- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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Play-action influence: Per ESPN Stats & Information, when using play-action, Matt Schaub's yards per attempt average on passes deeper than 10 yards downfield (15.5) ranks fourth in the league. On those same throws without play-action fakes, Schaub’s yards per attempt (10.4) ranks 14th, and only four quarterbacks have a worse touchdown-interception differential than Schaub (minus-2). Everyone knows Arian Foster and the run game get this offense going. He has been great in three playoff games allowing play-action to work. His 425 rushing yards are the most ever by a player in his first three playoff games. He needs 91 in this game to surpass Terrell Davis' record for rushing yards in a back’s first four playoff games. Foster has averaged 2.7 yards per rush before first contact this season, but was unable to find space to run in most of the Texans' losses. He averaged 1.9 yards in those losses, including 1.6 against the Patriots, compared with 2.9 yards in wins.
Tight ends: Texans strong safety Glover Quin was responsible for shutting down Cincinnati's Jermaine Gresham last week (though Gresham did have two critical drops). Tight ends have been targeted 124 times this season against the Texans, tied for fourth most in the league, but Houston has been successful defending them everywhere except the end zone. Opponents completed 58 percent of their passes to tight ends (second-best defensive percentage in the league), 6.3 yards per attempt (third) and got a first down 34 percent of the time. But tight ends caught 11 touchdowns against Houston, tied for 31st among defenses. On the other side of the ball, the Texans have used multiple tight ends on 72 percent of their plays this season (excluding spikes and kneel downs). It’s the first time since New England drafted Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski a team other than Patriots finished with the highest use of multiple-tight end formations. Even with Hernandez and Gronkowski both missing games this season, the Patriots used multiple tight ends on 49 percent of their plays (fifth highest).
No time: Tom Brady has had the quickest release in the NFL this season. ESPN Stats & Information says he held onto the ball on average for 3.03 seconds from the snap until either the pass, sack or scramble attempt. Brady was able to pass 25 times within 3.0 seconds of the snap in Week 14 against the Texans, completing 68 percent of those throws with three touchdowns. The Texans have to force him to hold it longer. If he has the ball for at least three seconds, his completion percentage drops from .720 to .410 and his yards per attempt drop from 8.1 to 6.4. Brady went 13-of-19 with three touchdowns against five or more pass-rushers in Week 14 against the Texans.
The Reed effect: Texans linebacker Brooks Reed missed the Week 14 blowout loss to the Patriots with a groin injury. Reed’s presence has provided a boost to the Texans’ defense this year. With him on the field, they’ve given up 4.8 yards per play, 6.2 yards per pass, 3.9 yards per rush and a rushing touchdown every 215 plays. Without him, it has been 5.5 yards per play, 7.3 yards per pass, 4.2 yards per rush and a rushing touchdown every 43.5 plays.
Also: The Texans, Patriots, Broncos and Ravens are the same final four in the AFC as last year. The Elias Sports Bureau says this is the first time ever the same four teams reached the divisional playoffs in a conference in consecutive seasons. … According to Elias, teams that lost by 28 or more in the regular season to a team that it then faced again in the postseason are 11-11 in the rematch. All six playoff losses the Patriots have suffered under Bill Belichick were rematches of regular-season games. … This is the fourth time the Patriots have been the No. 2 seed. They reached the Super Bowl each of the past three times and are 8-1 all time as the No. 2 seed. … Including the playoffs, Brady is 85-15 at home -- the best home record of any quarterback that began his career in the Super Bowl era.