THE TEXANS RUSHING ATTACK:
Nov 24, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans running back Dennis Johnson (28) breaks a tackle by Jacksonville Jaguars defensive back Winston Guy (22) during the first half at Reliant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports
After watching the Denver Broncos offense repeatedly gash the Patriots defense in the running game last Sunday night, the Texans have got to be licking their lips in anticipation of pounding the ball and setting up play-action for quarterback Case Keenum. The Texans rushing attack has long keyed the offense, but this season injuries to pro bowl running back Arian Foster and his backup, Ben Tate, have slowed the Texans rushing attack.
Last week against Jacksonville, the Texans got a lift from fourth-string running back Dennis Johnson. After Ben Tate continued to struggle (seven carries for one yard) Johnson, an undrafted free agent, sparked the offense both running and receiving. In only his fourth NFL game, Johnson carried thirteen times for 74 yards. Add in two receptions, and the Texans suddenly had the rushing game they were missing all season long.
Whether Tate bounces back or Johnson has another big performance remains to be seen; however, the Texans offensive line has always been strong in the running game and should be able to continue their success against the Patriots weak middle of the defense. Although New England will not be sitting in the nickel and dime defense the entire game like they did against the Broncos, they still have Chris Jones and Joe Vellano getting pushed around in the middle of the defense.
Without defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly (who was their best defensive tackle early in the season before he got hurt), and linebacker Jerod Mayo in the middle of the defense, opposing teams are going to be able to run the ball up the middle of the Patriots defense. With defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga also having been benched in the second half of the Denver game, one has to wonder if he and Dont’a Hightower were dinged up or simply benched due to poor performance stopping the run.
THE PATRIOTS INJURED SECONDARY:
Dec 16, 2012; Foxboro, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (37) is tended to by the training staff for an injury during the second quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
If the Texans are able to establish the running game against New England’s defense early, impressive young quarterback Case Keenum is going to be in position to make plays in the play-action passing game. With the New England secondary depleted by injury, they may find that the Texans will throw the ball more than Denver did in the cold and 20+ mile per hour winds last Sunday night.
With cornerback Alfonzo Dennard already ruled out for the Patriots and safety Steve Gregory likely out as well, the Texans may be able to get favorable match-ups in the passing game. Cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington are both limited due to injury. With backup Marquice Cole also limited all week due to injury, the secondary is very thin. Rookies Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon were forced into extensive action last week and will likely be called upon to play a major role again.
The thought of the Texans going on long, sustained drives running the ball against the weak run stoppers and with passes to the tight end Garrett Graham and running backs while occasionally taking a shot downfield against the depleted secondary with wide receiver Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins. Doing this on offense while slowing the Patriots passing offense with the pass rush is not far-fetched. The Patriots will have to be showing up in Houston ready to play this afternoon or else the game could be much closer and not the blowout many anticipate.