The New England Patriots pose problems; even more so at Gilette Stadium with how well Bill Belichick and Tom Brady turn up the heat during playoff time. Everyone knows what Belichick wants his game plan to be: take away the impact players from the opposing team’s offense and defense, which makes other players stepping up to make plays a necessity.
Who does that leave for the Texans to make impact plays outside of the team's top end players? The Texans are going to need big games from these players:
The attention will be paid to DeAndre Hopkins so it is time for Will Fuller V to get back to the game changing ways he displayed in the first two weeks of the season, when he threatened defenses. Injuries have slowed Fuller through the course of the season but he is slowly getting his feel for the game back. If Fuller can put together a good game on the stat sheet, that is a good sign for the Texans offense.
The Texans have made sure C.J. Fiedorowicz is used in the passing game but Ryan Griffin is the offense’s best pass catching option at the position. Griffin is the default second tight end of this offense and he can get into the second level with his routes, adding pressure to the defense. If Griffin can make plays in the second level, that is another positive sign for the offense. He is the team’s most complete tight end when it comes to speed, strength and route running, and he should be in the game plan early for the Texans.
The Texans best inside pass rushing presence, D.J. Reader has shown that he can heat up the quarterback when needed. Last week against the Oakland Raiders, Reader set the tone early, getting the first sack of the game to let the offense know that he is tough to block one-on-one. When considering his run stuffing capabilities in addition to his pass rush skills, Reader is a presence who will get Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus one-on-one matchups from time to time if he can get going.
If Quintin Demps can not go, that will leave Corey Moore as the team’s best tackler from the safety position and, with the presence of LeGarette Blount, tackling will be at a premium. Moore has been the safety in base defense but was forced to a role in nickel and dime sets with Demps nursing an injured hamstring. Moore is going to have to play physically and show he can play in coverage.
The Texans are planning on sticking with Tyler Ervin in the punt game. Although he did have a punt return wiped out in the wildcard round but Ervin has to show consistency fielding punts. He has ability to make coverage players miss, but he has to make up for the issues with which he has struggled all season. He is a dynamic returner when he can make things go right, but it starts with him. A big return will be needed from Ervin in Saturday’s game.
Key to the Game for the Texans
Press the Pocket
It is going to take players like Vince Wilfork, D.J. Reader, Christian Covington, and Joel Heath to win on the inside, get pressure up the middle, and get Tom Brady off his spot. The Patriots will make sure both Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus are accounted for on every play, so that will lead to others trying to generate pass rush.
Slow Julian Edelman
Limit the yards after the catch with Edelman and tackle right away because the Patriots make a living turning a short pass into a a bigger gain. Their entire receiver group are cookie cutters of each other in terms of skills, but the addition of Michael Floyd changes the dynamic in the vertical game. Either way, slowing Edleman is the key to get the football into Chris Hogan's and Danny Amendola’s less capable hands.
Every Skill Position Player Besides Hopkins is Key
DeAndre Hopkins knows what the Patriots are going to bring coverage-wise on Saturday and it starts with press coverage and a safety over the top. With the attention paid to Hopkins, there will be a need for everyone not named Hopkins to make a plus play somehow. Lamar Miller will be depended on for the ground game but getting him going in the passing game is important. C.J. Fiedorowicz and Ryan Griffin will be needed to threaten the middle of the field also. All hands will need to be on deck.
Brock Osweiler is Going to have to Make Plays
Brock Osweiler and the Texans are on the brink of proving a lot of pundits wrong but it is going to start with Osweiler making plays. Osweiler struggled in the Texans first matchup against the Patriots in week 3 and it was because the Patriots made him become a passer, reading the defense. The first two weeks of Osweiler’s career in a Texans uniform were highlighted with a vertial passing game that caught teams by surprise. The Patriots cut the deep ball out and made Osweiler become a pocket passer, forcing him reading defenses, and the rest is history. The blueprint was set up and Osweiler could not recover in subsequent games before he was benched late in the season.
Now, Osweiler gets his second shot and he has put together solid games in the Texans last two outings. Most importantly, he has not turned over the football. He is going to have to complete passes in the 10-19 yard range at a high level to eat up those yards and move the chains. Osweiler is the biggest key for the Texans on Saturday.
TEAMS MEET for 2nd time in postseason. Patriots defeated Texans 41-28 in Divisional playoff on 1/13/13. NE leads all-time series 7-1 (incl. playoffs). NE defeated Hou. 27-0 in Week 3.
