Pats defense has tough job against balanced Texans
By HOWARD ULMAN, AP Sports Writer
FOXBOROUGH, MASS. (AP) -- Vince Wilfork's biggest challenge when he
lines up against the Houston Texans' powerful offense could come before
the ball is even snapped.
Will they pass or run?
The offensive line isn't likely to give much of an indication against
New England on Monday night.
''They do a real good job up front of showing you the same look on run
and pass,'' the Patriots defensive tackle said Thursday, ''so we're
just going to have to rely on technique, good fundamentals.''
Then, once Matt Schaub hands the ball to Arian Foster or throws it to
Andre Johnson, the hard work continues for the Patriots (9-3) against
the Texans (11-1) in the matchup of teams with six-game winning streaks
and designs on first-round playoff byes.
Foster leads the NFL with 15 touchdowns and the AFC with 1,102 yards
rushing. Johnson is tied for fourth in the NFL with 1,114 yards
receiving and is alone in fourth in the AFC with 74 catches.
''They're a very well balanced team,'' Patriots coach Bill Belichick
said. ''If you're stopping the run, you're light on the play-action
(passing attack). If you're stopping the play-action, you're probably
light on the run. They do a good job of tying those plays together,
complementing each other and making you defend all of it.''
Foster has rushed for more than 100 yards in six of Houston's 12 games.
He's also the Texans' third leading receiver with 30 catches, two of
them for touchdowns.
''I had him out in the Pro Bowl a couple years ago,'' Belichick said.
''Impressive kid, strong, good balance. ... You've got to be able to
tackle his quickness and his athleticism, but also have to be able to
tackle his size and power to run through arm tackles. He's got a good
set of skills.''
Very much like Johnson.
The 6-foot-3, 230-pound receiver is averaging 78 catches in his 10 NFL
seasons since being taken with the third pick of the 2003 draft out of
Miami, where he played with Wilfork, who was drafted with the 21st pick
the next year.
''He has the heart of a champion,'' Wilfork said. ''I just remember
playing with him in college. He was always quiet, but he was a fireball
on the field. He gave us his all. (He's) big, physical, strong, fast,
can catch, can run. He's well put together. He's a specimen. He's
Schaub also can throw to tight end Owen Daniels, second on the team
with 50 catches, and Kevin Walters. And he can hand the ball off to Ben Tate and Justin Forsett, who are part of the NFL's sixth most
productive running game.
''The quarterback will get the ball to the appropriate receiver based
on coverage or based on read for that particular play so he's not
always targeting one guy,'' Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said.
New England's secondary was vulnerable to big plays early in the season
and has allowed the fourth most yards passing in the NFL. But it has
improved since Devin McCourty moved from cornerback to safety for the
past six games and Aqib Talib was acquired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and played in the last three games.
But Talib is still adjusting after being suspended four games for
violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances and then
adjusting to a new defensive system.
''I could be a lot better,'' he said. ''I can just go down the list on
things I can do better.''
On Monday night he might be running downfield alongside Johnson, trying
to shut down one of the NFL's best receivers. He and his defensive
teammates probably won't get much of a hint of whether the Texans will
run or pass on a particular play.
''The biggest challenge is how they run and they pass, everything looks
the same,'' Talib said. ''Linemen come off one way on the run and they
come off the exact same way on the pass. So you've just got to just be
technique-sound and have your eyes in the right spot.''
Notes: LG Logan Mankins and DE Chandler Jones participated in practice on a limited basis. Mankins has been
sidelined the past three games with ankle and calf problems, while
Jones has missed the last two with an ankle injury. ... The Patriots
will honor retired LT Matt Light at halftime of Monday night's game.
Light spent his entire 11-year career with New England before retiring
after last season.
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