"Check, please." - Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
If you ever wanted to know what the "great minds" behind Battle Red Blog are thinking about Sunday's playoff game between the Texans and Patriots, look no further. The Round Table awaits.
For many people, mention of a round table conjures up recollections of Arthurian legend. On the other hand, mention of a BRB round table likely conjures up thoughts of a handful of loutish blogging types yelling at each other and passing around a bottle of moonshine. Or it would, if any of us could be bothered to leave the friendly confines of our respective basements and the warm glow of our computer screens.
Accordingly, I circulated half a dozen questions via electronic mail to the other guys on the "staff" here. The idea was to take everyone's pulse on Texans-Patriots, and to make sure that everyone's asinine predictions would be captured for time immemorial. The questions and answers are below for your scrutiny and amusement.
1. The biggest key for the Texans' defense against Tom Brady & Co. is going to be _______________. Explain your answer.
Rivers: Connor Barwin's pass pressure. He needs to be as good as he was against Cincinnati and help J.J. Watt force Brady into some uncomfortable throws. As proof, I present to you how the Giants have given the Patriots problems in the past. It all starts up front.
TDC: It's going to be pressure up the middle. Beating Brady means achieving a consistent pass rush that makes him uncomfortable and off his spot. The best way to do this is to push the middle of the line and not allow Brady a place to step up in and throw. Make him move and into the arms of an end or linebacker.
BFD: Clearly, a consistently fierce pass rush will be important, but we already know the Pats will scheme quick hitting passes, negating to a certain extent our ability to get to him. Sadly, I think our ability to cover their TEs for more than two seconds will be key in getting Brady off his game, pass rush or no.
A consistently fierce pass rush will be important, but we already know the Pats will scheme quick hitting passes, negating to a certain extent our ability to get to him. Sadly, I think our ability to cover their TEs for more than two seconds will be key in getting Brady off his game, pass rush or no. The pass rush. As we've seen the Giants do twice in the Super Bowl, the way to get to Brady is to keep him off balance by rushing him early, often, and relentlessly. It's high time for Connor Barwin to show why he should make the big bucks in his next contract. What better way than to complement J.J. Watt in the pass rush?
Brett: The biggest key for the Texans' defense against Tom Brady & Co. is going to be: Who covers Hernandez? I'm fairly sure that Wade will put Quin on Gronk because it is the most logical choice, which leaves some sort of committee of Reed, James, Ruud, and maybe Harris or Manning to cover Hernandez. I'm not sure who I would prefer to cover him out of all of those options, but my gut instinct tells me that Harris and Manning would have the most success (or rather, the least screw-ups).
TGC: The trendy pick is a good pass rush, and I understand that, but I'm going to say decent play from our linebacking corps. They're going to need to cover guys long enough for the pass rush to get there and they need to be savvy in diagnosing play action. Last time around, the Patriots rarely used play action against us, but when they did it completely killed us. We have to be ready for that this time around.
Vega: The non-J.J. Watt pass rush. If Tom Brady has a comfortable pocket to work in, the rest of the scheme doesn't really matter. Watt, as great as he is, can only disrupt a handful of plays over the course of a game. He needs help, but if the rest of the defense can provide it, they have a chance to get Brady off rhythm.
MDC: Though it's related to covering the TEs, I think the answer is KJax and JJo in solo coverage. As Brett and others have noted, the safeties are going to have their hands full helping with the TEs, so Kareem and Joseph are going to be islands unto themselves. (They both laugh in John Donne's face. Or they would if he weren't long dead.) If they can play lockdown coverage on Welker and Lloyd, Wade is going to be free to try different things to stop Gronkowski and Hernandez. Also, I just wanted to make a John Donne reference.
2. The biggest key for the Texans' offense against the New England defense is going to be _______________. Explain your answer.
Rivers: First down. The Patriots' defense is 31st in DVOA on first-down plays, and the Texans desperately need to exploit that to stay on schedule. In general I feel like the "grind clock" gameplans are missing the forest for the trees, but in this case Houston needs to make sure it presents Brady as few opportunities as possible.
TDC: The right side of the line. If they can play well again, I trust the Texans will continue to move the ball efficiently however they'd like.
BFD: Vince Wilfork. He simply ate our lunch in the first match-up, though, to be fair, he also ate our dinner, the entire spread at the local elementary, and Casey Hampton, as well (for dessert, he had low-fat ice cream and fruit. He has to watch his figure, dontchaknow.)
Everything we do must go through Wilfork, and by "through" him, I mean as far away from him as possible. In addition, we can't have only two or three receivers running patterns. We need to attack them in pretty much the same way they'll attack us. And more Foster on Brown's side, please.
