Rushing yards per game
Houston offense: 142.5 (Sixth)
New England defense: 100.8 (Ninth)
When the Texans pass
Matt Schaub has developed into a solid, steady quarterback who won’t dazzle teams with his athleticism or stats, but won’t kill his own team by forcing high-risk passes or committing costly turnovers. The 6-foot-5-inch, 239-pounder sets up fast, gets rid of the ball quickly, and has a nice touch — watch out for the screens to Arian Foster. Schaub doesn’t have the strongest arm, but he thrives on short-to-intermediate patterns. Schaub is also blessed with a fine receiving corps — and none is finer than Andre Johnson. A 6-3, 230-pound monster, Johnson has an elite blend of size, speed, and strength. He can beat press coverage with his power, but giving him too much of a cushion is a mistake, as well, as he is a demon across the middle and is exceptional in the open field. He bursts in and out of his cuts without decelerating and his stiff arms stun opponents like a Lyndon Byers uppercut. Kevin Walter (6-3, 218 pounds) is another big receiver with excellent hands. Lestar Jean and Keshawn Martin are developing. Tight end Owen Daniels (6-3, 249) has excellent speed and hands. He’s tough, too. He can take multiple hits and will fight for yards. New England’s secondary is improving (no, seriously). Kyle Arrington has put together a string of solid performances. Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard are inconsistent. The safeties (Devin McCourty, Steve Gregory, and Patrick Chung) can play.
Passing yards per game
Houston offense: 247.1 (10th)
New England defense: 279.9 (29th)
Texans’ key player: Arian Foster
J.J. Watt, Matt Schaub, and Andre Johnson are all candidates here, but Foster gets the nod because when he’s in a groove it opens things up for the passing game. If he’s doing his trademark Namaste bow more than once Monday night, the Patriots could be in trouble.
How he beats you: With quickness and vision. Foster has a nice first step and will patiently follow his blocks. If his first option isn’t there, he will slidestep in search of another. Sometimes that works. Sometimes it doesn’t.
How to shut him down: By punishing him early. Foster’s not a big fan of the rough stuff. So when the going gets tough, he usually looks to get out of Dodge in a hurry. Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes need to set the tone.
TEXANS’ KEYS TO VICTORY:
1.) Cover 2: Houston has to pay special attention to Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez, because if Tom Brady can hit them quickly, the Patriots will roll.
2.) Squeeze play: Pass rushers J.J. Watt and Connor Barwin need to make their presence felt by beating New England’s tackles and smushing Tom Brady.
3.) Safety first: Matt Schaub is an excellent game manager. He must continue to make smart decisions and protect the ball against a very opportunistic defense.
PATRIOTS’ KEYS TO VICTORY:
1.) Father throws best: Tom Brady can only shred a defense if he’s upright. Brady’s handlers, particularly Nate Solder, have to bust their butts to keep the Texans out of the backfield.
2.) Corner shop: Texans receiver Andre Johnson is a beast. Aqib Talib is the only Patriot corner with the size and skills to match Johnson’s physicality. He needs to step up.
3.) More of the same: Ginormous tackle Vince Wilfork has been performing at an All-Pro level. He needs to continue to be his disruptive self and abuse Arian Foster and Matt Schaub.
Patriots 28, Texans 20
Jim McBride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.