BALTIMORE – There will be plenty of time to go over the Patriots-Texans matchup more in depth as the week goes along, but here’s my take on why the matchup could be or won’t be different than the 42-14 pasting New England put on the Texans in Week 14:
Why it could be different
1. Texans saw the Patriots’ best shot: Defensively, New England brought extra pressure against Texans quarterback Matt Schaub on 52.5 percent of his throws. That’s the most since at least the start of the 2010 season. Cornerback Aqib Talib’s presence didn’t seem to have much of an impact on the pressure. The Patriots blitzed on 38 percent of the throws before he left with a hip injury; 68 percent after he departed – despite a 21-0 advantage. Offensively, the Patriots used the full arsenal against the Texans (sans Rob Gronkowski) with quick passes, a taste of the running game, and even a few shot plays to Brandon Lloyd and Donte’ Stallworth. It’s pretty much all on film for the Texans, so it will be up to them to find an answer on both sides of the ball.
2. Return of Reed and Graham: The Texans were without two important injured players, outside linebacker Brooks Reed (groin) and second tight end Garrett Graham (concussion), in the first matchup. When healthy, Reed gives the Texans more oomph in their pass rush, but he hasn’t looked 100 percent the past two games since returning. Graham is an athletic tight end who Schaub likes to go to in the red zone. He’s not a dynamic playmaker in the pass game, but he certainly helps when teams concentrate on Owen Daniels.
3. Confidence: Schaub had never played in, let alone won, a playoff game before Saturday’s victory over the Bengals, so perhaps he and the team have gained a little confidence. They were sorely lacking any down the stretch after blowing the top seed in the AFC. Maybe Schaub can now exploit some of the coverage deficiencies the Patriots had at linebacker and in the secondary that he flat missed the first time around.
Why it won’t be different
1. Schaub is still Schaub: The Texans’ quarterback looked like he didn’t want to be at Gillette Stadium the first time around, as he looked scared against the Patriots’ pressure and tentative to make a mistake. You’re not winning many big games that way. Further going against the Texans is they are not a gameplan offense like the Patriots. Houston does what it does – inside and outside zone runs and play-action passes – against every opponent. If the Texans sense any weakness in the Patriots, it’s not like they can design an attack to take advantage. Against the Texans, if you can disrupt what they like to do, they can’t alter and move the ball.
2. The Patriots stop the run: The Bengals were pushed around at defensive tackle (opposite Geno Atkins) and on the edges at defensive and linebacker against the Texans’ zone running game. And Arian Foster ran 32 times for 140 yards. He was 15 for 46 against the Patriots because Vince Wilfork, Brandon Deaderick, Kyle Love, Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes owned the interior, and Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich owned the edges. Take away the threat of playaction, and Schaub is below average and he’s line isn’t as elite as it normally is.
3. Patriots are rested: New England had a ton of players who were either injured or beatup the first time around, but have gotten some rest down the stretch and with the bye week. Chief among them is Gronkowski, who didn’t play the first time around. He was playing with one arm the last time we saw him, but 50 percent of Gronkowski is better than no Gronkowski.