The guy who’s got to get the Texans defense ready for a better showing Sunday, Wade Phillips, said the unit’s effort at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 10 wasn’t as bad as it appeared, and believe it can fare far better in Sunday’s divisional round playoff game.
“We always want to execute better,” Phillips said. “We’ll give them some different looks, obviously. But we’ve got to execute. That’s what we do, we try to play fundamentally sound, make it hard to complete the ball on you, those kinds of things.
“We’re going to try, just like we always do, to play the running game and force them into throwing it.”
That’s dangerous, of course, because the guy the Texans want to throw it is Tom Brady who was surgical against them in the regular season blowout and has a stellar playoff record.
Here’s Phillips on some key issues heading into the game:
Wade Phillips: Year 2
The Texans defense was worse in five of six major categories in Wade Phillips' second year as coordinator.
Sacks per play
Attacking Brady: “You’re not going to get to him very much. That’s what he’s great at. He recognizes blitz and changes protections better than anybody in the league, anybody that I’ve ever been around. He finds out where you’re coming from, he’s patient enough to wait and do it at the last second and pick up most. You just don’t see people get to him much. You’ve got to beat some one-on-one blocks, but to get guys clean on him is hard to do.”
Presumptive defensive player of the year J.J. Watt didn’t sack Brady in the first game, but he did hit him four times and was more disruptive in that game than he got credit for.
Defending Welker: The Texans wanted to slow Wes Welker down and did a good job of it. He had three catches for 52 yards. Other pass-catchers hurt the Texans far more in the loss.
That was the first game for Brandon Harris working as the nickelback in place of the injured Brice McCain. The penalty-prone Harris is a lot better now than he was then.
Houston’s top corner, Johnathan Joseph is far healthier this time around. He typically tracks the opponent’s best receiver but stays on the outside. Last week in the win over Cincinnati, Joseph even followed A.J. Green into the slot.
I asked Phillips if we might see Joseph do the same with Welker.
“Ah, Welker’s not Green,” Phillips said. “He’s a good player, but he’s not that big or a real athletic guy. He’s a quick guy that gets open on option routes. Harris actually played him pretty good. He got a holding penalty that hurt us early in the game. But Harris played pretty well… If we don’t get him on a speed guy, we’re in good shape.”
Joseph will be outside on someone like Brandon Lloyd or even one of the Patriots tight ends.
Speaking of which…
Slowing two top tight ends:Aaron Hernandez ate the Texans up with eight catches for 58 yards and two touchdowns. Now Rob Gronkowski, who missed that game with an arm injury, will also be on the field.
“What makes it tough is, they’ve really got two tight ends in there but sometimes it’s like four wide receivers,” Phillips said. “They’re athletic enough to play out in space. So that gives you matchup problems. If you play your base defense against them it’s one thing, and if you play a sub defense against them it’s something else. If you play a sub what happens a lot of times with the two tight ends is they just run over people.
I think you have to mix it up and see how you match up, which players can play them and see if they need help. Do you need somebody to bang them at the line of scrimmage and then rush? If you have matchup problems you’ve got to do those kinds of things.”
Phillips said Hernandez really qualifies as a wide receiver in a lot of situations and indicated the Texans will cover him as such.
“If you put a corner on him they’re not quite as good,” Phillips said. “We hope we can match up well there. If they split him out wide and you put a corner on him instead of a linebacker they may look a little different. We’ll have to see.”
The Texans also insert a third safety to work as an inside linebacker in some situations. Shiloh Keo is slower but more physical than Quintin Demps and has taken over that role recently.
Phillips vs. Belichick: Shalise Manza Young breaks down Phillips’ work against Bill Belichick in this piece.
“He’s a great coach, he does a great job with them obviously,” Phillips said. “I don’t remember ever game we played. He’s had championship teams and winning teams for a long time. They’re always going to be good against anybody. His numbers are going to be good against anybody.”
Rematch attitude: “We talked about it last week -- hey we ought to be confident, look at all the things we’ve done in winning 12 games,” Phillips said. “Going into the Cincinnati game we said let’s get our swag back, we know we’re good, let’s go ahead and play like we play.
“We’ve got confidence going into this game. We feel like we should win. That’s our guys, that’s our mentality.”