HOUSTON — A week ago, the Houston Texans were trying to scrounge up as much information as possible on a quarterback they had never seen.
Before Derek Carr suffered a broken right leg in the fourth quarter of the Raiders’ Christmas Eve win over the Colts, Connor Cook was the third quarterback on Oakland’s depth chart.
A week later, when Raiders backup Matt McGloin went down with a shoulder injury against the Broncos, Cook went from being a rookie who had never taken a snap in an NFL game to the only option the Raiders had.
The 21 passes that Cook threw in a 24-6 loss was all the film the Texans had to work with. The best they could do with an unknown such as Cook was make an educated guess based on what they’d seen from the Raiders as a whole.
“We kind of figured they’d probably do a lot of the same stuff that Carr was doing and just try to insert Cook,” said Texans linebacker Brian Cushing.
But going into their divisional round matchup with the Patriots on Saturday night at Gillette Stadium, the Texans’ defense will prepare for a very known commodity in Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Preparing for one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in NFL history will be less complicated than game planning for a player with no NFL history, according to Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph.
“As funny as it sounds, it’s probably easier, because we know exactly what we’re going to get from Tom Brady,” Joseph said. “The guy’s been playing at a high level forever in his career. So it’s not something where we go into the game not knowing certain situations what’s going to happen or how he’s going to react. We know exactly what he’s going to do at all times throughout the game.”
The problem is figuring out a way to stop him.
“There’s a ton of film on Tom,” Cushing said. “Unfortunately, it’s Tom you’re going against. So I mean, there’s nothing fortunate about playing him.”
The Texans’ defense was statistically the best in the NFL this season — first in total defense, second against the pass, 12th against the run, and 11th in scoring — but historically, it’s been shredded by Brady.
Brady is 5-1 against the Texans with a 66.3 completion percentage, 1,556 passing yards, 12 touchdowns, four interceptions, and a 101.0 passer rating.
Brady was serving his four-game Deflategate suspension when the Texans came to Foxborough in Week 3 and absorbed a 27-0 loss, but they know his capabilities.
“He understands what defenses are trying to do to him,” Joseph said. “He knows every situation of the game. I’ve been playing against him for 11 years, and it’s always the same thing. He’s going to be very prepared for everything that you’re going to throw at him, so you just have to do a good job of holding your disguise, being in the right leverage. It’s not going to be an easy task to go in there and beat them.”
In their wild-card win, the Texans terrorized Cook. They sacked him three times (twice by linebacker Whitney Mercilus, once by nose tackle D.J. Reader), they picked him off three times (one a tipped ball at the line of scrimmage by Jadeveon Clowney that marked the high point of his breakout season) and they batted down 13 passes.
But they’ve had a hard time causing the same kind of chaos against Brady. Changing that will mean figuring out a way to pressure on Brady, a rarity this season. The 15 sacks that Brady took in 12 games this season were the fewest for any starting quarterback in the league.
“I think if you can get to any quarterback, you can impact him,” said Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. “Some are harder to get to than others, and he’s not playing as long as he has with as much success as he has because people have been getting to him a lot. So you have to pick and choose your spots and try to impact him at some point in the game.”
Between Clowney, Cushing, and Mercilus, the Texans will have weapons to pressure Brady. Cornerback Kareem Jackson said the rest will be up to the secondary.
“We have to be close in coverage,” Jackson said. “That’s the only way we can go out and be successful as a secondary. To be close in coverage and let the guys up front take care of rushing.”
Not that the Texans need one, but the reminders of the damage Brady can do are constant.
Cornerback A.J. Bouye said one of his best friends is a fan of two quarterbacks: Brady and the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers.
“He’s just like, ‘Man, I’m telling you right now you’re going to go out there and see No. 12 run out there and you’re just going to be that more ready,’ ” Bouye said. “Because you know you’re going against the best and it’s a big opportunity because you want to be at your best and try to make a play against him. And at the end of the day it all comes down to winning and changing the game on defense and getting the ball in our offense’s hands.”