New England running backs Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount vs Houston defensive tackle Vince Wilfork
Despite the loss of J.J. Watt to back surgery in October, the Houston Texans defense has been stout. Ranking 11th in fewest points allowed and first in fewest yards allowed, the Texans have made it tough on opponents to move the ball. At least when playing at home.
On the road the yards pile up and outside of their divisional opponents Indianapolis, Tennessee and Jacksonville, the Texans have not traveled well. Losses on the road to New England (with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback), Minnesota, Denver, Oakland, and Green Bay all featured stronger offenses moving the ball up-and-down the field with ease.
The Patriots’ offense is more balanced and with a balanced rushing attack featuring Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount. Blount carried the load early in the season and Lewis has provided a spark since returning.
Lewis has been effective with a 4.4 yards per rush average. Blount’s first postseason carry will put him at 300 for the season and he has been a red-zone threat with 18 touchdowns. With 1,161 yards, the reduced workload and the bye week last week should have helped get Blount’s tired legs back to strength.
Houston often is in the nickel putting extra emphasis on the front six to control the running game so they can keep all three cornerbacks on the field. That puts extra pressure on nose tackle Vince Wilfork to cover multiple gaps and make plays in the running game.
WIlfork has Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus on the outside setting the edge and will funnel ball-carriers to inside linebackers Benardrick McKinney and Brian Cushing. Up front Wilfork will usually have more pressure on him without Watt to penetrate and make plays.
The rest of the Houston defensive line is weak. Christian Covington and D.J. Reader are solid but unspectacular. They can tie-up interior offensive linemen, but really stopping the run is heavily dependent on Wilfork’s gapping ability and using his strength to re-route the running backs. If Lewis and Blount get past Wilfork to the second-level, it could be a jailbreak running the ball for the Patriots.