Patriots Preview - The Second Season is Here
Friday, January 11, 2013
For the New England Patriots, playing the mental game could be the road to success in the "second season."
A mere five weeks ago, the Houston Texans came rolling into Gillette Stadium with the NFL's best record, and rolled out on the short side of a 42-14 whipping. Since then, the Texans fell out of a possible top seed in the AFC, to a team that struggled in a 19-13 Wild Card win last week over Cincinnati.
Nevertheless, the Texans will be in Foxboro playing the Patriots. And if the Pats aren't prepared, the Texans might also be on their way somewhere else playing again next week.
But how do you prepare best against a team you've already beaten? It's a question that New England could be asking itself again in another week, having also defeated Denver this season...with the Broncos looming as a potential AFC title opponent. So the mental aspect of the game could be as important as say, blocking and tackling?
Add to this mental mix a little reminder from 2010 - a regular season 45-3 pounding of the New York Jets, followed by a 28-21 defeat in the post-season. Same teams, different results. Which is exactly why New England can't afford a letdown this year, with a similar scenario looming.
Sure, the Patriots have some adversity to deal with, struggling with injuries, a slow start to the season and even the disappointment of losing in the Super Bowl a year ago. The Texans, however, are a little more single-minded in their adversity...focused squarely on avenging a nasty defeat from just a few weeks earlier. Sometimes, having that chip on the shoulder can be just the elixer needed to overcome your own inadequacies. Houston hasn't played well lately...but now, they've got the Patriots in their sights. They've got nothing to lose, really...having already lost in Foxboro five weeks ago.
It could be an easier road to travel than the one New England will ride. The Texans know what they're facing. Do the Patriots know the same?
Slow the Rush
Linebacker Brooks Reid is expected to play for Houston, and he missed the first time around in December. While he may not be a difference maker for Houston, his presence will provide a boost to a Texan front that still has J.J. Watt, Shaun Cody, Antonio Smith and the overall ability to put pressure on the quarterback. Expect Houston defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to turn up the intensity and try to make Tom Brady's day a long one.
That is, if you have him at full strength. He didn't play in December's first game with Houston. But even if he's not 100% healthy, the weapons the Patriots have on offense should force Houston to pick its poison...and that should prove problematic. If the Texans try to follow the standard-operating-procedure of beating Brady, they'll try to apply pressure by rushing four. But the Texans also blitz, and Brady's quick release - plus multiple options to throw to - can burn the best defenses out there.
Foster a Defensive Plan
It's not just how Arian Foster goes, so goes Houston. But it's close. The more he touches the ball, the better the Texans are. The Patriots offense can help here by getting the lead, which would certainly limit his production. Key on #23 in the running game, let Vince Wilfork plug the middle and Jerod Mayo zero in on the intended target. If Foster is slowed (held to 46 rushing yards in December's game), QB Matt Schaub will have a tougher time with play-action passes, and over-the-top shots with WR Andre Johnson.