Nearly one month ago to the day, this matchup ended poorly. Or very well. Whichever.
A Patriots offense that easily led the league in average points per game (34.8, over four points ahead of the second-place Broncos) posted 42 points on the Texans (final score: 42-14). For Houston, that loss started a conclusion to the regular season which came with a beeping sound, as they dropped three of their last four games, with all of those losses to playoff teams. It also tied a season high in points allowed.
For New England, it was…meh, as that Week 14 win marked the fifth time they scored 40 or more points. But what was particularly impressive about this debacle is that they scored 28 points before the Texans scored even one.
You’ve heard a lot about that game this week, and you’ll hear plenty more in the next 24 or so hours before the finale of the Divisional playoff weekend kicks off tomorrow at 4 p.m. ET. In fairness to Houston, Johnathan Joseph was hobbled, which contributed to an outlier of a game from Brandon Lloyd. He had 89 receiving yards on seven catches, a mark he topped only two other times throughout the regular season. And in, um, fairness to New England, they made fools out of one of the league’s best defenses a year ago even without Rob Gronkowski.
I highly doubt that we see a similar trouncing tomorrow, and gambling degenerate whisperer Rob Pizzola agrees, as he called a narrow Patriots win. And if there is one major upset this weekend (no, I’m not counting Seahawks over Falcons), some have pegged this as the game, since unlike the Ravens in Denver, there’s at least a remote chance that Houston can keep up with New England’s offense.
Fair enough, though I still highly/really highly doubt any such outcome is the reality we’re greeted with by the end of the weekend. Why? Arian Foster, and his likely disappearance.
More on that below. First, your required daily dose of numbers.
|Texans offense||Patriots defense|
|Total yards P/Game||372.1 (7th)||373.2 (25th)|
|Passing yards P/Game||239.4 (11th)||271.4 (29th)|
|Rushing yards P/Game||132.7 (8th)||101.9 (9th)|
|Texans defense||Patriots offense|
|Total yards P/Game||323.2 (7th)||427.9 (1st)|
|Passing yards P/Game||225.8 (16th)||291.4 (4th)|
|Rushing yards P/Game||97.5 (7th)||136.5 (8th)|
OK then. So, in a vacuum, the strength of these two running offenses powered by Foster and Stevan Ridley should cancel each other out. Maybe, but the problem for Foster lies in both the abuse he’s taken, and the abuse he’s expected to take.
Thoughts And Rants
- Foster led the league in carries with 351, a pace that slowed this year as the Texans’ playoff position became more secure. At one point he was averaging 24.5 carries per game, and he was on pace for 412 overall, which would have been the second most in league history while inviting the curse of the 400-carry season.
- Foster has still looked Foster-like of late while logging games with 140, 96, and 165 rushing yards (the latter of which was a season high), but mixed in with those surges over the last six weeks has been games with 15, 46, and 38 yards. That’s led to an only serviceable and average average of 4.4 yards per carry for Foster during that stretch, despite those two games when that number jumped to over 6.0.
- The Patriots were the opposing defense for one of those lowly Foster games (the 38 yarder). Led by Brandon Spikes up the middle, they were one of the six teams to give up less than four yards per carry.
- The Pats faced a top 10 running back five times (Chris Johnson, Frank Gore, Marshawn Lynch, and C.J. Spiller twice). In those games they allowed only a total of 231 rushing yards, with no 100-yard games. That includes just four yards to Johnson, and only 41 yards to Lynch, the latter of whom finished third in overall yards while averaging 99.4 yards per game.
- When the Texans are defending the run, the above surface-y number is at least mildly deceiving. Sure, they’ve held elite rushers like Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson to 51 and 86 yards respectively. But this is a defense that’s played without Brian Cushing while feasting on the lowly likes of Vick Ballard (twice), Jalen Parmele or whoever the hell was running the ball for Jacksonville, and Lions and Packers offenses that only ran out of obligation. Overall, less than half of the Texans’ regular-season opponents (six) were ranked in the top half of the league in total rushing yards per game.
- But what of those passing offenses? When Tom Brady et all are busy going about being really awesome, the instinct to blitz is one that’s quite understandable, especially when your defense employs J.J. Watt, who had 20.5 sacks this year and he summons his inner Dikembe Mutombo on command. The problem? Brady is actually much more comfortable when he has a lot of large men in his face (not that there’s anything wrong with that). That’s because of his illegally quick release time.
- As ESPN Stats and Information observed, the Texans sent extra rushers on more than half of New England’s offensive snaps in Week 14, but overall this year Brady completed 72 percent of his passes when he had three seconds or less to throw. He also averaged 8.1 yards per attempt on those completions, while throwing 26 of his 34 touchdowns. Umm, wow.
- Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson will hope to exploit a weak Patriots’ defensive backfield. Johnson still had 95 receiving yards despite the Week 14 romping, but what’s especially concerning for New England is Owen Daniels’ matchup with safeties Devin McCourty and/or Steve Gregory. Daniels had 91 yards on nine catches and 11 targets a week ago, and this week he’ll oppose a defense that’s ranked 29th against tight ends by Football Outsiders while allowing 64.4 receiving yards per game to the position.
- This is in earnest the first time all season that the Patriots have had their top receivers healthy, and when we look back on Week 14 yet again, that simple fact gives us even less reason for Texans faith. Gronkowski was out a month ago, and Donte Stallworth was on the receiving end for 63 of the 296 total passing yards Houston allowed that day. That’s the same Donte Stallworth who has only 45 catches over the past three seasons. If nobodies for the Patriots can rip apart the Texans’ secondary, image what somebodies can do.