Originally written on NESN.com  |  Last updated 12/7/12

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 10: Julian Edelman #11 of the New England Patriots makes a recpetion against the Baltimore Ravens during the 2010 AFC wild-card playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 10, 2010 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The Ravens won 33-14. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
The Texans have one of the best defenses in football, which normally wouldn’t be that big of a problem for the NFL’s highest scoring offense. But with both Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman unavailable for Monday’s game — and Edelman done for the season, in fact — the Patriots could be in some trouble. Tom Brady is down two of his favorite targets, and to make matters worse, he’ll have to deal with J.J. Watt and an extremely aggressive Texans pass rush on Monday night. Even without his full offensive arsenal, though, Brady did get an old friend back this week. Donte Stallworth, who was with the Patriots in 2007 and again in training camp earlier this year, re-signed with the team earlier in the week and figures to fill Edelman’s void in the offense. At 32 years old, he’s not quite as dynamic a playmaker as he once was, or as Edelman has proven to be in recent weeks, but Stallworth knows the system well and is working hard to catch up by Monday’s kickoff. While there are plenty of questions remaining on offense, the defense has looked surprisingly stout of late. The Patriots have allowed just under 20 points per game over their last three contests, and the addition of Aqib Talib in the secondary has worked wonders so far. With Talib strengthening one side of the field, rookie Alfonzo Dennard has made great strides, and even Kyle Arrington looks good working out of the slot. Talib has definitely taken a lot of pressure off the secondary, but he hasn’t exactly been flawless since debuting for New England three weeks ago. And with one of the NFL’s elite receivers in Andre Johnson coming to Gillette Stadium this week, Talib will have to be at his best. Up front, Vince Wilfork and the defensive line also have a tough task ahead. Arian Foster has developed into one of the best running backs in football, and Matt Schaub continues to seem comfortable and confident in the pocket on a weekly basis. The Patriots line needs to disrupt both Foster and Schaub’s rhythm in order to keep Houston from controlling the clock and pounding the secondary. With so many variables on the table, which Patriots player do you think will be most vital to a win on Monday night? Take Our Poll
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