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TEXANS-PATRIOTS REMATCH WILL BE DIFFERENT THAN FIRST GO-ROUND
By Jerome Solomon
Yes, that means I am picking the Texans to beat the Patriots on Sunday.
It’s not about being hardheaded, either. Well, in a way it is, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.
The Texans were better than the Patriots through the first 12 games of the season. The Patriots were a lot better one night in December. That’s history. The Texans simply have to be better on Sunday.
Of course, the Texans haven’t been the same team since that 42-14 pounding they took in Foxboro. So why would I think they can win there now?
Because the Texans are the better team.
It wasn’t about matchups that night. How do we know much about matchups when only one team showed up to play? It was about mentality, and the Texans weren’t mentally ready to play in that environment. The Patriots were.
I like Houston’s mentality this time. That and the missing parts from that first game that won’t be missing this weekend should change the game significantly.
I’m not going to tell you that the Texans interior offensive line will manhandle Vince Wilfork. That won’t happen. I’m not going to tell you the Bulls of Parade will have Tom Brady shaking in his cleats? That won’t happen either.
But I will tell you that the Texans team you will see Sunday won’t be the one you saw on Dec. 10. Not even close.
The Texans not showing up was probably more important to the final score than their not having players who couldn’t play due to injuries, but having Derek Newton at right tackle instead of Ryan Harris and having Garrett Graham and Brooks Reed on the field will be huge for Houston.
Harris had a horrible night, which resulted in Matt Schaub getting hit (seven times) and sacked (twice) more than he should have, which led to Schaub becoming jittery, which … well, you saw what happened.
Schaub has looked like a different quarterback since that game. If he is calm in the pocket and patient, there are plays to be made downfield against the Patriots’ secondary. There will be open receivers. He just has to pick them out and get the ball to them. Given more time, he should be able to do that.
I guarantee you Arian Foster will have a better day than he did the last time. He had 46 yards? Please. He’s likely to have that in the first quarter Sunday.
The Texans offense should move the ball and put up points.
I won’t lie to you and say they will figure out a way to fix their red zone issues, but I expect them to have plenty scoring chances in this one. They had some early ones last time, and instead of settling for field goals they got nothing. Obviously they can’t waste many opportunities.
There is no reason to believe the Texans special teams issues won’t continue to be poor, but at least Danieal Manning gives them a shot at a big kickoff return. The guy is an exceptional runner and smart. He has studied what the Patriots do in coverage, they are good. He might not go Trindon Holliday on them, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him come close to breaking one.
“We’re not worried about what they’re good at, we have to be good at what we’re good at,” Manning said.
Regardless, this won’t be a game of field position as much as it will be a game of points. Both of these teams can put together long scoring drives, but the one that gets and converts more short fields will win.
Defensively, the Texans’ secondary has to, and will, play better than it did the last time against Tom Brady and Co. Johnathan Joseph is healthy – “Night and day,” is how he describes his health then and now – which will make a tremendous difference. Brandon Harris has some reps now, so he is better. Not good, though he had a pretty solid game against the Bengals, but certainly not terrible as he was the last time the teams met.
Better early coverage should give the line more time to get after Brady. People always talk about how quickly he gets rid of the ball, but that isn’t the case if guys are covered.
Rob Gronkowski will be hard to handle, no doubt, but the Patriots moved the ball with such ease without him in the lineup. Things won’t come as easy this time around.
It is a concern that the Bulls on Parade will be so intent on playing better pass defense that Ridley might have a good day running the ball, but that’s OK. Better his 4.5 yards per rush than Brady ripping off 20-yard chunks at will.
A few early third-down stops could set the tone.
The last possession of the first half and first possession of the second half will be particularly important. The Patriots are so good in two- and one-minute offense that they often double down on teams with a score just before the half, then another to start the third quarter. Houston needs to be the team that pulls that off.
Belichick and Brady can come out of the half with a near knockout blow if you let ‘em.
The whipping New England put on the Texans was so thorough that many didn’t even pay attention to what actually happened. I’ve heard this week that Aqib Talib shut down Johnson, though Dre’ had eight catches for 95 yards. I’ve heard that J.J. Watt was invisible, though he hit Brady more than all but one opponent did this season.
Many don’t think the Texans have a chance. I get that.
But aside from not scoring touchdowns in the red zone to turn the game into a route, the Texans looked a lot like the team they were earlier in the season against Cincinnati. I expect them to look that way again on Sunday.
They will show up.
Then we’ll see how the Patriots matchup with the Texans.
It should be a good one.
Texans 30, Patriots 28.