UT: Matt Schaub. The Pats have the 23rd ranked pass defense by DVOA according to Football Outsiders. If we see the same Schaub that we saw in the last four games of the regular season, I have no reason to think that the Texans will experience any different outcome from the last time these teams met.
Brett: The biggest key for the Texans' offense against the New England defense is going to be: Running the ball on the edges. If they can't get Foster going, the entire bootleg games goes out the window and suddenly we are relying on Schaub to beat Tom Freaking Brady in a shootout. We go as Foster goes, so Kubes better make damn sure he goes far.
TGC: Using our intermediate passing game effectively. I have no faith that Schaub can throw deep routes. Given that, we're going to need to use our TEs and (especially) Arian Foster in the intermediate range. Getting Foster out one-on-one versus the Pats' linebackers will get us first downs all day long, whereas a late swing pass into the flats will get us roughly -3 yards.
Vega: Matt Schaub spreading the ball around. I don't have stats to back this up (because I'm lazy and don't have time), but it feels like Schaub has gotten a little bit of Andre Johnson tunnel vision during his late season struggles. Schaub is at his best when he's dumping off to Foster, hitting OD and Graham and even getting the occasional rookie WR involved. Andre is still the man, and that shouldn't change, but the rest of the team is needed to keep him honest.
MDC: First down. The Texans absolutely need to get 4 or 5 yards on most first downs to keep (a) the playbook wide open on second down and (b) Schaub from having a lot of third-and-10s to convert. The Pats are going to blitz Schaub on third downs, especially early, and hitting those slants and hot reads for 5 or 6 yards is going to be much easier (obviously) than hitting them for 10. Getting those first down yards is probably going to require a combination of not running at Vince Wilfork and praying to Tom Cruise that the right side of the line plays as well this week as they did last week.
3. Which Texan frightens you the most in terms of what he could do to thwart the Texans' efforts on Sunday? Why?
TDC: Garrett Graham. If he's inactive, the Texans lose a chunk of playbook they enjoy running.
UT: The ILBs. Anything going in the general direction of Barrett Ruud and Bradie James, whether it be runs, passes to Gronkowski and Hernandez, my grandmother's sponge cake, is going to have me reaching for my home anesthetic kit (booze).
Brett: Literally anybody on special teams. Why? Because they've done it all season and I have no reason to think they will suddenly be better.
TGC: Joe Marciano. Because he's godawful. Although if you're going to force me to choose a player, I'll say - as much as I love the guy and will defend him up and down - Matt Schaub. Because we cannot win unless he brings his A+ game, and we haven't seen much of that from him in the last couple of months.
Vega: The right side of the offensive line. Despite my answer for #2, Arian Foster's ability to run is huge. If the line can give him some holes, he can really put some pressure on the Pat's defense. If not, #2 doesn't matter. Okay, maybe then I should put Foster and the line as the biggest key. Well, it's already written and I don't feel like changing it.
MDC: Joe Marciano for all of the obvious reasons, followed closely by Pro Bowl Guard Wade Smith. The Texans managed to hold Geno Atkins to basically nothing, but Pro Bowl Guard Wade Smith whiffed badly on Atkins on third-and-goal, causing an incompletion where there was going to be an easy TD if Schaub has another second. If Wilfork decides to play hard, Chris Myers can't stop him alone, and it will fall to Pro Bowl Guard Wade Smith to play like he deserves his title.
4. As Matt and others have noted, every once in a while, Shayne Graham looks like he could nail a kick from 60 yards. Of course, he also sometimes looks like asking him to hit from 40+ is a fool's errand. How confident are you in Graham kicking on Sunday at Gillette Stadium?
TDC: I cringe when he kicks at any time, so I'm not confident in Graham at all. That's just not changing. Luckily, he seems to make kicks the more I yell at the TV for him to go back to the sideline, so what we have is working for us.
BFD: I'm as confident in Graham as I am in NOT having the urge to curl up on Tim's lap every time I see him. Tell me I'm special, Dearest Blogfather.
Ed. Note: No.
UT: I'm very confident that Graham will kick. Oh, you mean kick field goals with accuracy and power? I think I'll take a page out of Kubiak's playbook (one he's not using) and look the other way when he comes out onto the field.
Brett: If it's under 45 yards, I think it will be okay. Anything over that and I'm breaking out the whiskey.
TGC: Not at all.
Vega: I believe that Shayne Graham is an inaccurate kicker if you look beyond the simple made/not-made breakdown. His short field goals, while often are through the uprights, are rarely down the pipe. As he moves further back, that slight inaccuracy becomes a bigger issue. It's possible that as the pressure increases (be it from distance or situation) any bit of pressing that he experiences only amplifies that minor variation, making it a slightly bigger variation. All that to say, I have no confidence. Even if he finishes the game 4-4 again, I won't have confidence in the next game.
