Pre-Game Meal: Houston Texans

Happy New Year!
We would like to wish you all a Happy New Year. May 2010 bring you much more happiness than 2009. After all, we are only two years away from 2012-who knows what’s going to happen then, right?

What could be a better way to start off 2010 than with a 4th Lombardi Trophy for the Patriots? I don’t know either; but before we get too ahead of ourselves, let’s handle week 17.

To Rest or Not To Rest:

That is the question that everyone finds themselves asking as we approach Sunday’s regular-season finale in Houston against the Texans. Houston is fighting for a playoff spot and the only way they can help themselves is by winning. Although they need a lot of help from other teams, the Texans will most likely play all of their starters for the majority of the game. The Texans are by no means a team to sleep on either; their offense is explosive and their defense can make plays. To rest all of the Patriots starters, in my opinion, is not the best move when preparing for the Playoffs. We have all witnessed how long and tedious the road to achieving team chemistry has been this season and it seems futile to hamper a growing offense. Key players like Wes Welker and Vince Wilfork, who have taken many hard hits this season, may find themselves on the sidelines for the duration of the game so that their injuries can heal and their bodies can be fresh for the long January haul.

With the #3 seed still up for grabs, resting Tom Brady should not become an option until a nice lead is opened up on either side. Resting Welker, and potentially Randy Moss, will allow Brady to develop a better rhythm with younger, emerging receivers like Julian Edelman and Isaiah Stanback. A few Sam Aiken reps at WR couldn’t hurt either. Fred Taylor is coming off an ankle injury that has kept him off of the field for 2 months and it is important that he gets back in rhythm as well in order to help the Patriots’ post-season chances. I also expect that we’ll see a lot of Maroney because his ball handling skills have not shown that he is confident enough to rest prior to the most important stretch of the football year. BenJarvus Green-Ellis should see some decent time too filling in for the easily-injured Sammy Morris; who should be placed on the bench for Sunday.

Even though I am a big fan of playing the starting offense and maintaining a rhythm, my biggest concern is in the defense this week. They have a lot more ground to make up and a little more confidence to gain before Wildcard Weekend.

The Regular-Season Weekly Match-Ups Finale – Presented By Tim Tebow’s Tearless Shampoo for Kids!:

* The Inexperienced Receivers vs. The Patriot’s Post-Season Way – A pass-first offense that can only target Wes Welker and Randy Moss will not be lighting up the scoreboard in the Playoffs. The Tom Brady that won past Super Bowls used all of his receivers regardless of their fame. It’s not about getting the ball to those guys, their not T.O.; it’s about getting the ball to the open guys, whoever that may be. The younger wideouts need to make the most of their chances and prove that they can be assets to an offense looking to make a big run at the big prize. Running the right routes, understanding the speed of the game, catching, and running after the catch are all key traits that the #4’s and #5’s will look to be improving at Reliant Stadium on Jan. 3rd.

* Matt Schaub vs. The Defense – Schaub is a prolific passer and is the owner of the #2 spot in the NFL for most passing yardage per game. He has totaled 4,467 yards, 27 TDs, and 14 INTs through the air. With or without Vince Wilfork, the Patriots’ front three or four has to be aggressive and get to the quarterback. Players like Tully Banta-Cain, Derrick Burgess, and Adalius Thomas will be a bigger part of the pass rush if Coach Belichik decides to try out some new defensive schemes or develop some other ones (we all know which one I’m talking about) further. The less time Matt Schaub is in the pocket, the less time he has to get Andre Johnson the ball, and the better the Patriot secondary looks. Schaub has 5 INTs in his last 5 games, so there is a strong probability that a defensive back will have a chance to snag at least one of his passes. Regardless of some bad breaks with the defense, the future definitely looks bright. Young defensive leader Jerod Mayo spoke to reporters about the defense as a whole and had nothing but good things to say:

“At the end of the day, our scoring defense is top five. People can talk as bad as they want to about this defense, but you take away a couple bad games, and people might be talking about this being a No. 1 defense. I’m proud of these guys and hopefully we can continue it through the playoffs.”

