HOUSTON – The Houston Texans will face off against the New England Patriots Sunday. Right now, the Patriots are at the top and the Texans are third in the AFC playoff seeding and both teams would like to hold their positions. Here’s how the Texans could get ahead this weekend:
1 – PASS RUSH
Tom Brady is a master at picking defenses apart when he has time. This year, he has less downfield options than he’s used to, and the Patriots offense has largely struggled as a result. There’s no Gronk, no Antonio Brown, now no Josh Gordon. The only downfield options are Phillip Dorsett and rookie N’Keal Harry.
If the Texans can get some pass rush on Brady, they can limit the damage he can do early with deep throws. By limiting deep balls, the Texans can keep everything to short passes. If the Patriots beat you on short passes, so be it.
2 – OFFENSIVE EXPLOSION
The Patriots have had the best defense in the league, but on offense are not quick-strike scorers. If the Texans can score quickly with Deandre Hopkins and Will Fuller, that puts pressure on Tom Brady. You typically don’t want to get dominated in time of possession, but if the Texans offensive possessions are ending in touchdowns, how long they hold the ball won’t matter as much. Houston has typically done well in shootouts this year. They’re 3-2 when the score total is above 50, with two close losses to the very good New Orleans Saints, and that 30-23 loss to the Colts where the Texans were owed a first-half touchdown.
3 – FORCE KICKS
Due to an appendectomy, the Patriots will be without kicker Nick Folk Sunday. Stephen Gostkowski is on injured reserve and his replacement, Mike Nugent, struggled enough for Folk to get signed. The Patriots may be on their fourth kicker of the season, and it’ll likely be one off the scrap heap.
If the Texans can force red zone kicks, they have a great chance of forcing misses with a new kicker.