ESPN analyst Jon Gruden previews Monday night's game between the Texans and Patriots (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET):
On the matchup. "You obviously have two of the most high-potent offenses in the NFL. You have two great defensive coaches. I’m excited about Tom Brady going up against Wade Phillips and the Houston Texans defense. The idea of seeing Matt Schaub and the balanced Texans offense going up against Bill Belichick, Matt Patricia and the Patriots makes me want to get to Foxborough tonight."
Keys for both teams. "For the Texans, they possess the ball almost 36 minutes a game with their running game and high-percentage pass offense. I think keeping Tom Brady off the field and doing what they do on offense -- protecting the ball, moving the ball and scoring points -- is the recipe for success for the Texans. For the Patriots, they’re going to have to rely on Tom Brady once again -- his ability to recognize, audible and attack. The Texans' injuries in the secondary and at linebacker are going to make things difficult for Houston. This game has all the makings of a shootout."
Tom Brady vs. Matt Schaub. "Tom Brady’s expertise and clutch playmaking, talent and work ethic has been well-documented where Matt Schaub’s probably hasn’t. Schaub has won 15 out of 16. What he’s done behind the scenes in Houston rivals what Tom Brady does in New England. These are two very intelligent, highly motivated CEOs of their teams. They unify their football teams and epitomize everything you want in a quarterback. I kind of put them on the same level in terms of preparation, leadership and dominating the game from the neck up."
J.J. Watt and his impressive season. "He’s just unblockable. His stamina is incredible. He’s a tremendous athlete. A lot of people think he’s just a high-effort guy. He’s a rare athlete. He can get off the blocks and close. He can run over you. He has the elusiveness to run you down and change directions. He’s instinctive. He has the ability to reject passes when he knows he’s not going to get there, or when you’re going to throw the quick gain. He bats balls and he bats quarterbacks around. He’s an MVP candidate. There’s no question."
Possible off-the-radar players to watch. "I like Houston wide receiver Kevin Walter. He does a lot for the Texans as a blocker. This stretch running game is magnificent, but he cuts off the back side. He blocks the perimeter for these quick screens. He runs patterns. He catches balls. He’s a great pro football player. A lot of his production is not on the stat sheet. A guy for New England is defensive end Rob Ninkovich. You watch Ninkovich on a snap-by-snap basis, you might not be overwhelmed by how good he is, but when you look at the whole game, and a series of games, he’s as valuable a member of the Patriots defense as anyone because he can play outside linebacker, inside linebacker, right end, left end. He can move around in their sub package. And he has skill to do all these things. I really like Ninkovich a lot."
Ranking both teams relative to the rest of the NFL. "Houston is 11-1 for good reason. Their performance against the Ravens, the game we saw on 'Monday Night Football' in New York against the Jets, going to Denver to beat the Broncos, there’s a consistency that’s impressive. They’ve had some injuries now and that’s the only concern I have. Brooks Reed and Brian Cushing are out. Johnathan Joseph has been out. They’re missing some key ingredients to their defense, but they can score with anyone and their effort and energy level is outstanding on defense. I think they are a favorite to get to the Super Bowl and win it. I would say the same about New England because of No. 12 and the head coach of the football team. They’ve had such great continuity. They can beat you in all three phases of the game, and they expect to win. They are used to winning. It’s hard to go against them."
Excitement of calling the game. "We had the world champions last week and one of the great up-and-coming stars of pro football in RGIII last week. This week, the two teams have combined for 20 victories. You want to coach in the biggest games, you want to play in the biggest games, and you want to broadcast the biggest games. And, if you’re a fan, you want to watch the biggest games. It’s exciting. It’s going to be a heck of a game."