Pats offensive balance a challenge for Texans

Pats offensive balance a challenge for Texans
December 9, 2012, 3:45 pm
Share This Post

FILE - In this Sept. 9, 2012, file photo, Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson (80) celebrates a touchdown catch against the Miami Dolphins in the second quarter of an NFL football game in Houston. Johnson doesn't like to dwell on the past. Still, Houston's star receiver sometimes has to tell his teammates how lucky they are to be on one of the best teams in the NFL. For years he languished on terrible Texans teams. (AP Photo/Dave Einsel, File)

(APWF)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Stevan Ridley has emerged as a top running back in his second pro season. He's not the only Patriots rusher Texans coach Gary Kubiak has to worry about.

The revived New England ground game, with Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden as backups, has brought balance to an offense that relied more heavily on quarterback Tom Brady in recent years.

Ridley, in his second pro season, is third in the AFC with 1,010 yards rushing going into Monday night's game between the Texans (11-1), who have the best record in the AFC and have clinched a playoff berth, and the Patriots (9-3), who have locked up the AFC East title.

``He's a heck of a player,'' Kubiak said. ``They've had a few different backs back there. It's what they do. It's almost like anybody they put back there is successful. They play young guys. Tom has got them in the right play all the time. They're not only running the ball well, but those backs out of the backfield catch the ball extremely well.''

Vereen has rushed for just 173 yards and three touchdowns but has scored on an 83-yard pass play. Bolden, a rookie who returns Monday night after sitting out a four-game suspension for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances, is second on the team with 234 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

``They're very capable of running the ball very well,'' Kubiak said.

And, of course, outstanding throwing it.

Brady is having his usual strong season with 25 touchdown passes and just four interceptions, and wide receiver Wes Welker leads the NFL with 92 receptions.

That pairing could be a real problem for Houston without cornerback Brice McCain, who had surgery on his left foot on Monday. Brandon Harris, a second-year pro, will replace him despite having played in just four games this season.

``Welker has 92 catches and I don't think Brandon has 29 plays,'' Houston 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.''

Balance also is a strong point for the Texans with Arian Foster, the AFC's leading rusher with 1,102 yards, and Andre Johnson, seventh in the NFL with 74 catches.

``He's a great player,'' Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of Johnson, a 10-year veteran. ``He's done it for a long time. He puts up big numbers every year and people are keying on him. They're looking for him and he keeps producing. He's a hard guy to cover.''

And then there's Foster, the NFL leader with 15 touchdowns.

The Texans disguise their plays well and make effective use of play action, which requires defenders to be well disciplined.

``Gary does a good job, scheme-wise, of balancing everything out - the running game, the passing game, play-actions, dropbacks, complementary routes, complementary runs - everything kind of ties together,'' Belichick said.

The Patriots and the Texans are the only two offenses ranked in the top 10 in yards rushing and passing.

``If you're stopping one thing, then you're probably light on something else and it won't take them too long to find that and exploit it,'' Belichick said. Johnson ``is definitely open on a few plays where it wouldn't matter who the receiver is, the guy is wide open and is going to make a big play. But there are also a lot of plays that he makes on his own.''

Fortunately for the Patriots, their weak pass defense has improved in recent weeks.

The acquisition of cornerback Aqib Talib, who has played the past three games for the Patriots, from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has allowed Belichick to start Devin McCourty at safety rather than his usual cornerback spot, and he's solidified the secondary.

McCourty's interception in the end zone in the final minute secured the Patriots 37-31 win over the Buffalo Bills on Nov. 11. In their next game, cornerbacks Talib and Alfonzo Dennard returned interceptions for touchdowns in a 59-24 rout of the Indianapolis Colts.

``They're a very physical, stout group,'' Texans quarterback Matt Schaub said. ``They understand their scheme well, a lot of veteran guys that have played a lot of football in that group. They can rush the passer. They can stop the run. They can do a little bit of everything. It's a group that we really have to be on top of our game plan, on top of our stuff and play good road football.''

The Texans have done that better than any team this season. At 6-0, they're the only team with a perfect road record.

But the Patriots haven't lost a regular-season game in December since Dec. 22, 2002.

``The better you play, the better your homefield advantage is because the more the crowd is into it,'' Brady said. ``I think the mark of our teams over the years has been we've improved as the season has gone along. December is the last month to really improve.

``Coach puts pressure on us in practice every day to improve, to get better and not to make the same mistakes (and) to learn from our mistakes. I think we as a team have responded to that and played well. That's what's important this time of the year: to not make the same mistakes we were making in September and to play our best football. This will be a great week to see if we can accomplish that.''

