Texans-Patriots Playoff: 5 matchups to watch

Texans-Patriots Playoff: 5 matchups to watch
January 13, 2013, 8:00 am
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The last time these two teams met, it didn't go so well for the Texans. You remember what happened; the Patriots won 42-14.

But throw that game out the window -- it's playoff time and the stakes are raised.

No one is really giving the Texans a chance to win this game but they do have a shot ... if they can win the following matchups:

1. Wes Welker vs. Brandon Harris

Harris made his debut in the nickel when the Patriots and Texans last met and he did well. Welker had three catches for 52 yards.

Harris did get beat by Donte Stallworth for a touchdown but against Welker, he did well. And since then, Harris has been playing even better. Against the Bengals, he made the biggest play of his young, two-year career.

“Just playing in the playoffs, being able to go out there and compete with the guys and make a couple plays, it really felt good,” Harris said. “It was a confidence booster. It’s the NFL. It’s the playoffs. And you want to be successful. Those are the types of plays I’ll have to make this Sunday.”

2. Andre Johnson vs. Aqib Talib

Andre Johnson called the first matchup between these two teams the biggest game in franchise history. That didn't turn out so well. But while the Texans were beaten 42-14, Johnson actually had a good game. He had eight catches for 95 yards.

“We’ve just got to make more plays than they make," Johnson said. "That’s pretty much it. We’ve just got to go out and make plays and execute our game plan and play the way we know how to play. That’s pretty much it.”

The Patriots acquired Aqib Talib for these kinds of games and he'll need to lock down Johnson on Sunday.

3. Tight ends vs. Texans

Aaron Hernandez had eight catches for 58 yards and two touchdowns. The Texans couldn't stop one great tight end.

Now they have to try to stop two.

This time, Rob Gronkowski, the 6-6, 265-pound monster will be on the field. He missed the first matchup.

“It’s scary, but they’re better with a great player, and he’s a great player,” Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. “Having him as a threat also, that just gives them another threat on the field all the time.”

The Texans were smart not to tip their hand as to how they're going to play Gronkowski. Hernandez will often be spread out, so he'll be the responsibility of the corners. Gronk will be inside a lot more, so he'll likely be shaded by a linebacker or safety.

4. J.J. Watt vs. Brady

OK, Watt will have to beat whoever tries to block him but getting pressure on Brady might be the most important part of this game.

Watt looked human in the first matchup and that probably won't be good enough this time if the Texans want to win.

“I don’t think I played my best game," Watt said. "I think we can all agree on that. I got quite a few hits on him, but obviously the ball was gone. I need to play better and I’m going to play better.”

Aside from just getting to Brady, it will be important for Watt and the rest of the Texans to ge their hands up and bat down passes. It's hard to get to Brady, so they need to do the next best thing.

5. Arian Foster vs. Vince Wilfork

We know, we know. It's not that Arian Foster has to beat Vince Wilfork in some one-on-one battle. In fact, it might behoove Foster to avoid Wilfork all together.

“I think if we play well and play our style of football early, I think we can keep their offense off of the field and they’re a rhythm offense, so if we can help them throw them off rhythm, that might sway the game in our favor," Foster said. "But I think it’s simple for us to play well in all aspects of the game, including special teams, because this team can beat you in every way.”

Foster becomes so important in this game because of time of possession. The Texans nearly doubled the Bengals in that area, which is exactly what they need to do against the Patriots.

What's the best way to stop Tom Brady?

Don't let him on the field.