This weekend’s playoff matchup features a re-match of the December 10th Patriots blowout of the Texans. It was a game we all remember but one we wish to forget. The biggest key to this game is did the Texans, including the coaches, learn anything from the December 10th matchup? For example, will Wade Phillips change his high risk, high reward man to man coverage scheme and try to blitz Tom Brady again? And, did Kubiak’s offensive line learn how to block Patriots’ Vince Wilfork?
In the NFL, teams are relatively balanced in terms of talent and parity, hence the phrase any given Sunday. Teams that play consistently well and achieve success develop a higher level of concentration week in and week out. What drives that higher level of focus can be attributed to many things such as revenge from a previous loss, anger from losing the week before, disrespect, and just about anything that provides a team with a collective “chip on their shoulder.” Although the Texans are heavy underdogs, the emotional edge highly favors the Texans, and if they can channel that emotion and focus it into their play, then they have a chance to win.
Texans to watch: Defense
As mentioned, the key to the success of the defense will be if Phillips adjusts his high blitzing scheme. The following statistics are quite revealing so maybe Phillips will know this. When Tom Brady has more time to pass, his pass completion ratio is worse than when he has less time. In fact, when Tom Brady has less than 3 seconds to throw the ball, he is better! No quarterback in the league has a shorter average time before pass than Tom Brady (3.03 seconds compared to NFL average of 3.46). Their passing game is based on timing routes and this quick release works well against added pressure. However, when teams drop extra defenders into coverage, this disrupts the timing, rhythm and Brady’s internal clock.
The 3-4 defenses that have beaten Tom Brady in the recent past (2009 Ravens and 2010 Jets) have blitzed less and dropped more players into coverage. Then, let your front 3 or 4 rush Tom Brady, which would mean either Brooks Reed or Connor Barwin would be in coverage. In their blowout loss to the Patriots in week 14, the Texans sent extra rushers on more than half of Brady’s pass attempts, and he torched them finishing 13 of 19 for 148 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Here are the regular season game and playoff rematch statistics for the 2010 Jets:
The Jets sent at least five rushers in their two regular season meetings on 30 of 69 dropbacks (43.5 percent), with Brady finishing 18 of 28 for 335 yards and three touchdowns. Though the Jets won their first meeting of the season in Week 2, New England won 45-3 in Week 13 on Monday Night Football, highlighted by Brady’s 8-of-13, 199-yard, 3-TD performance against added pressure.
However, in the playoffs, the Jets sent extra pressure on 6 of 50 dropbacks (12.0 percent) and Brady was sacked five times in New York’s win, finishing 29 of 45 for 299 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
The recipe to beat Tom Brady this weekend will be more zone coverage and applying pressure with Watt, Smith and Cody, and occasionally Reed or Barwin. It is also well known that Brady does not like pressure up the middle in his face because he likes to step up in the pocket. Various defensive line stunts and hard rushes up the middle by possibly Brooks Reed or one of the inside linebackers could benefit the Texans.
Having multiple looks and even multiple game plans to confuse and disguise wouldn’t hurt either. In fact, I could envision the Texans playing a combination of 3-4 and 4-3 with Brooks Reed moving to inside linebacker, which we have seen this year. The Patriots are expecting heavy blitz packages from Wade Phillips, so the Texans should do the opposite. The Patriots would rather score quickly, so make them sustain long drives – a death by a thousand cuts would be better than a quick strike a la last time. This strategy would put more pressure on Brady to not only have his timing perfect but also be accurate more times throughout a long drive.
Texans to watch: Offense
The Texans’ best strategy for beating the Patriots is to sustain long time of possession drives that keep the Patriots’ high flying offense off the field – and don’t beat yourself. In the NFL, most teams lose before they get beat because they make mistakes, in effect beating themselves. The Texans have to overcome beating themselves this time.
The offensive line will need to slow Vince Wilfork down this time and the combination of Brandon Brooks and Derek Newton will be a better answer than the lighter, yet quicker, Ben Jones and the serviceable Ryan Harris, which was the combination last time. Arian Foster and the running game must be successful to setup the play action pass. With the addition of tightend Garrett Graham this time, the Texans will be able to run various three tight end sets – which will allow them to run or throw out of these formations. The key will be keeping the Patriots’ defense off balance. Kubiak said he wants his players to “cut it loose”, so let’s hope he does as well.
The Patriots have always focused on taking away a team’s strength. Their philosophy is, we will attack or stop your #1 strength so if you are going to beat us you’ll have to beat us with your #2 or #3 option. Again, will the Texans’ offense make the necessary adjustments? And, will the Texans be able to execute those adjustments?