On paper it looks like a sure win. The Texans are 4-6, have a minus-2 turnover ratio, the NFL's 31st ranked defense and will be going without their starting quarterback. Conversely the Patriots are 8-2, in the midst of a six-game winning streak and have one of the hottest defenses in football. On paper Sunday's game at Reliant Stadium between New England and Houston looks like a no-brainer for the visitors.
Tell that to the Dolphins, Bills and Panthers.
That has been the message Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick has been preaching to both his players and the media this week. Overlook the Texans and the team could very well end up with a one-game losing streak heading into Indianapolis a week from Sunday to take on the Colts. That game could be a key matchup in terms of postseason seeding in the AFC, but in all reality this week's game in Houston is equally important.
"Looking at Houston, they had a real good win last week in Buffalo," Belichick said. "They have beaten a couple of teams in our division. They had a real good win over Carolina a couple of weeks ago. This is a real scrappy, tough team. I think they are, in a lot of ways, similar to the Dallas team that we played last week. They are physical. They are tough. They are very resilient. They are well coached and are a very disciplined team. It is the type of team that you can't afford to make too many mistakes against them or they will make you pay for it."
Offensively Houston will be led by backup quarterback Tony Banks, stepping in for second-year quarterback David Carr who is sidelined with a shoulder injury. But the true potential of the Texans attack lies in a pair of rookies in wide receiver Andre Johnson and running back Domanick Davis. Davis leads the team with 140 rushes for 655 yards and three touchdowns and is second on the team with 34 receptions for 272 yards. Johnson paces the aerial attack with 46 receptions for 711 yards and three scores.
"Offensively, I think that the Texans have a lot of real good skill players," Belichick said. "They have a good running back in Davis. They have some good receivers in Johnson and [Jabar] Gaffney and [Corey] Bradford. Billy Miller is an excellent pass receiving tight end. Billy Miller is a guy that is probably not a lot of people know about but this guy is really an impressive player and he has a lot of plays in the passing game."
And Belichick doesn't think the unit loses much with Banks replacing Carr.
"He has had two really good wins there against Carolina and then against Buffalo," Belichick said. "His quarterback rating is good. He has been productive on his yards per completion, getting the ball down the field, making good decisions and most importantly leading this team to victories. That is what a quarterback is paid to do and that is what his job is, taking care of the ball, not turning it over. He did a good job of that last week against Buffalo, and ultimately that was the difference in the game."
On the other side of the ball the Texans have a somewhat veteran unit for just a second-year franchise, but have struggled a bit giving up more than 25 points per game.
"Defensively, they are an experienced group and they have had a number of very good defensive games," Belichick said. "They gave 10 points against Carolina and 10 points against Buffalo. They held the Jets in check pretty much the whole game until that last drive."
Jamie Sharperleads the defensive group with 111 tackles and two sacks through ten games, while cornerback Marcus Coleman paces the unit with four interceptions.
And in the end those turnovers, the takeaways, will probably key any chances the Texans have at victory. In fact that is how the team has won its games this season.
"I think that when they have been on the positive turnover category, they have won, and when they have not, they have lost," Belichick said rather plainly. "And that is not uncommon for most teams in this league. So offensively taking care of the ball, not giving it away, and defensively, being turnover conscious and taking advantage of the turnover opportunities when they occur is critical to our success. It is critical to theirs."
Game notes and numbers
The Patriots added wide receiver Deion Branch to the injury report Friday, listing the second-year wide out as questionable with a leg injury. Branch and fellow receivers Troy Brownand David Givens were the only three Patriots that did not practice on Friday. … Houston made a trio of changes to its injury report late in the week. The Texans downgraded running back Stacey Mack (toe) from questionable to out and linebacker Steve Foley (shoulder) from probable to questionable, while upgrading quarterback David Carr (shoulder) from out to doubtful. … The Patriots have used 42 different starters this season, the most in the NFL. In fact, the Patriots have not fielded the same offensive or defensive lineup in consecutive games and have used a different offensive lineup in all 10 games. … The Patriots have started the same five players on the offensive line for each of the last six games, all New England wins. It's the longest streak of o-line continuity since the team used the same group for the final nine games (regular and postseason) in 2001, also all Patriots wins. … The total of nine points the Patriots have given up over last three games at Gillette Stadium is the lowest three-game total since New England gave up just eight points over a three-game stretch in 1993. … Kevin Faulk has 700 total yards from scrimmage this season (428 rushing, 272 receiving) and is on pace for his most productive offensive season ever, potentially besting his 1,035 yards in 2000. … New England has held opposing quarterbacks to a combined 57.5 passer rating, allowing just four touchdowns while intercepting 16 passes. … Those four passing scores allowed are the fewest for any defense in the NFL. … The Texans have scored offensive touchdowns in all ten games this season. … Johnson and Davis are both on pace to eclipse the 1,000-yard marks in receiving and rushing respectively. Never before in NFL history have rookie teammates posted 1,000-yard rushing and receiving seasons in the same year. … Wide receiver Corey Bradford has scored nine touchdowns over the last two seasons on plays totaling 461 yards making his average on touchdown receptions 51.2 yards, best for any receiver over the last two seasons with a minimum of five scores. … Former Patriot Greg Randall has started all 10 games at right tackle for the Texans this season.