In this edition of the BRB Staff Question of the Week, we ask the near-impossible - what can the Texans realistically do to win this game on Saturday? The BRB staff came up with some solid analysis here, however unlikely it is to actually result in a win.
Let’s get right to it...
It's trite, but it's all about getting after Tom Brady and not letting Martellus Bennett or Julian Edelman kill you. Romeo Crennel is going to have to outwit Josh McDaniels. I expect Bill Belichick to focus on neutralizing or minimizing the impact of Jadeveon Clowney, which means Whitney Mercilus and Benardrick McKinney will need to be even better than they've been. I like the match-up for the Texans' secondary, though Tom Brady is still a witch capable of dissecting any defense.
Offensively, as others will surely say - get Lamar Miller outside. Have DeAndre Hopkins, C.J. Fiedorowicz, and Ryan Griffin run roughshod over the middle of the field. Even though Brock Osweiler has not shown a consistent ability to throw outside the numbers, try to do that strategically with Will Fuller. Give the defense time to rest and get something on your possessions. Turnovers will be a death knell, because it's unlikely Brady returns the favor.
If the Texans win this game, it will be because of Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus, A.J. Bouye, and Lamar Miller. Those are literally the only four guys on the team that I think have a legitimate chance to turn the tide in Houston's favor. Everyone else just needs to do their best not to get in their way.
Titan Matt Weston, Slanderer of Blade Runner and Huge Fan of the Texas Rangers:
For Houston to win, they have to get pressure on Tom Brady without blitzing, Crennel will have to make scheme changes that can throw Brady off at the beginning of the game so he can't know exactly where to go with the ball pre-snap. Houston’s corners will have to be better than New England's receivers. The Texans have to control the inside run game. On offense, Osweiler can't make mistakes. The Texans have to run the ball well, control the clock, and limit the number of possessions Brady gets.
The problem is the Texans won't be able to run the ball against New England's really good front seven. Osweiler is [in a Steve Smith voice] trash. The defense may be able to do one or two of those things I listed above but not all of them.
If the Texans’ braintrust can take a page from the 2007 Giants and get the defensive players in position to smack Brady early, often, and repetitively, Houston has a solid shot at winning this.
If New England jumps out to an early lead, however, it'll be over long before the proverbial fat lady starts warming up to sing.
Lemme crank up the cliche machine.
Don't turn the ball over.
Run the ball well.
Don't let Tom Brady get comfortable.
As for actual analysis? I mean, maybe play less off-man coverage? The Texans have been great protecting against the deep ball due to the corners sitting a few yards off and giving shorter routes with the knowledge that Houston’s front seven won't allow the QB all the time in the world to throw. Playing more aggressive press man might open up the deep ball a bit more, but it'll also put pressure on Brady if he can't find open receivers due to blanketing.
As for the offense, just try to keep things in rhythm and tempo. The hurry-up seems to work about as well as a Brock-led offense can work, but if the defense is forced to constantly be on edge, it might give the Texans some advantage. They've also got to find a way to break the inevitable Cover 2 looks that the Pats are going to throw their way to restrict Fuller and Hopkins. Look for a large amount of CJF and Griffin over the middle against the Pats’ linebackers to put strain on those zones between the safeties and LBs.
Over the last several years, I have heard commentary that the officials tend to allow more contact on the field during playoffs. Last weekend it was clear that is certainly the case, as there were a lot of obvious incidents of obvious defensive pass interference and defensive holding that went uncalled. Hell, CFJ got called for holding when he was actually the victim of it! I'll wait for the season to end before I go on a huge tirade about how bad NFL officiating has been, but the reason I bring this up is that it may affect the Texans in two ways against the Patriots:
1. Houston's receivers and tight ends are going to need to fight through a lot of contact that won't get called. This has been especially problematic for DeAndre Hopkins in the past, as it really throws off his timing and gets him flustered.
2. The Texans' defensive players need to take advantage of this, without being too blatant obviously, and jam the Patriots at the line of scrimmage to get their timing off. This will help the pass rush pressure Brady and get him frustrated.
I suspect that the Patriots will try to shut down the running game and force Brock to make plays. This is where O'Brien needs to game plan with some play-action to keep New England guessing. The old smash-it-up-the-middle running game, combined with some slow-developing screens or draws, isn't going to work against a very disciplined defense. To win this game, Houston can't turn the ball over or blow any assignments in coverage on special teams or defense.
Nobody expects the Texans to win this game. Even if the players compete effectively and don't make any mistakes, the real battle will take place in the play-calling. Belichick will likely have a better game plan to start out, and he'll make real-time adjustments to anything that looks like the Texans are doing effectively on either side of the ball. Getting outcoached is damn near a given. That being said, there's always a glimmer of hope that inside these underdogs from Houston are the hearts of champions who have had enough of being casually dismissed and are sick of being the laughing stock on nationally broadcast games. They are going to have to dig deep and leave everything on the field to overcome all odds against them.
Things the Texans can do:
1 - Run outside the box, using Lamar Miller and the Houston offense to its strengths rather than plunging ahead twice to get to third-and-7 and pretending they're going to win a purely field position/defense game against Belichick.
2 - DeAndre Hopkins in the middle of the field. Stop wasting the few good throws Osweiler can make on guys who fall down when they are breathed on heavily.
3 - Engineered Will Fuller deep shots. First-round pick for a reason, right? Take advantage of what he can do. This game is going to call for him to make a few 50/50 plays.
4 - Don't let Brady have easy checkdowns. I would argue that this is a very weak receiving corps sans Rob Gronkowski. Malcolm Mitchell busted in and immediately became the second-best guy down the stretch, and Martellus Bennett has been playing hurt all season. I'd make Brady attempt as many downfield throws as possible and try to get pressure with the front four. If the Texans can't check Chris Hogan with a nickel corner, they were never winning this game anyway.
5 - Chain Tyler Ervin to a radiator and lead Rick Smith on an expedition to become the head beekeeper underground NRG Stadium while finding players that can actually play special teams.
Good stuff from the masthead thinking a bit outside the box on this. What say you, BRB? Hopefully this will help to balance out the nay-saying filling our heads this week (which of course is justified, but the same old takes get old, don’t they?)
Feel free to use the comments to theorize on what the Texans can realistically do to win this game, as it inches ever so closer...