get more carries in a season. Even so, he hasn’t been as consistent as advertised with a SR% under 40% and an EPA well into the negatives (-25.8).
Those numbers don’t do Foster justice, but the 1,500+ yards pad his stats. While Foster isn’t an elite running back, he is certainly a viable star in this league and one of the keys to this offense. The Patriots vaunted run defense shut him down in their last meeting, and that put more pressure on Schaub. As we have seen over these last few weeks, that doesn’t bode well for the Texans offense, especially with the slump Schaub has put together. He’s usually a top ten quarterback, but he hasn’t even looked like a top 20 signal-caller since that beating against the Pats. Forcing the Texans to scrap the run early will help in that cause.
Also, getting quick points on the board is a way the offense can help play defense by forcing Schaub and the Texans to go deep and rack up points. The Texans are awful at this and are more of a possession-based offense (as evidenced by the number of carries they give to Foster) with the receiving core they have.
2. Take advantage of the right side
Attacking the right side of the Texans offensive line is the right way to go for the New England Patriots pass rush, and the Pats have plenty of depth there to get to Schaub early and often. That will also play a role in frustrating Schaub and forcing him to another awful day. The left side of the Texans offensive line is worthy of incredible praise, and Chris Myers also deserves plenty of rave reviews from the center spot. But the right side of the line is just pitiful after the losses of Eric Winston and Mike Brisiel to AFC West teams.
The Pats have Rob Ninkovich to take advantage of those guys by getting quick pressure when he can, and the Pats have plenty of pass rushing depth with Jermaine Cunningham and emerging threats Trevor Scott (well, he emerged a while ago) and Justin Francis. Also, watch for some delayed blitzes from Dont’a Hightower and even nickel blitzes from Kyle Arrington.
3. Owen Daniels approach: Keep it going
Owen Daniels is clearly the second best option in the Houston Texans passing attack, and I definitely mean that in a good way since Andre Johnson is the obvious No. 1. Daniels is one of the best pure pass-catching TEs in the league with 71 receptions this season including last week’s playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Patriots usually struggle against tight ends, but they held Daniels to just two receptions for just 24 yards. If they superglue-cover him once again, then the Texans will have a very tough time winning this one. They need to be able to put up points in a hurry to keep up with the Patriots offense, and that’s not going to happen if their second-best option is stifled like that.
Tavon Wilson played a solid role in dime situations with 17 snaps, and he is their best safety/linebacker in coverage against tight ends. I saw him play well in the preseason and during the first-half of the year (before the Devin McCourty switch) in that role, and he did a nice job on Daniels and overall in the Texans-Patriots game on MNF. The Pats need to take the same approach and keep doing what they did to shut down Daniels last time out, and I am a notorious Wilson-lover. So if that’s what it takes, then play the guy by all means.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.