TEXANS: Won consecutive AFC South titles for 2nd time in franchise history (2011-12)…QB Brock Osweiler had pass TD & rush TD in WC win vs. Oak…RB Lamar Miller rushed for TD last week. Aims for 4th in row with rush TD. Ranked 6th in AFC with 1,073 rush yards, 7th most rush yards in single season in franchise history. Has 170 scrimmage yards (140 rush, 30 rec.) in past 2 vs. NE…WR DeAndre Hopkins had rec. TD last week. Is 1 of 9 in NFL history with 50+ catches & 800+ rec. yards in each of 1st 4 seasons. Has most receptions (317) by player in 1st 4 career seasons in franchise history. Led team with 78 catches & 954 rec. yards. TE C.J. Fiedorowicz had 54 catches in 2016, tied for 4th most by TE in Texans’ history. WR-PR Will Fuller V ranked 3rd among NFL rookies with 635 rec. yards. Was 1 of 2 NFL rookies with rec. TD (2) & PR-TD (1) this season…DE Jadeveon Clowney was named to 1st career Pro Bowl. Had INT in 1st career playoff game last week. Ranked 2nd among AFC DEs with 16 TFL. Had career-high 6 sacks. Has 4 TFL, 3 sacks, INT & FF in his past 4 (incl. playoffs). LB Brian Cushing is franchise leader with 648 tackles. Has 28 tackles (9.3 per game), INT & TFL in past 3 postseason games. S Quintin Demps led team & tied for 2nd in NFL with 6 INTs. Has INT in 5 of past 7 (incl. playoffs). LB Benardrick McKinney was only NFL player with 125+ tackles (129) & 5+ sacks (5) in 2016. LB Whitney Mercilus has 5 sacks & 6 TFL in past 2 postseason games. Set franchise postseason record with 3 sacks in 1/9/16 WC vs. KC. Has 5 sacks in past 5 (incl. playoffs). Led team with 7.5 sacks. CB A.J. Bouye had INT & 4 PD last week.
PATRIOTS: Have won 8 consecutive division titles, longest streak in NFL history. Since 2001, have won 4 Super Bowl titles, most in NFL. Have 29-19 (.604) all-time postseason record, 3rd highest winning pct. in playoff history…Head coach BILL BELICHICK has 23 career postseason wins, most all-time. Has won 4 Super Bowl titles (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLIX), tied with CHUCK NOLL for most in NFL history…Patriots had 4 players selected to 2017 Pro Bowl: QB TOM BRADY (12th), LB DONT’A HIGHTOWER (1st), S DEVIN MC COURTY (3rd) & ST MATTHEW SLATER (6th)…QB Brady is all-time postseason leader in wins (22), passing att. (1,183), completions (738), yards (7,957) & TDs (56). Has 10 career postseason games with 300+ pass yards, most all-time. Has won 4 Super Bowls as starting QB & 3 Super Bowl MVPs, both tied for most in NFL history. Had 14.0 TD/INT ratio (28 pass TDs vs. 2 INTs), highest in NFL history (min. 20 pass TDs.)…RB LE GARRETTE BLOUNT led NFL with franchise-record 18 rush TDs. Has 7 rush TDs in 5 career postseason games. Aims for 6th in row with rush TD. Rushed for 105 yards & 2 TDs in last meeting. RB JAMES WHITE tied for lead among NFL RBs with 5 TD catches…WR JULIAN EDELMAN has 9+ catches & 95+ rec. yards in 3 of past 4 in postseason. In past 7 playoff games, has 59 catches (8.4 per game) for 607 rec. yards (86.7 per game) & 2 TDs. Has 3 seasons with 90+ catches, 2nd most in franchise history. TE MARTELLUS BENNETT has TD catch in 3 of past 4…CB MALCOLM BUTLER led team with 4 INTs & 17 PD. Has INT & 6 PD in past 3 postseason games. LB ROB NINKOVICH has 5 career postseason sacks. Has 4+ sacks in 7 consecutive seasons, tied for 4th longest streak in team history. CB LOGAN RYAN was only NFL CB with 90+ tackles (92), 2+ INTs (2), 1+ sack (1) & 1+ FF (1) in 2016.
Related Articles: Jonathan Grimes Proves Vital for the Texans | Don Jones Likes the Winning Ways of the Texans | Corey Moore Continues to Make Strides | Mike Vrabel to Interview for the Rams Head Coaching Vacancy | Wildcard Weekend Game Balls and More | Bill Belichick Backs Bill O'Brien and the Job He has Done with the Texans | Texans Approach Paying off for Jadeveon Clowney | Charley Casserly Said What? About Jadeveon Clowney | Texans Embracing the Underdog Role