January 13, 2013

Ravens win gives Patriots great opportunity

With a win today, Tom Brady passes Joe Montana for most playoff wins by a quarterback
Houston Texans at New England Patriots
How things can change after one game.  The Ravens double over time win against Peyton Manning and the Broncos makes the winner of this game the top seed in the AFC.  Either way the AFC championship should be a solid game, even though it will not have the star power of a Brady vs. Manning duel.

The Texans now know they have a chance to host the AFC championship game and that, I think, adds to the pressure that they feel. These two teams are not very similar but they both have talent.  The main difference that I see is the mental toughness that the Patriots seem to have compared to the Texans.  The Patriots lost three tough games early in the season to the Cardinals, Ravens and the Seahawks, but they didn't fold their tent and go home.  The Patriots at 3-3, won nine of their last 10 games, their lone misstep against a 49er team that just whipped the Packers yesterday.  Even in that game the Patriots had the fortitude to fight back and almost win it. The Texans, however, lost two of their last three after the Patriots beat them down in Foxboro. Even their win last week against against the Bengals was shaky.  A.J. Green of the Bengals had a chance to score a go-ahead touchdown but could not reel in the pass.

Today, the Patriots will also be healthier than they have in weeks.  Rob Gronkowski will play unlike their last match up and cornerbacks Alfonzo Dennard and Aqib Talib should be healthier than they were two weeks ago.  Yesterday, the Patriots were also given more motivation in the way of lack of respect from the Associated Press.  Only big Vince Wilfork was voted as a first-team All Pro, with Logan Mankins being a second teamer.  Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Jerod Mayo, Devin McCourty, and Sebastian Vollmer all received votes but they were left off the team.  This is a minor oversight for the players but the coaches are always looking for an edge. Houston had three total.

The Patriots have too many weapons even for a defense of the caliber of the Texans.  Welker, Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd, Stevan Ridley, and Danny Woodhead form a solid, if not spectacular, core of runners and receivers.  Stopping Welker or Gronk can be done but can you stop Lloyd, Hernandez and the running game? That is the task that the Texans have to deal with.  

The Texans do have a defense that has shown they can stop the run (7th in the NFL) but can give up some yards through the air if their pass rush is not cranking at full speed (16th in the NFL).  The way the Texans win this game is the same way the Giants won both of their Super Bowls against the Patriots.  Rush three or four guys and drop the rest to clog the field with defenders, while still getting pressure on Brady.  The problem with that gameplan is that the Texans under defensive coordinator Wade Philips really enjoy blitzing.  The exact thing that Brady and the Patriots have feasted on this year.  The other problem with playing like the Giants did in the Super Bowl is that the Patriots now have a running game.  How good is that running game you might ask, because it certainly is not as good as the Texans' rushing attack, right? Wrong. The Patriots were ranked 7th in the NFL and Houston was only 8th.  So that would mean the Patriots not only throw the ball better than the Texans (4th to 11th), they also run better.  That brings me to the Patriots defense.

Although the Patriots don't play well against the pass, they do have some strengths that make for a tough match up for the Texans.  The Patriots are 9th in defensive points allowed (20.7 pts/gm) which is tied with Houston's much celebrated defense.  Wilfork, Mayo, Brandon Spikes and the rest of the Pats also stop the run, which is Houston's strength.  They excel at probably the most important aspect of any football game, they seldom turn the ball over and on defense they cause turnovers.  They had 25 more takeaways than turnovers. In conclusion, the Patriots stop the run, don't let teams score, and force turnovers better than anyone in the NFL. Is the defense really that terrible? I think not.

Get ready Texans and their fans, tomorrow could be another long day.  Patriots 41, Texans 27 

Texans, Big Vince is on his way.

For your viewing pleasure