Keys to the game

From a distance both teams appear well balanced. Both can pass down the field, both can run, both have opportunistic defenses. The Texans can win by doing three things.

First by breaking the Patriots' secondary by stressing out (or knocking out) Aquib Talib. The Talib trade has been a keystone for the Pats' pass defense down the stretch. Without that keystone, long-distance quick-strike scores would be worth the gamble. At the same time they'll need to expend energy hiding defensive alignments from Brady before the snap. And finally they'll need some luck in defending Hernandez and Gronkowski in mesh passing patterns that allow Brady to throw short but enjoy deep gains.

The Patriots can win by forcing the Texans into one dimension: either into a slow bend-but-don't-break run containment by taking Andre Johnson out of the sideline passing game, or allow a low-percentage passing attack by flooding Foster in the backfield courtesy of Vince Wilfork.

The arithmetic above suggests the Texans have more work to do and more than must go right. After several seasons of unbalanced, streaky, and brittle offensive fireworks, the Patriots can return to appearing somewhat boring even as they dictate the terms of engagement.

Posted January 13, 2013.

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