MDC: Totally confident. Gillette has a roof, right? No? Well, at least Boston weather in January isn't sketchy, right? What's that? Oh god. Oh my dear god. #SkinEm.
Rivers: With a mix of styles and coverages. The effective ones will probably include bracket LB/S coverage on one guy and a single safety on another. I don't buy the idea that Brandon Harris can check Aaron Hernandez.
TDC: Glover Quin has been playing well over the past few games. I think I stick him on Gronkowski and let him scrap it out. Bracket with linebackers underneath and play Hernandez the same with Manning.
BFD: Clearly, Gronk and Hernandez need to be Kerrigan'd before the game (Side note: Tonya, call me.). Neither our LBs nor, truly, our safeties are up to the task one-on-one. We'll need to disguise coverages more and not fall in love with man. We're going to need to trust Jackson and Joseph on the outside and use everything we've got in the middle on Gronk, Hernandez, and Welker.
UT: They won't. I think they'll have an "unfortunate encounter" with some large men named Bruno hours before the game. Beyond that, stick Quin and Manning on them and pray that ILB brackets can help them out.
Brett: My best guess is combo coverage between Brooks Reed and Glover Quin. I don't expect Reed to pass rush nearly as much in this game as he would most of the time, and more often than not, I think he will be bracketing Gronk underneath with safety help over the top. Expect J-Jo and Kareem to be on their own for most of the game. Gulp.
TGC: Good question. Those guys present a load of problems for us. I would do it by throwing a lot of different coverages at them to keep Brady guessing, doing our damndest to get pressure without blitzing linebackers, and - as a last resort - trying to contain them more than stop them.
Vega: They're not. Let's be honest, it's not reasonable to expect those two to be held in check. The best hope is that the damage is kept to a minimum. I expect the Texans to be in nickel and dime formations all day long with Quin stepping up to cover, but they will still get their numbers. The key is to keep it reasonable.
MDC: Hitting them at the line to try to throw off timing; committing safeties to both of them (with some help for Manning from a LB); and saying their prayers, eating their vitamins, and believing in themselves like good little Hulkamaniacs.
6. Take your battle red glasses off and answer this question objectively: What will the final score of Sunday's Texans-Patriots game be?
Rivers: 31-20, Patriots.
TDC: Texans 27, Patriots 20. I believe that you will see Houston play with a lot of pride and a collective chip on their shoulder. All this talk of how New England should roll will place this team together and give them a spark to fight. That's the attitude I hope they take into Gillette, anyhow. They need to turn this into an ugly, scrappy fight. They need to set the tone early and let the Patriots know that they're there to fight.
BFD: Much like the BRB staff running out of alcohol at our annual "Spirit and Flogging Rally," I don't see how this ends well at all, though I do expect the game to be much closer. The Pats clearly are a beatable team. What the Texans need to do is be much more aggressive, especially pushing the ball downfield offensively. Defensively, we simply must create more turnovers than we have been recently. If we don't get at least two turnovers, I see no way in which we win this game. Pats 34-17, with our last TD coming in garbage time. Whisky will be chugged. Tears wept. Kittens molested. Ugly.
UT: They're not glasses. They're Battle Red Contact Lenses, but I'll take them off anyway. I still have hope. I fully expect Arian to come out fired up and have the finest game of his playoff career. But it'll come down to the last play, which will be an incomplete pass by Tom Brady. Texans 31, Patriots 29.
Brett: I'm still feeling my Texans 34 - Patriots 31 prediction from yesterday. I don't think there will be much defense in this one (as long as Graham can play. Without him things might get a little dicey).
TGC: I think it won't be as one-sided as last time, but I don't see us winning. 27-17 for the bad guys.
Vega: My heart says they will win. I can sit here and think of a hundred reasons why the Texans will win. But my brain says that they will not. And damn you, Tim, for making that part of the prerequisites. I think the Texans will give a better performance than last time (high standards for the win!), but in the end, I'm afraid it will not be enough. 34-27, Pats.
MDC: Please, I've already told you. I believe in this team. I honestly believe they are going to win. I think Arian Foster is going to have a monster day, both rushing and receiving -- to the tune of about 200+ total yards -- and I don't think Aqib Talib is going to stop an angry Andre Johnson. Nor do I think J.J. Watt is ready to go gently into that good night. (Dylan Thomas and John Donne references! BRB is classy like that.) My Texans by 10 prediction might be a little optimistic, but even being more rational, I'm calling it Houston 31, New England 27.
Thanks to the guys for taking the time to answer the questions. Leave your two cents in the Comments below.