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Patriots notebook

Air of expectancy for defense

Texans are potent in passing attack

Center Ryan Wendell (right), who was just signed to the Patriots’ roster off their practice squad, works on his blocking technique with guard Stephen Neal during practice Wednesday. Center Ryan Wendell (right), who was just signed to the Patriots’ roster off their practice squad, works on his blocking technique with guard Stephen Neal during practice Wednesday. (Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)
By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / January 1, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH - Two of the top three passing teams in the NFL have faced the Patriots this season, and both the Colts (No. 1) and Saints (No. 3) walked away with victories. No. 2 on the list is Sunday’s opponent. The Texans’ offense starts with quarterback Matt Schaub and funnels its way through receivers like Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter.

The last game of the regular season may be the biggest test for the Patriots’ secondary. The Texans average 379.3 yards a game, which is fifth in the NFL. Their 290.6 passing yards are second. Schaub’s 4,467 yards this season lead the NFL. Johnson is a big reason for those numbers.

Johnson has led the league in receiving yards in back-to-back seasons, posting 1,504 this season. He also has a career-high nine touchdowns and is the most productive receiver since 2007, with an average of 90.7 yards a game. On the other side is Walter, who has 51 catches and 581 yards.

If Schaub has time to throw, he can get the ball deep. The Texans have 60 passes that have resulted in 20 yards or more this season. And their receivers don’t drop many balls; they are best in the league with only 4.6 percent drops, according to Stats Inc.

With such a prolific offense, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said pressuring the quarterback is the best place to start.

“But along with the pass rush, you’ve just got to decide - the more guys you rush, the fewer guys you’ve got to cover,’’ Belichick said. “The more guys you cover, then, generally speaking, the more time the quarterback has to throw the ball. You have to kind of balance that off.’’

Getting to the quarterback won’t be easy for the Patriots. Houston opponents have sacked the quarterback just 24 times this season, which is among the fewest in the league.

But the Patriots’ defensive play the previous three weeks is sparking confidence at the right time, according to linebacker Tully Banta-Cain.

“I think when you can accumulate everything in the season and build off of everything we’ve learned in the previous 15 weeks, we can try to put our best game together this week,’’ Banta-Cain said. “That’s how you have to look at it. You can’t look too far back.’’

Lineman Jarvis Green said overall the defense has been communicating and executing better.

“It’s team defense,’’ Green said. “[The secondary] plays good, it helps us; we play good, it helps them. You could have the best secondary in the world, but if you don’t have a good pass rush or vice versa, it doesn’t matter.’’

Roster shuffle
The Patriots signed center Ryan Wendell from the practice squad yesterday and waived defensive lineman Titus Adams. Wendell, 6 feet 2 inches, 285 pounds, was on the 53-man roster out of training camp and played on special teams in the first two games before being waived and signed to the practice squad in September.

Wendell was signed by the Patriots as a rookie free agent out of Fresno State in 2008.

Adams was signed to the 53-man roster from the practice squad Dec. 9. He played against Carolina and Buffalo but was inactive against Jacksonville last week. Without Adams, the Patriots are left with six defensive linemen on the roster.

Hoyer is ready
Tom Brady says he wants to play on Sunday, but if he is taken out, it means an opportunity for rookie Brian Hoyer, who has mopped up against the Titans, Bucs, and Saints this season. Hoyer wouldn’t reveal the plans for him Sunday, instead saying he will be ready. “Whatever it is, I’ll be ready to do my job, ’’ Hoyer said. “Game reps are so much more valuable than anything you do in practice, because you’re going against someone else, it’s a live situation, those guys are really coming after you. I think those are really valuable, but I’m here to do whatever’s asked of me. Whatever it is, I’ll be fine.’’

Perfect attendance
Randy Moss and Brady returned to practice yesterday, giving the Patriots a full group to work with in the Dana-Farber Field House. While everyone was present, not everyone was able to participate in a full practice. Green (knee), Ty Warren (ankle), Wes Welker (not injury-related), Vince Wilfork (foot), and Brady (right shoulder/right finger/rib) all had limited participation. For the Texans, defensive tackle Shawn Cody (knee) and linebacker Brian Cushing (foot/ribs) did not participate in practice, while tackle Duane Brown (knee) was limited.

Albert R. Breer of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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