The Patriots defensive unit looks like it is getting back in to shape and is tied for third in the NFL with 16.7 points per game.

* Andre Johnson vs. Leigh Bodden – Andre Johnson is one of the best receivers in the league right now. This season he has 95 receptions for 1,504 yards with 9 TDs. At 6’3″, 225 lbs, Johnson’s size paired with his gift of athletic ability makes him a dangerous threat anywhere on the field. In the last 10 games that Andre has had 5 or more receptions, the Texans have only lost twice. Leigh Bodden has been erratic with the good coverage and his inconsistency will need to disappear in January. As of late, the whole defense has been playing better but Bodden will need to play solid defense to limit Johnson’s receptions. Andre Johnson is fun to watch, and in a game that doesn’t hurt the Patriots’ Playoff chances, I won’t mind watching him make some spectacular catches. Without Owen Daniels, Johnson is the lone player that can carry this team on his back. Especially when the running game really isn’t thriving.

* Tom Brady vs. The Assassin – The Patriot’s 2008 season crumbled to dust before our eyes when Kansas City Chief’s safety Bernard Pollard snapped Tom Brady’s ACL into a million pieces. This Sunday, the closer of the following season filled with reconstruction and recovery, Tom Brady will be staring down Pollard once again. Now, I don’t really think anything will happen here, especially since Kevin Faulk will be able to block, unlike 2008, but I’m really hoping for a touchdown situation where Tom can say something to Pollard… you know: Tom-Brady-vs.-Anthony-Smith-Circa-2007 Style. Yes!

* Laurence Maroney vs. The Goal Line – Can Maroney be successful in big games without fumbling at the goal line? I don’t know. First he should try to stop fumbling in easier games. It seems that, in a similar way like Tony Allen to the Celtics, that with every good thing Larence Maroney does for the Patriots he also has 1 or 2 screw ups that hurt the team even more. It is imperative that he learns to hold on to the ball, especially in situations where a touchdown means winning or losing (Colts?). If he is able to work out all the kinks in his game, his confidence and hard running paired with Faulk, Taylor, and Morris could make a diverse offense go very far in the Playoffs.

Keep An Eye On:

* Those other Texans – Jacoby Jones + Kevin Walter can make plays too. Taking Johnson out of the game will ultimately open up the speedster Jones and the other #83 Walter.

* The Running Game – The Texans are 31st in the League for rushing. The loss of Steve Slaton opened up the door for backups like Ryan Moats and Chris Brown. Moats has seen a large chunk of carries as of late and can still hurt a defense. Tackles will need to be consistent and in perfect form as usual; we don’t want any “MJD” yards after contact.

* Mari
o Williams – Another defensive player that I love to watch. His speed and strength is unreal. With 36 solo tackles, 2 forced fumbles, and 8 sacks he is a force to be reckoned with. If the pressure gets to be too heavy from these desperate Texans mixed with the scariness of Williams and Pollard, don’t be surprised is Brady gets pulled a little early and the Brian Hoyer Show starts early.

* Patriot’s Offense – Is the team just going through the motions or are they honestly trying to get in better post-season form? Let’s hope that it is the latter because I want to still be watching the boys in February. We all know that anything can happen in the Playoffs, especially with the Patriots.

The Numbers:

* The last 3 times the Patriots went undefeated at home (2003, 2004, 2007) they advanced to the Super Bowl.

* Tom Brady is 2-0 against the Texans with 477 yards, 4 TDs, and 2 INTs.

* Check out this NESN.com article for more stats and numbers:

Thanks for sticking around all season and chowing down on these Pre-Game Meals!

-B.DelaBarrera (follow Brian on Twitter: @bdelabarrera)

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