Richard Moore previews one of weekend's key NFL Playoff match-ups.
Sky Sports 2/2HD, 9.30 P.M Sunday, 13th January.
In week 14, the Patriots subjected the Texans to what NFL Networks’ Steve Mariucci commonly refers to as a ’40 burger’ humiliation on national television, asking serious questions of their Championship credentials in the process; especially when you consider that this defeat represented the second time Houston had been roundly thrashed by an elite opponent, Following the 42 - 24 humbling at home to Aaron Rodgers (338 yards, 6 touchdowns) and his Green Bay Packers in week 6.
Tom Brady (21 of 35 for 296 yards and 4 touchdowns) fashioned scoring drives on the Patriots' first three possessions, picking apart the Texans' vaunted secondary with the surgical precision that’s become his hallmark.
With Brady constantly increasing the pace of the ‘no huddle’ offense, New England were able to completely neutralize the Texans' much vaunted pass rush (a key factor being the success of running schemes like the ‘Zero, Ride, Thirty - Six’ to sets up the pass via a ‘play action’), rendering Defensive Player of the Year candidate J.J. Watt (81 combined tackles, 69 individual, and 20.5 sacks to date) nothing more than a mere spectator.
‘Houston - We have lift off?’
Provided Arian Foster puts on a dominant performance as a runner/receiver from the off, Houston may have a chance. The Texans are at their best when relying on the ground game that stresses defenders with a precise zone-blocking scheme (via both ‘inside zone’ and ‘outside zone’ schemes.
Although in some cases, linemen are required to imagine a ‘railroad track’ parallel to the running backs path and block everything they find on their way), much like the one utilized by Mike Shanahan in Washington, Pete Carroll in Seattle, and at college level by the West Virginia Mountaineers.
Foster has explosiveness (especially in the red zone) and intuition required to capitalize on such a scheme. He routinely finds available gaps, often ‘zig - zagging’ with ease at the point of attack, leading to big gains throughout the course of the game. This ground-based approach requires patience and resiliency when opponents are containing Foster.
Houston are an impressive 10-0 this season when Foster gets 20 carries or more, thus emphasizing the importance of getting the ball in his hands as early as possible; especially with a Quarterback who’s effectiveness is significantly reduced beyond the ‘play action’.
By allowing Foster and the ground game to dictate from the first whistle, the Texans can control the clock and keep Brady (4, 827 yards, 34 touchdowns to 8 interceptions) and New England’s top ranked offense (557 total points, 427.9 yards per game) off the field – Fail, and a Texans outfit who many consider incapable of playing from behind, may see lightening strike twice.
During the regular season, the Patriots have enjoyed sizable 113-67 scoring advantage in the first quarter, including a 14-0 margin in the aforementioned week 14 clash.
Part of the Patriots' success can be attributed to a frenetic no-huddle tempo that so often catches opposition defenses unawares.
When operating at optimal speed, the Patriots snap the ball every 15 seconds, preventing the defense from making personnel substitutions thus leaving a tired unit powerless to slow the Patriots offense.
Most importantly, this approach keeps defensive coordinators from using adventurous blitzes, for fear that communication issues will lead to blown coverage.
As stated previously if the Texans fail to keep the Patriots offense in check, Brady will be able to move the ball up and down the field at will on his way to giving New England an advantage it will not relinquish; even if Houston find extra motivation in Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe’s ‘Tomato can’s, barb.
image: © ajguel