Curran's Patriots-Texans preview
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
Statistically, the Texans don’t look that bad. They are first in the NFL defensively in yards allowed per game and first in passing yards allowed. Inside the numbers, though, are the details. Houston’s had five interceptions returned for touchdowns on their offense. They’ve allowed eight return touchdowns overall. So that’s eight fewer offensive drives. Meanwhile, these are the yards per carry allowed to the lead back since early October – 5.8 (Marshawn Lynch), 4.8 (Frank Gore), 4.4 (Zach Stacy), 4.1 (Jamaal Charles), 8.2 (Donald Brown), 5.0 (Andre Ellington), 6.8 (Rashad Jennings), 6.0 (Maurice Jones-Drew). And when an offense gets in their red zone, they’re allowing touchdowns 65 percent of the time (30th in the NFL). With J.J. Watt and Antonio Smith as the ends in the Wade Phillips 3-4, the Texans have plenty of talent. On the back end, Johnathan Joseph is a decent corner. The Patriots are – at this point – diverse enough offensively to make any defense sweat. One playing as raggedly as the Texans have been, it’s not going to take much to get them on their heels. Look for the Patriots to come out as they have in the past two games since the return of Shane Vereen and feature him as their bailout back. They’ll seek the soft spots in the defense and look for matchups and the best matchups – as the yards per carry shows – are on the ground. If Stevan Ridley remains grounded, Brandon Bolden figures to be the first man in, although LeGarrette Blount hasn’t been that offensive with ball security so he should be in the mix as well. It should be another big game for Tom Brady whose season is – given the circumstances – remarkable.
WHEN THE TEXANS HAVE THE BALL
The Texans running game – so tough to prepare for with Arian Foster when he was playing – is a sputtering mess. Ben Tate, a good back, is dinged up and Dennis Johnson has been the lead back for quarterback Case Keenum. Andre Johnson is still a handful but with few other offensive weapons this year, once he’s taken away, it’s been a Herculean task for the Texans’ offense to get anything going.
THE KICKING GAME
Shane Lechler now punts for Houston and that means Julian Edelman could break one on a return because Lechler just hits it as far as he can every time he punts it. Hence, the 48 yard average with a 40 net and the 12.5 yards per return being allowed. Houston also allows 26.3 yards per kickoff return. Texans kicker Randy Bullock has been a bust. He’s 10 for 19 outside 40 yards. That’s not acceptable in the NFL In 2013. He’s last in the league in FG percentage. Steve Gostkowski is having a Pro Bowl year and the work of Ryan Allen gets more impressive every week.
PATRIOTS SICK BAY
OUT: Marcus Cannon, OT; Aaron Dobson WR; Michael Hoomanawanui TE; QUESTIONABLE: Kyle Arrington CB; Marquice Cole CB; Alfonzo Dennard CB; Steve Gregory S; Rob Gronkowski, TE, Aqib Talib, CB, Chris White, LB; PROBABLE: Danny Amendola WR, Tom Brady, QB; Matt Slater, WR; Brandon Spikes, LB; Shane Vereen, RB.
TEXANS SICK BAY
OUT: Jawanza Starling, S; QUESTIONABLE: Kareem Jackson, CB; Brice McCain, CB; PROBABLE: Mike Mohamed, LB; Shiloh Keo, S; Elbert Mack, CB; Joe Mays, LB: Derek Newton, T; Darryl Sharpton, LB; Wade Smith, C; Jeff Tarpinian, LB; Ben Tate, RB;
GAME WITHIN THE GAME
It’s the obvious question after a pair of high-profile, prime-time games – will the Patriots suffer a letdown? They are suddenly a team considered capable of playing in February. A month ago, they were being derided for the inefficiency on both sides. Will their rapid change of fortunes make their focus fuzzy? Slow starts have been an issue. Giving Houston hope is not a good idea.
PATRIOTS GOTTA STOP …
Andre Johnson. He’s the only game-breaker the Texans have offensively. Against the Colts, Keenum found him nine times for 229 yards and three touchdowns. Expect Aqib Talib to be let loose on Johnson. Take him away and make the Texans try to win somewhere else and they will be hard-pressed to do it.
TEXANS GOTTA STOP …
Tom Brady. He’s rolling now. And after two months of being questioned, he’s got a scorched-earth policy for every defense he faces.
DON'T BE SURPRISED IF …
The Patriots resoundingly rectify their road woes in this one and put it away in a hurry. Houston at its best has gotten dusted by the Patriots in their last two meetings, a limping Texans team could just get flat drilled.
THAT SUMS IT UP PATRIOTS STYLE
“Anything that’s happened for them this season doesn’t matter and anything that’s happened for us makes no difference either. They’ve lost some close games, we’ve pulled out some close games. I think that’s the big difference. It could just as easily go the other way. We’ve found ways to win and we have to try to find a way to win this week. They present some different challenges for us. We were in here today, we had a good practice and that’s a good way to start. Our whole season is ahead of us. I think that’s the most important thing. No one really cares what’s been done to this point. We have to go out there and try to finally play good for 60 minutes, if we can get to that.” – Tom Brady on the Patriots avoiding a letdown.
THAT SUMS IT UP TEXANS STYLE
“It would be special, period. We need a W. No, they’re a great football team. Like I think I said this the other day, to me, they’re loading up for a run for a championship. You can just see it and getting some guys back and at full strength. What they did in the second half last week, extremely impressive. We have to play as good as we’ve played all year. Obviously, we’ve had our issues. It’s going to take really something special, but I think we’re very capable of it. I know that. We’ve worked hard this week. It’s a big challenge for us in every phase of the game, but looking forward to the opportunity.” - Gary Kubiak, Texans coach, on what a win over New England would mean.
THE WINNER IS...
Patriots 27, Texans 13