SCOUTING REPORT: The Texans have one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL. If they want to, New England can spread the Houston defense out and let Tom Brady pick it apart. Even with the addition of Mario Williams, the Texans have only managed to register 26 sacks on the season, ranking near the bottom of the NFL.
The lack of pressure has put a young secondary, led by cornerback Dunta Robinson, in tough situations and in turn the group has given up a lot of big plays through the air. The Patriots offensive line will give Brady plenty of time to find open receivers whenever he needs to make a play. New England receivers only caught four passes for 37 yards against the Dolphins. Those numbers should go up significantly this week.
The Texans safeties, Glenn Earl and C.C. Brown, have struggled this year. That could mean a big day for Troy Brown, Kevin Faulk and Reche Caldwell catching passes in the middle of the field. If Ben Watson can play, he would be a big part of that game plan as well. This would be a good game for the Patriots to build a lead using the pass, and then wear the Texans down by running the ball down their throat.
This is a big week for Brady and the New England passing game. They were exposed badly by Miami and if the same thing happens against a weak Texans defense, the Patriots are going to have a problem on their hands. Expect Brady to bounce back and for Caldwell to have a big day as the Patriots offense gets back on track thanks to an undermanned Texans defense.
GAME PLAN: The Patriots have a tendency to let inferior teams hang around. Two weeks ago they were lucky to steal a victory against the struggling Lions. The Texans defense is beaten up and downright awful versus the pass. Tom Brady will be able to dissect the Houston secondary and hit some plays down the field. Despite selecting defensive end Mario Williams with the first overall pick in the draft, the Texans pass rush has been non-existent this year. Opposing quarterbacks have been able to sit in the pocket and pick apart a secondary that's been ravaged by injuries. There's no reason why the Patriots shouldn't be able to throw all over the Texans and build an early lead.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Patriots CB Asante Samuel vs. Texans WR Andre Johnson -- This should be an entertaining matchup between two players who could wind up being teammates in the Pro Bowl. Johnson is the Texans main threat on offense. He's big, fast and isn't afraid to go over the middle. Samuel is having a tremendous season and will want to make up for his poor showing against the Colts by shutting down one of the NFL's premier receivers.
--Patriots DL Ty Warren vs. Texans RT Eric Winston -- The Texans think Winston is going to be a good player for them. The problem he'll have in this game is Warren is already a good player. Warren has been causing havoc all season long and is arguably the Patriots best defensive lineman at this time. Winston may be an up and coming player but controlling the red-hot Warren is a lot to ask from a rookie right tackle.
INJURY IMPACT: There's a chance the Patriots could come into this game without two of their best players. Nose Tackle Vince Wilfork and tight end Ben Watson were both injured last week in Miami and their status for Sunday is unknown. It would be a huge loss for the Patriots if Wilfork and Watson are out for any amount of time. Watson is the team's leading receiver and the most explosive weapon in the Patriots passing game. Without him on the field, Tom Brady and the offense's struggles are likely to continue when they face good defenses.
Wilfork would be an even bigger loss because the Patriots don't have another player with his size to play the nose tackle position. Mike Wright is Wilfork's backup but he has neither the size nor the strength to line up at nose tackle full time. If Wilfork is out, the most likely scenario would be the Patriots going to more 4-3 alignments. Richard Seymour would move inside and play next to Wright, while Ty Warren and Jarvis Green would be the defensive ends. The Patriots have always been primarily a 3-4 team under Bill Belichick but the loss of Wilfork could force them to do different things on defense.
SCOUTING REPORT: The Texans may show another new look with their running game. Ron Dayne will get the majority of carries, but the Texans are still determined to get Chris Taylor into a ballgame. Whether or not it's fair to give him his first chance against the third-ranked rush defense will be determined. Dayne will be running behind Vonta Leach, who has likely earned the job for the rest of the season. FB Jameel Cook (knee) could be placed on IR as early as Friday. Cook could possibly play through the pain, but Leach is playing great all season.
Defense will change just slightly with Charlie Anderson getting more playing time. Anderson has great arm length and a knack for making plays. He also is a great tackler. He will come off the bench to pick up a few plays, especially now that Kailee Wong is battling injuries.
GAME PLAN: The Texans' defense realizes Tom Brady will be looking to redeem himself after being shut out against the Miami Dolphins last week. Brady will be prepared and ready to exploit a secondary that has struggled to be consistent this season. The Texans will try to avoid giving up the big play, and keep the ball in front of them. The linebackers will be key, helping in the pass rush and against the run. They've been playing their best football as of late.
The offense will have to get its running game going against the third-best run defense in the NFL. The Texans need to start and rely on Ron Dayne. He is playing a great stretch of football. He makes a solid pair with FB Vonta Leach, and the two have helped produce two of the best weeks of the Texans' running game. QB David Carr will need to let it loose this week. The scrutiny is high around him, and he needs to play loose and try to make something happen for his team. These are three critical games for him. He needs to show better presence in the pocket, make smarter decisions and cut back on his bad throws.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Texans RB Ron Dayne vs. Patriots DL -- Dayne has finally gotten into a sort of rhythm at running back, but it won't be easy to sustain it against the Patriots, who enter with the third-ranked rush defense in the league. Dayne reached the end zone twice against the Titans and almost rushed for 100 yards against the Raiders. The Patriots haven't given up many big plays and they've only allowed seven rushing touchdowns. They will have the edge, but Dayne will do all he can to try to continue resurrecting his career. He has a great feel for running in the zone blocking scheme and has been the surprise in the Texans' dismal running game.
--Patriots QB Tom Brady vs. Texans secondary -- After the Patriots were shut out for the first time since Week 1 of the 2003 season, Brady will be looking to redeem himself against a Texans team that has a knack for making opposing quarterbacks look good. J.P. Losman threw two 83-yard touchdown passes. Vince Young ran for a 39-yard touchdown. Mark Brunell set an NFL record by completing 22-consecutive passes. Brady will try to make his mark by trying to pick apart the secondary. He has so many weapons, the Texans will struggle to match up with everyone.
INJURY IMPACT: DE Mario Williams (plantar fasciitis) did not practice Wednesday, which is what is happening each week. He is continuing to play through the pain.
--DT Thomas Johnson (hamstring) may return this week.
--FB Jameel Cook (knee) may not play again. He will likely move onto the IR by Friday.
--WR Jerome Mathis (groin) couldn't practice Wednesday. The Texans are hopeful he will be OK by Sunday. If Mathis cannot go, Dexter Wynn will return kicks.
--S C.C. Brown may not play because of turf toe. He was not able to practice Wednesday.