J.J. Watt will inevitably be the Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year when the votes are counted. But the Texans defensive lineman won't necessarily be the most impactful defensive lineman on the field Sunday when the Patriots and Texans get together again.
We pointed out Monday the importance of Vince Wilfork in stopping the Texans' running game.
Down in Houston, Texans coach Gary Kubiak was answering similar questions, including ones about whether the Texans are better off having seen Wilfork once.
He's going to look the same," said Kubiak. "Hes the same player. Hes one heck of a player and hes a load to handle. The thing about him is hes so athletic. We like to cut (block, where an offensive lineman fires out at a defensive lineman's lower body), we like to do those things up front offensively. And he jumped over us a couple of times.
"Theyre built right down the middle with the young linebacker and Wilfork," Kubiak added (one presumes the "young linebacker" is Jerod Mayo but it may be Brandon Spikes). "Theyre built very well right there. Against us they squeeze the ball really good off the edges with their outside players and let him do his work. Us containing him, for a player that plays inside, as many big plays as he makes, causing fumbles, those types of things, Thats the thing that concerns you the most. We cant let him do that.
The Patriots run defense in general has been very good, though statistically aided by the season opener against Tennessee when the Titans ran for just 20 yards. The 49ers ran all over New England for 180 yards but no other team got more than 120 over the final seven games.
Wilfork, says Kubiak, is the key.
"If you sit there and think youre going to run it at him consistently, its very difficult," he acknowledged. "Hes been one of the best players in the league, most dominant players in the league. Theyre very good against the run. I think theyre ranked like sixth or seventh. They have been all year long. The thing that is so difficult, is he plays everywhere. So he doesnt just play one spot. Its not like you go the other way with the ball or try to avoid something. Youre going to have to deal with him all day long. We know the importance of us playing well on the line of scrimmage. It was a key to what we did last week and Im sure it wont be any different this week."
The Texans played a very good front on Saturday when they took on the Bengals and lead back Arian Foster had 140 yards on 32 carries. The Texans defense played a big role in allowing Houston to use Foster so much. It was so stingy against Cincy's offense, the Texans never needed to get away from the running game and play catch-up. That's a dynamic that could change against New England.
And Kubiak acknowledged that as well.
"Missed opportunities they hurt all the time," said Kubiak. "But against these guys theyre a lot worse because of what they do offensively and how good they are. When you get opportunities to go down there and score some points, you better. You better not hurt yourself. Weve got to find ways to do that. Theyre going to make plays and we understand that, but we got to find a way to make quite a few ourselves."