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Texans Face Patriots in 'Historic' Game

AFC titans clash Monday
Barrett Walton, 7:05am, Sat. Dec. 8, 2012
Houston played another less-than-perfect game last week and came out on top 24-10. It was against a lesser opponent in the Tennessee Titans. There are going to be many games like that for this team in the coming years, because the Texans are one of the best teams in the NFL and they are built to stay that way for years to come.

What concerns me is that it was the third less-than-perfect game against a lesser opponent in a row. Sure, Houston forced six turnovers and recorded six sacks on their way to their 11th win of the season, but the offense was flat in the second half. The defense carried them through and Houston left Nashville with its sixth straight week of “1 and 0” football.

I guess thatʼs just the story for the 2012 Houston Texans. Consistency has defined this team, but not in the way I expected. Consistently, when one side of the ball struggles, the other side carries the weight and gets it done.

Who will carry the 2012 Texans on Monday night? The stakes will be very different. Andre Johnson called this prime-time matchup with the New England Patriots a historic game for Houston. The Texans have beaten every other AFC division leader this year. Denver (10-3), Baltimore (9-3), and a win on Monday Night Football would add the Patriots (9-3) to that list. Beating all three Division winners and having the best record in the AFC would put the Texans in near-ideal territory to clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and officially determine that the road to the Superdome goes through Reliant Stadium.

Itʼs funny how you dismiss the Patriots until you play against them. Belichick has struggled to make his defense relevant in seasons of late but suddenly youʼre playing against the three-time Super Bowl champion coach and Tom Brady and you find yourself concerned about getting out of Foxborough with a win.

Schematically speaking this should be a very good matchup that should favor Houston. The Texans should be able to control the line of scrimmage and run the ball effectively. Dominating the time of possession will reduce the opportunities Brady has to score points, but itʼs Tom Brady. Heʼs going to get his.

Houston has the best defensive third-down percentage while New England has the best offensive third-down percentage. The Patriots have the No. 1 scoring offense while the Texans have the No. 2 scoring offense.

The positive is that Houston can play its style of football. Expect them to be more aggressive, but I think they will still lean on the run to limit New Englandʼs offensive snaps. The Patriots are ninth against the run but how effectively they play against the zone system will determine how Houston plays offensively. If the Patriots can shut down the run, the Texans have the weapons to get into a shootout and Belichickʼs secondary gives up more passing yards than all but three teams in the NFL.

Injury-wise, Monday nightʼs game is a bit of a push. New England is missing its best touchdown catcher in Rob Gronkowski. Houston is missing two key guys that would give them a good chance against the Patriots offense. Brian Cushing and Brice McCain would have matched up very well against Gronkowski and Welker. Are the Texans athletic enough to match up with the other big-time Patriot tight end in Hernandez? Darryl Sharpton, Tim Dobbins, and Barrett Ruud are not athletic enough to handle him so that puts the pressure on Danielle Manning and Glover Quin to handle the middle. In turn, that shifts the pressure to the corners to stay tight on deep routes with less help from the safeties, something the Texans secondary has struggled with at times this season.

The key matchups will be the Texans getting pressure on Brady without having to blitz too often, a la the New York Giants. For New England, capitalizing on the Texans' young secondary could pace them to end up with more points at the final buzzer.

Jonathan Joseph should play but itʼs second-year corner Brandon Harris who will most likely be faced with covering Wes Welker in the slot. Wade Phillips will surely scheme to take the pressure off of Harris, but it will be a battle of Belichick and Wadeʼs game-day scheme and play-calling that will determine who gets the best of whom.

Oh yeah, and then thereʼs that other coach over there on Houstonʼs sideline. There are three super genius coaches coaching football on Monday Night Football for all the world to see. The Texans outnumber the Patriots two to one.

All said and done, I believe Houston falls a bit short this week as Wes Welker and Tom Brady get it done on the national stage. I sure hope Iʼm wrong.

Prediction:
Texans 27 – Patriots 31

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