The bill always comes due.
For the Houston Texans, payment for facing what amounted to a quarterback-less Oakland Raiders in the Wild Card Round takes the form of a tough trip to Foxboro and the New England Patriots.
Nobody thinks the Texans can pull this off. Maybe not even fans in Houston.
On any given Sunday, (or Saturday in this instance) though, miracles can happen while the Texans limped in with a shaky offense, they still ended up playing in the Divisional Round. That means there’s talent there.
Most of it is on the defense, and that’s where the Texans have to win this game for numerous reasons.
First of all, the team cannot afford to fall too far behind and put the game in Brock Osweiler’s hands. Yes, he looked better against the Oakland Raiders but there was very little pressure for him to do anything. With Connor Cook at the helm, the Raiders offense was stuck in neutral and the Texans just had to play competently on offense to stay ahead.
We know that won’t be the case this week. So the Texans’ best bet on offense is to limit what they need Osweiler to do by keeping things close with a good defensive performance. They didn’t do that last time, and that was facing rookie Jacoby Brissett.
Tom Brady is a lot better than Brissett.
Brady has been on a tear this season and will be a problem. Even when he’s had an off game—such as his 188-yard, no touchdown showing against the Denver Broncos in Week 15—he has moved the ball efficiently and made key throws.
The best way to disrupt Brady’s play is to hit him early and often. With JJ Watt, that seemed to come easily for the Texans, but without him, this season sacks and pressures are harder to come by.
The Texans had just 31 sacks in the regular season this year, tying them for 24th in the NFL. They ranked 19th in quarterback hurries this year as well, though that only means so much. Houston has struggled on defense all year, but they are as high on the list of hurries as are the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Patriots have allowed the fifth-fewest sacks in the NFL this year with 24, and the tenth fewest quarterback hits (73).
What this means is core defenders like Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney (coming off a great game against Oakland) have to step up even more than they have in the past.
They’ll have to pull double-duty though, as the front seven is going to have to do a much better job against the run than they did in Week 3 when Legarrette Blount dropped 105 yards and two touchdowns on them.
And that was with Watt in the mix.
This is a Patriots team which will lean on Brady, but they have other weapons like Blount, Dion Lewis and James White. The defense has to be careful they don’t allow another big effort by Blount or give up big plays to Lewis as the Denver Broncos did just a few weeks ago.
This is a tough game for the Texans to steal, though nothing is impossible. The team has made it through this season mostly on the back of its defense, and that’s exactly what has to happen on Saturday night.
If they can contain the Patriots offense, that gives their own offense a fighting chance.