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Texans-Patriots Playoff Preview: Keys To Victory

For the second time this season, the Texans are headed to Foxborough. Here’s a few ways that tonight’s matchup can go better than last time.

NFL: Houston Texans at New England Patriots Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The Texans are in Foxborough tonight to take on the Patriots in a Divisional Round bout. As more than two touchdown underdogs headed into the contest, Houston is in position to pull off an enormous upset; if that were to happen, the Texans would propel themselves into an AFC Championship Game for the first time in franchise history. Houston will have to dominate all three facets of the game if they hope to advance.

1. The Texans have to improve their turnover margin. This starts with the defensive line and the secondary, which will attempt to force a few mistakes out of Tom Brady and his arsenal of offensive weapons. A forced fumble or interception could be the difference between a win and a loss in the playoffs, and the Texans need to find themselves on the right side of that margin tonight. Luckily, Houston’s defensive line is one of the best in the league and their secondary has shut down tight ends and wide receivers all season. A.J. Bouye and Quintin Demps will look to nab an interception or two, while Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus and Benardrick McKinney will try to pressure Brady. The Patriots’ quarterback has thrown only two interceptions all season, so Houston needs to capitalize on any mistake he does make. Keeping Brady under pressure and forcing turnovers will be essential to a win for the Texans.

2. Houston’s quarterback and special teams have to protect the football. The other half of the turnover differential lies with Brock Osweiler and Houston’s punt and kick returners. Osweiler has thrown 16 interceptions against 15 touchdowns over the regular season, but has gone the last two games without a turnover. He absolutely needs to maintain this newfound protection heading into tonight’s match-up. The same goes for Houston’s kick and punt returners, namely Tyler Ervin and Will Fuller. Ervin consistently bobbles and/or fumbles returns (including a fumble against the Pats earlier this year), and it makes me especially anxious when I see him in the end zone awaiting a kick. Fuller doesn’t have the most reliable hands either. Both of them have to hold on to the football at all costs tonight. Turnovers from the Texans’ offense will give Brady more time with the football, and nobody wants that.

3. Houston’s offensive attack needs to be multi-faceted. A one-dimensional offense will get nowhere against the Patriots’ stubborn defense, and the run game will be an important part of that. The Texans need to get Lamar Miller going early against the Patriots and keep that momentum throughout. Houston’s success is largely reliant on Miller’s ability to get loose, as the majority of their losses this season came in games where Miller struggled. Being able to rely on the run will give Osweiler and his receivers a better chance to spread out the offense and make some plays. Last week, Osweiler managed to involve Miller and much of the receiving corps (including DeAndre Hopkins) in one of his most convincing offensive performances of the season. This multi-dimensional attack will be key to a potential win for the Texans.

4. Houston needs to control the time of possession. The Texans managed to do this last time in New England, but they were unable to overcome the three turnovers that cost them the game. Keeping Brady off of the field as much as possible will be immensely important, as will giving Osweiler and the offense as many opportunities to score as possible. The Texans need to earn first downs and lengthen drives if they want to stay competitive. These offensive improvements would also allow their dominant defense to rest occasionally.

5. Houston must contain New England’s run game. In their last meeting, New England’s lead back LeGarrette Blount rushed for 105 yards and two touchdowns, while rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett scampered for 48 yards and a score. This time around, Houston’s defensive line needs to stifle the run at the source and take away that option for the Pats. Getting the run game under control will help put pressure on Brady and allow the Texans’ secondary to try to cause a few turnovers.

Houston will lean on its defense tonight as they fight to control Bill Belichick’s explosive offense. The Texans need to limit the impact of the Patriots’ ground game and aerial attacks, including getting pressure on Brady. They will also have to create dimension in their own offense if they’re going to come away with a win on the road. Hopefully, they will head into this game with a chip on their shoulder and redemption on their minds.

What do you think, Texans fans? How can Houston pull off the upset tonight in Foxborough? The comments section is yours to discuss the Texans, the Patriots, or the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs as we head towards kickoff!