NFL Nation: 2013 Texans-Patriots Quick Take

Quick Take: Texans at Patriots

January, 6, 2013
Five things to know about next Sunday’s Houston Texans-New England Patriots AFC divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium:

It was ugly last time: On Dec. 10, on "Monday Night Football," the Patriots smoked the Texans, 42-14. New England was up 28-0 in the third quarter and the Texans basically waved the white flag by early in the fourth quarter. Linebacker Bradie James said after it was over that the Patriots had given the Texans a lesson in championship-caliber football. Houston believed if there was a playoff rematch, it would be at Reliant Stadium. But the Texans lost two out of three after that and allowed the No. 1 seed, home-field advantage and a bye week to slip away.

Top QBs shred the Texans: Tom Brady threw for 296 yards and four touchdowns in that regular-season meeting. Houston’s had a poor season when it comes to defending top-flight quarterbacks. Before Brady’s big game, Peyton Manning (in a loss) and Aaron Rodgers (in a win) had also posted big numbers against the Texans. What could be different this time? Well, Connor Barwin was better as a pass-rusher against Cincinnati than he has been much of this season, and if he can add to the threat J.J. Watt provides, that would help. And while cornerback Johnathan Joseph struggled in that initial meeting, Houston’s top corner is as healthy now as he’s been in a long time.

The Gronk factor: The Texans struggled with Aaron Hernandez in the first matchup, as he caught eight passes for 58 yards and two touchdowns. As good as he is, Rob Gronkowski tends to present even more of a matchup problem. He missed the first game as he recovered from a broken arm. Brian Cushing might be good against him, but the Texans inside linebacker has been out since October after suffering a torn ACL. Nickelback Brice McCain just missed his fifth game since surgery to repair a broken foot. If the Texans were at full strength, Gronkowski would be a matchup problem -- and he and Hernandez together could be a giant problem. Minus two guys who might be able to do some effective work in that department, the Texans could really struggle to keep Brady from finding them.

The third-down story: Heading into the regular-season meeting, the Texans were allowing offenses to convert just 28.2 percent of third downs and Bill Belichick raved about that facet of Bulls on Parade. Brady and the Patriots converted 50 percent in the win, and Houston’s defense finished the season allowing 33.0 percent. But in nine third-down opportunities in the wide-card playoff game Saturday at Reliant Stadium, the Bengals didn’t convert once. The Texans have their confidence back in that department, though they know the New England offense is a whole different deal than Cincinnati’s was.

Will the weather matter? The Texans beat the Bears at Soldier Field on Nov. 11 on a cold, rainy Chicago night that was super windy. Chicago’s offense is not as threatening or high-powered as New England’s, however. If Sunday afternoon is a blustery, Northeastern winter day, it’s less than ideal for the Texans. That’s part of why those failed chances to earn home-field advantage were so big.

Quick Take: Texans at Patriots

January, 5, 2013
Five things to know about next Sunday's Houston Texans-New England Patriots playoff game at Gillette Stadium:

1. It's the rematch: The Patriots had their way with the Texans during their first meeting in Week 14. New England scored at will and pounded Houston, 42-14. It was a statement game for the Patriots that helped secure a first-round bye and home-field advantage via the head-to-head tiebreaker. New England is 6-2 at home this season and should enter this game confident after the first meeting.

2. Schaub vs. Brady: One of the biggest advantages for the Patriots will be at quarterback. Houston's Matt Schaub could have a tough time matching three-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady of the Patriots. Schaub won his first career playoff game Saturday with a 19-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Schaub looked shaky and threw for 262 yards and an interception, which was returned for a touchdown. Schaub must do much better opposite Brady, who has masterfully run an up-tempo offense that leads the NFL in yards and points. Brady threw for 296 yards and four touchdowns in the first meeting against Houston.

3. Secondary in focus: Schaub will have a chance to be successful against New England's defense. The Patriots are ranked 29th against the pass, although New England's secondary has played better in the second half of the season. A key matchup will be Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib against Houston Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson. Talib has the size and athleticism to keep up with Johnson, who must have a big game for Houston to pull off the upset.

4. Containing J.J. Watt: Despite the blowout in Week 14, New England had a lot of trouble with Houston Pro Bowl defensive end J.J. Watt. He had four tackles, three hits on Brady and a forced fumble. The Patriots schemed against Watt and did all they could to keep him from making plays. But Watt still gave the Patriots issues.

5. Patriots are getting healthy: The Patriots should be as healthy as they've been in months. The two weeks off provided time for a lot of key players to get some much-needed rest. Patriots starters tight end Rob Gronkowski (arm), receiver Wes Welker (ankle), defensive end Rob Ninkovich (hip) and offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer (back) are all nursing injuries. New England has a chance to peak at the right time in the playoffs with the team closer to full strength.



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