FOXBOROUGH — The fourth game of Aqib Talib’s Patriots tenure will provide the cornerback with his biggest challenge: Houston receiver Andre Johnson.
Johnson, a 10-year veteran, is seemingly getting better as the season goes on. In the five weeks since Houston’s bye, the 6-foot-3-inch, 219-pounder has averaged eight receptions and 134 yards per game, including a 14-catch, 273-yard performance in a Week 11 overtime win over the Jaguars.
“He’s definitely one of the most talented guys in the NFL,” Talib said. “He’s really good at what he does — catches the ball wherever it’s thrown and he can do something with it after he catches it.
“He can do it all, from short routes, deeper routes, running with the ball in his hand, go up and get the ball when it’s thrown down the field — I mean, he can do it all.”
Bill Belichick also sang Johnson’s praises.
“He’s really a special player; does a lot of things well. He’s a tough matchup for anybody one-on-one,” said the Patriots coach. “It’s like throwing to a tight end — there’s always a place to get the ball to him. But he’s also very good on underneath routes, the tear screens, even plays like hitches and slants. They hit them and he breaks tackles, like he did in the Jacksonville game. He does it every week really . . .
“He’s a great player. He’s done it for a long time. He puts up numbers every year and people are keying on him, they’re looking for him, and he keeps producing. He’s a hard guy to cover.”
Monday night’s game will be the first time Talib has faced Johnson, and he is looking forward to the challenge.
Talib hasn’t been in New England long, but Texans coach Gary Kubiak has seen how he’s been used.
“You kind of notice since Bill’s got him, he’s locked him up in some places on some people. Any time we go anywhere with Andre, we’re capable of seeing stuff like that,” Kubiak said.
Full speed ahead?
Given the formidable challenge the Texans’ defense poses, it’s easy to wonder if Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady will bring back the hyperspeed no-huddle attack used against the Broncos.
“You might have to tune in Monday night and find out what we do,” Brady said.
Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is well aware of what it takes to defend teams that run their offenses at a high rate of speed.
“It’s just more plays, and the more plays you have, the more yards you’re going to make. That’s what college football is doing,” Phillips said. “They’re running the plays so fast. If you have 90, 100, plays, you’re going to have more yards and more points.
“The flip side of that, hopefully you have good enough defenses that cause problems for them, where you have turnovers, those kinds of things. It’s always a struggle back and forth that way. [The Patriots] do a great job of that. That’s why they’re scoring so many points and their defense is doing a good job of getting the ball for them. If you can hurry up and run more plays and not turn the ball over, you’d want to do that. Everybody would want to do that.”
Eight is enough
Wes Welker is eight receptions away from becoming the first player in NFL history with five seasons of 100 or more catches. And the Texan charged with trying to stop that from happening will be second-year corner Brandon Harris.
To say Harris hasn’t played much would not be an understatement.
“Welker has 92 catches and I don’t think Brandon has 29 plays,” Phillips said this week. “It’s a challenge, certainly. We expect him to step up and play. We’re going to try to help him in certain areas, but it’s going to be one-on-one some.”
Phillips’s estimate of 29 plays for Harris was a bit of an exaggeration — he played 61 snaps last week as the nickel corner against Tennessee.Shalise Manza Young can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.