---

Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Texans - Team News
Andre Johnson - WR
Andre Johnson (ankle) is listed as probable for Week 8. Johnson practiced in full Friday after being limited early in the week. He'll continue to play through his ankle injury. Johnson is a mid-range WR2 for Sunday's game...
Oct 24 5:19PM Read More
Andre Johnson - WR
Andre Johnson (ankle) remained limited in Thursday's practice. Johnson doesn't need full practices at this stage of his career. He's a solid WR2 for Sunday's game against the Titans.
Oct 23 4:37PM Read More
Jadeveon Clowney - LB
Texans OLB Jadeveon Clowney (knee) said he'd be surprised if he doesn't play in Sunday's game... Clowney hasn't played since tearing his meniscus in Week 1. He says he plans to "push through" the soreness that's still in his knee. If the training staff lets...
Oct 23 11:41AM Read More
Andre Johnson - WR
Ryan Fitzpatrick admitted he "didn't get it to Andre [Johnson] nearly enough early"... Johnson finished with 5-77-0 on nine targets, but had just one catch for four yards through the first three quarters. After the game, coach Bill O'Brien said that Johnson...
Oct 23 8:03AM Read More
Brian Cushing - LB
Texans ILB Brian Cushing will miss at least one week with a knee injury. It's a blow to an already vulnerable Houston run defense, and a nice upgrade to Bishop Sankey's Week 8 matchup. Justin Tuggle and Mike Mohamed figure to start at inside...
Oct 22 8:32PM Read More
Andre Johnson - WR
Andre Johnson (ankle) was limited in Wednesday's practice. The Texans are limiting Johnson's reps coming off Monday night's loss. He'll remain a WR2 for Week 8 against the Titans.
Oct 22 5:22PM Read More
Arian Foster - RB
Arian Foster was limited in Wednesday's practice. The Texans listed Foster as "not injury related," but he missed practice time last week with a groin issue. Foster has a matchup with the Titans' No. 22 ranked run...
Oct 22 5:15PM Read More
Jadeveon Clowney - LB
According to HoustonTexans.com, there's a "decent chance" Jadeveon Clowney (knee)... "He feels good," coach Bill O'Brien said Monday. "Well see how it goes this week in practice. We'll be able to make a determination pretty soon about whether...
Oct 21 3:58PM Read More
Garrett Graham - TE
Garrett Graham caught two passes for 24 yards in the Texans' Week 7 loss to the Steelers. Graham was targeted three times, but dropped the other. It can be considered one of Graham's better statistical games of the season, which obviously means he's nowhere near...
Oct 20 11:31PM Read More
Andre Johnson - WR
Andre Johnson caught five passes for 77 yards in the Texans' Week 7 loss to the Steelers on... Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins each saw a team-high nine targets. There was nothing special about Johnson's night. His biggest play was a 24-yard grab on a deep in route in...
Oct 20 11:25PM Read More
DeAndre Hopkins - WR
DeAndre Hopkins caught six passes for 108 yards in the Texans' Week 7 loss to the Steelers on... Hopkins and Andre Johnson each saw a team-high nine targets. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw it to whichever receiver was working against embattled Steelers CB Cortez Allen. ...
Oct 20 11:16PM Read More
Alfred Blue - RB
Alfred Blue rushed for 14 yards on five carries and caught an 11-yard touchdown in the Texans'... Blue was the vulture on the opening-drive 11-yard score after Arian Foster managed 59 rushing yards to get the Texans near the goal line. Foster is an every-down back,...
Oct 20 11:09PM Read More
Ryan Fitzpatrick - QB
Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 21-of-32 passes for 262 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception... Fitzpatrick played well for much of the first half, leading the Texans on three consecutive scoring drives to open the game. It was a train wreck thereafter. One play...
Oct 20 10:56PM Read More
Arian Foster - RB
Arian Foster rushed for 102 yards on 20 carries in the Texans' 30-23, Week 7 loss to the... Foster got off to a blazing start, rushing for 59 yards on the Texans' 94-yard opening touchdown drive, but was vultured by Alfred Blue for the 11-yard touchdown catch to...
Oct 20 10:47PM Read More
Jadeveon Clowney - LB
Jadeveon Clowney (knee) is inactive for Monday night's Week 7 game against the Steelers. Clowney's lateral agility wasn't where the Texans wanted it to be in pre-game warmups. He's been out since undergoing knee surgery after Week 1. Whitney Mercilus is...
Oct 20 6:09PM Read More

More Team Talk