FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots are looking to knock off the Texans (11-1) and gain their seventh straight victory tonight at Gillette Stadium.
New England will move up among AFC playoff seeds if they hit on these five keys:
- Control Chris Myers: The Texans’ terrific inside and outside zone running game is keyed by the ability of standout center Chris Myers to control the middle of the line and to pick off linebackers on the second level. If the Patriots can keep Myers occupied, it’s going to be very tough for the cutback lanes to open up. Wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots line up Vince Wilfork right over Myers on early downs, and then move Wilfork around in passing situations. But the Patriots might very well think that Kyle Love, who played well last week following a couple of mediocre games, can do the job himself, and that will allow Wilfork to be impactful in a three-technique role on the outside shoulder of a guard. Both LG Wade Smith and rookie RG Ben Jones are ripe for the taking.
- Go fast on offense: The Texans will have some pressures schemed up with an extra day off, and would like to get end J.J. Watt moved around. Don’t let them. With the extra rest, the Patriots should be ready to use the turbo no huddle, at least in spurts. The key to that is run game, which leads to…
- Run successfully against the dime: The Texans don’t run a nickel defense – it’s either their base or a dime with safety Glover Quin playing the linebacker role. Look for the Patriots to get that package and then to run on it. The Patriots have to run the ball well against the four-man front or else it could be a tough night for Tom Brady throwing against that many defensive backs. If the Patriots go fast, it will be with the run, to keep the clock moving and the defense on the field, and they’ll also use the short passing game. It’s possible, with four running backs active, that they could envision a role for Shane Vereen in the passing game, maybe in a Julian Edelman-type role.
- Linebackers must be disciplined: While it will be important that Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones set a hard edge against the stretch runs of the Texans, it will be more important that the linebackers – Brandon Spikes, Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower read their keys, be patient and get off blocks. The linebackers must also be disciplined in the play-action game. No one runs it better than the Texans, and QB Matt Schaub will look to hit TE Owen Daniels, H-back James Casey and occasionally the receivers on shallow crosses off play-action. If the linebackers don’t do a good job in their drops, that means the safeties will have to be more aggressive, and that could leave them at a disadvantage in the short plays the Texans are bound to take.
- Go deep: Brady will always take the easy money underneath with Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez if it’s there, but the Texans play the underneath routes well with a lot of single-high safety looks. That means the outside, against cornerbacks Jonathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson, will be a one-on-one situation. Joseph wasn’t playing well before he missed time with injury, and Jackson often bites on double moves. Look for the Patriots to take some shots with Brandon Lloyd and Aaron Hernandez on the outside.
These two teams are pretty evenly matched given the injury problems on the Patriots’ offense and the Texans’ defense. But this has the feel of a Patriots-type game: December at home on nationally TV with an upstart opponent coming in. The Patriots should hold the advantage in special teams, and they’ll get a couple big plays on defense to win this one comfortably.
Patriots 34, Texans 20