Texans-Patriots: Five matchups to watch

Texans-Patriots: Five matchups to watch
December 10, 2012, 8:00 am
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Texans' defense needs to get to Brady

How big is Monday night’s game against the Patriots?

Well, Andre Johnson says it’s the biggest game in franchise history. So, yeah, it’s pretty big.

The Texas are 11-1. The Patriots are 9-3. And this game will go a long way to determining which team will earn homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.

Here are five matchups to watch from Monday’s game:

1. Wes Welker vs. Brandon Harris

With Brice McCain out, Brandon Harris will have to move up in the cornerback rotation and cover the slot receiver. The problem is that in this game, Wes Welker is that slot receiver.

Harris said he isn’t intimidated by facing Welker or the Patriots, but maybe he should be.

“Welker has 92 catches and I don’t think Brandon has 29 plays,” Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. “It’s a challenge, certainly. We expect him to step up and play, we’re going to try to help him in certain areas. But it’s going to be one-on-one some. It’s going to be one-on-one pass rush with our guys to put pressure on the guy and it’s going to be one-on-one for our guys to cover them sometimes, that’s just how it is.”

Welker leads the NFL with 92 receptions this season. He led the league last season with 122. He owns two of the top four seasons in terms of receptions.

With eight more catches this season, Welker would have his fifth career 100-catch season, surpassing Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison for the most in NFL history.

2. Andre Johnson vs. Aqib Talib

When the Texans have the ball, they’re gonna have to try to get it to Andre Johnson, right?

Johnson was the AFC Offensive Player of the Month in November and seemed to regain his All Pro talent level. He has 28 catches for 517 yards and a touchdown in his last three games.

This is the kind of matchup the Patriots likely had in mind when they traded for him on Nov. 1. Talib was suspended four games earlier this season for performance enhancing drugs but played his first game with the Patriots on Nov. 18.

“You kind of notice since Bill’s (Belichick) got him, he’s locked him up in some places on some people,” Kubiak said. “Anytime we go anywhere with Andre we’re obviously capable of seeing stuff like that.”

He won’t have to deal with Johnson all on his own. He’ll probably have plenty of help, but will also go one-on-one plenty too.

3. Tom Brady vs. Texans’ defensive line

Tom Brady has been sacked just 19 times all season, good for the 25th least in the NFL. Look at that number and the reaction is to laud his offensive line, but Brady deserves a good portion of that credit.

He gets the ball out incredibly quick and prevents sacks.

But when the Texans can’t get to the quarterback, what do they do? That’s right. They throw their arms in the air to bat passes down. The Patriots know that too. That’s why they’ve been using brooms and racquetball racquets in practice.

“I’d use a broom more than a racquet because it’s a lot longer,” Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. “But whatever they want to do is fine. We’ve played a lot of teams already and we’re doing a good job in that area and I expect us to continue that.”

4. Josh McDaniels vs. Wade Phillips

The Texans defense has shined under Wade Phillips and this matchup should be intriguing for football geeks.

“Wade’s just tremendous at calling the game,” Kubiak said. “He knows how to bust protections. He knows how to go get the quarterback and very aggressive from that standpoint. It’s been that way forever in his career.”

Former Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels is back as the Patriots’ offensive coordinator and is still a great play-caller. It will be a game of chess between him and Phillips.

5. Texans vs. history

The Patriots haven’t lost at home in December in nearly a decade. Their last loss at home in December was on Dec. 22, 2002 to the Jets.

They’ve won 19 in a row at home in December. It’s not just a coincidence. Brady and the Patriots know how to win in when the weather starts getting colder.

Since the streak started, the Patriots have been to four Super Bowls and have won two, Brady has thrown 280 touchdown passes, which alone would rank him 10th all-time, and Bill Belichick has smiled three whole times.

And, the last time the Patriots lost at home in December, the Texans were limping their way to a 4-12 inaugural season.