Over the next few days leading up to the New England Patriots vs. Houston Texans Divisional Playoff match-up, we'll be featuring several "mini-debates," with different members of the Pats Pulpit team offering their opinions on pressing issues in the match-up.
Tonight, we lead off with the question - "After holding Arian Foster to 46 yards in their first match-up, can the Patriots stop Arian Foster again?"
SMP leads off the debate below!
The key to this will be whether the Texans change their ground attack this time around. It seemed that they were very keen to rush up the middle last time around and that is the strength of the Patriots rush defense. If they concede the middle of the field and take it to the edges, then it will be up to Nink, Jones, Francis and company to try to set the edge. We are more vulnerable there especially with their injured Tight-End back.
Also, as the one Texans' blogger was quick to point out, if Arian Foster goes wide, the Patriots were more likely to blitz. I could easily see the Texans send Arian wide behind a bunch formation and hit him on the screen - the anti-blitz. It's something to watch out for and should be a key for whoever rushes on that side.
Stop the screen and set the edge and we will limit Arian Foster. Otherwise it could be a long, long day and a very short post-season for the Patriots. Of course, Belichick covered all of this last week during the Texans segment when we still had three potential opponents to play.
I'm not really sure the Patriots stopped Arian Foster last time as much as the Texans were forced to abandon him early as they got into a huge hole. Houston isn't built to score quickly or come from behind with an up-tempo offense; their strength is a slow, methodical attack that relies heavily on the ground game and short to mid-range passes over the middle to Owen Daniels based of an effective playaction. I think New England's best strategy is to force Houston out of their comfort zone by spreading out the defense, utilizing the no-huddle, and scoring quickly. If they can do that, Houston won't be able lean on that stretch play that Foster runs so well, and our LBs - who are fairly weak in coverage - won't be exploited in the short game.
If Devin McCourty doesn't make that pick or Aaron Hernandez doesn't recover that Ridley fumble, that game could have gone very differently. I think starting hot and keeping their foot on the gas is going to be even more key for the Patriots this time around, as Houston has their best blocking TE (Graham) back from injury and has another element of their pass rush back as well (Reed); if the Pats can go up by two scores early, Foster will once again be limited as the Texans are forced to throw, and that's exactly what we want them to do.
The Patriots are likely to surrender the checkdowns to Foster, especially since he's figured to be involved more in the passing game after the Texans watch the game tape and see just how many times they missed him last time.
But the Patriots are smart; they realize that the damage won't be incurred as a result of Foster catching passes, but in Foster running out of the backfield. Eliminating Foster's presence behind the line of scrimmage shuts down the Texans biggest offensive weapon--the play-action--and no one should be brimming with confidence in Schaub's quarterbacking abilities when the defense can back off the box and play the pass.
Foster can't be "stopped," but that particular facet of his game can be slowed down tremendously, and one that the Patriots must key in on if they want to continue their success against the Texans on Sunday.
While I agree with a lot of your points all of you made on how the Patriots will attempt to stop, or as Adam pointed out - slow down Foster, I think there's a key factor overlooked here that will factor heavily into the Patriots' gameplan: the health of cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard.
In week 14, the Patriots were able to get away with using their base defense, stacking the box, and committing to the run. Why? Because they were able to trust Talib and Dennard in man coverage on the outside against Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter. As you probably remember, both Talib and Dennard went down with injuries in that week 14 game, and neither have been healthy since. By the time that they did go down, the lead was well within hand, so Foster had essentially become a non-factor.
However, if Talib and/or Dennard are limited in what they can do on Sunday, the Patriots may feel less comfortable fully committing to stopping the run, and Foster could be in line for a big day. So in conclusion, while all of you have outlined important ways that the Patriots can slow down Foster, it could be moot if the Patriots can't trust their cornerbacks in man coverage. On a side-note, Talib and Dennard have had extra time to heal with the bye, so there is reason for optimism.
What did you think of our answers? How do you think the Patriots attempt to stop Arian Foster? Feel free to leave your opinion in the comments section!