The Texans’ key to avenging an embarrassing Week 14 loss at New England and advancing to the AFC title game will be QB Matt Schaub.
Texans passing game vs. Patriots pass defense
As good as the Texans’ defense can be, especially up front with J.J. Watt, the Patriots and Tom Brady should find ways to score points. It might not come as easily as it did in Week 14, but the dynamic, balanced offense — which has TE Rob Gronkowski back, by the way — should get its opportunities.
That’s why Matt Schaub and the passing game hold the key to a Texans victory. Houston’s best chance to win is to go score-for-score with Brady, and Schaub has the weapons to get it done. On the other side, the Patriots’ secondary can be a liability, and if Schaub puts it all together, the Texans can pull off the upset.
Schaub’s top two weapons, WR Andre Johnson and TE Owen Daniels, should find space to make plays.
Johnson is one of the NFL’s top receivers, with a size-speed ratio that’s tough to defend. He often will line up opposite CB Aqib Talib, who has the physicality to match, but has been beaten for big plays this season and is coming off a hip injury that originally was hurt in the first Houston game. Johnson had eight catches for 95 yards vs. New England in Week 14.
Daniels led the Texans with nine catches for 91 yards against the Bengals, dominating the middle of the field. The Patriots held him to two catches in Week 14. New England’s front seven is a strength, but they don’t have a great cover linebacker. If Daniels is matched up with ILB Jerod Mayo, it's advantage Daniels, which puts the onus on safeties Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory. Though, New England would probably be better served having McCourty staying in center field and being able to help cover Johnson.
The Patriots’ run defense ranks among the league’s better groups, and it held Arian Foster to 46 yards on 15 carries in Week 14. Foster is a great pass-catching back, though, and the Texans will want to get the ball into his hands any way possible. The Patriots allowed a member of an opponent's backfield a reception of 25 yards or more six times this season.
Despite an improved and stable safety group, the Patriots were 29th in the league in passing defense. There are yards to be had, the question is, can Schaub get the job done?
Schaub entered his first postseason as a starter with a stumble after a poor December. He threw a first-half pick-six last week against Cincinnati, but was efficient outside that throw. He can’t afford to make a mistake like that, or the interception he threw to McCourty in Week 14, on Sunday in Foxborough.
One X-factor for the Patriots in the last matchup was slot CB Kyle Arrington, who had a pair of passes defensed. With Talib and Alfonzo Dennard healthy, Arrington can play the slot, with McCourty at safety, which is New England’s best secondary lineup.
As much as the Pats give up yards, they are also adept at taking the ball away. Schaub will have to be careful, as will his receivers, in terms of holding on to the football. Look for Bill Belichick to dial up some pressure as well, especially against the young right side of the Texans’ O-line, to rattle Schaub.
If Schaub runs the passing game with ease and avoids turnovers, this can be a close shootout. If he turns it over, or if the Patriots’ defense shuts down Houston’s air attack, we could be primed for another rout, which would send the Patriots to another AFC championship game.