As we move to week two of the playoffs, the games are getting more exciting. The glaring exception is the match-up between the Texans and the Patriots. Most have already written off the game as a win, especially given that the Patriots shut out the Texans 27-0 in week 3.
But anything can happen in the playoffs, and a Texans win isn’t quite as crazy as it sounds. There’s a few key reasons that the Texans still have a fighting chance in this game.
1. The Texans defense is built for teams like New England
With the amount of flack Brock Osweiler gets (deservedly so), you’d think the Texans were a bottom dwelling team. But they’re in the second round of the playoffs, thanks to the number one defense in football.
The defense has all the pieces to stop a team like New England. New England’s offense is built around Tom Brady, one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. If you blitz a guy like Brady, he’s going to see it coming and get rid of the ball before you can touch him. But the Texans don’t need to blitz; with guys like Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney on the edges, the Texans can create pressure on Brady with just four rushers instead of seven.
Watch Clowney on this end around. This is abnormal and straight freaky ability! pic.twitter.com/hNb5qWKxde
— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) January 8, 2017
The Texans defense also boasts a fearsome secondary, with A.J. Bouye emerging as one of the best cover corners in the league. With all-around talent at every position in the secondary, the Texans can man up on every Patriots receiver and still send pressure on every play. It’s the exact same plan the Broncos used Brady in the Super Bowl, and it worked.
2. Brian Cushing will play this time
When the Texans were embarrassed in week 3 against the Patriots, they didn’t lose the game in the air. LeGarrette Blount ran all over the Texans, breaking 100 yards and 2 touchdowns. But the Texans were missing Brian Cushing that day, the de facto leader of the Texans defense. He organizes the unit and keeps them gap sound. With him on the field, expect the Patriots to struggle a lot more one the ground than they did last time.
3. Gronk isn’t playing
Rob Gronkowski is a game changing player on offense, even if he isn’t touching the ball. Without catching a single target against the Texans, he still managed to shift the entire defense to try and keep him contained.
Beyond keeping him contained as a pass receiver, the Texans run defense will also benefit from his absence. Gronk is one of the best run blocking tight ends around, and the Patriots love to run two tight end sets with Gronk and Martellus Bennett on either end. With both of them on the field, teams aren’t able to commit enough to run defense to stop it. Without him, the Texans should manage just fine.
4. Brock Osweiler can’t be worse than last time, right?
The game against the Patriots was the game everyone realized just how bad of a decision that $72 million contract for Osweiler was. But it was only his third game in a complicated offense, and he was playing on a short week. Those aren’t excuses, but Osweiler has looked at least somewhat better as the season has gone on.
Brock isn’t going to carry the Texans by any stretch of the imagination, but if he can put together a mediocre game, it might be enough for his defense to keep him in and seal a win.
Look, none of this is to say that it’s not a huge long shot for the Texans to win this one. The Belichick era in New England has been one of the most impressive in all of football history. They’re underdogs in a big way, and people are right to doubt them. But it’s certainly not impossible, and if the defense can have a big game, an insane upset isn’t impossible.