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The Texans’ weaknesses the Patriots will hope to exploit

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When it comes down to the playoffs, it’s not necessarily how talented the individual players are but rather the weaknesses of the units they play in.

The Patriots will have their rematch against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium on Saturday. In Week 3, the Patriots crushed a 2-0 Houston team that was squeaking by weak opponents by a 27-0 score with Jacoby Brissett making his first NFL start. Instead of having three days, the Patriots and Texans will have 6 to prepare for the game. The Patriots likely already have a jump-start on preparation over the Texans due to having the bye week. In the postseason, a team’s flaws get exposed as the best players and coaches take the field. Between the two teams playing on Saturday night, the Texans have more flaws than the Patriots.

The Texans are primarily a defensive team that boasts the top ranked unit in yards allowed. Their defense has play-makers at every level, with ED Jadeveon Clowney being a big force in the run and pass game, LB Brian Cushing having one of his best seasons before injuries started to ruin his career, and a secondary that can cover almost any set of receivers with CB AJ Bouye having a great season. Despite that great defense, their offense struggles to put up points on the board (17.4 PPG/1.50), which is why their 26th in point differential with -36 points in 17 games (-2.1 per game). The Texans hapless offense combined with the Patriots being the best team in the league in whatever metric you want to use (wins, point differential) is why the team is listed as 16-point favorites (45.0 O/U) out of the gate.

Osweiler’s inability to hit tight window throws downfield: NFL’s Next Gen Stats produced a list of the 10 most aggressive QBs in terms of throwing into tight windows, where the receiver has less than a yard of separation from the nearest defender. Texans QB Brock Osweiler ranked 5th in the league with 21.2% of his passes in tight coverage. His completion percentage on short passes is a strong 64.4% that made him 2nd in the league, but on throws 20+ yards downfield his completion rate drops to 17.9% which ranks 30th in the NFL. On intermediate throws, he’s 31st in the league. The Patriots will try to force Osweiler to make those tight window throws to beat them, which means a lot of 3 and 4 man rushes in passing situations. Osweiler leads the league with 8 tight coverage throws being intercepted. The Patriots need to make Osweiler pay for missing tight window throws down the field and turn them into turnovers to put away Houston early.

Right side of the Texans OL: The Texans are playing a banged up Jeff Allen at RG and veteran backup swing OT Chris Clark at RT. That could be opportunities for both Trey Flowers, Alan Branch, and Rob Ninkovich to create pressure and traffic to the offense’s right. The Patriots need to take advantage of this match-up so they don’t have to send extra pressure and force Osweiler to make bad decisions in tight windows. The Patriots will certainly be attempting to take away the ground game and force those Osweiler to throw into those tight windows.

Texans laughably bad special teams unit: In terms of Special Teams, this is a heavy mismatch. The Texans special teams is one of the worst units while the Patriots are one of the best units in the NFL. The Texans punt coverage unit is the one where the Patriots can really exploit them, as they’ve allowed 10 yards per return and only got the down the field to down 29.2% of their punts by either forcing a fair catch or downing the punt themselves. Their main returner Tyler Ervin as even worse issues handling kicks than Cyrus Jones does for the Patriots. In the Patriots Week 3 win, the Special Teams unit was continually forcing long drives for the Texans while the Patriots benefited from short fields. The Patriots ability to win the battle of field position every game will be on full display on Saturday against an opponent whose unit struggles in that phase.

Texans inability to defend on the road: Rich made a strong point about the Texans splits in terms of points allowed per game at home and on the road. The Texans allowed 16.3 points at home, including 13 to the Raiders on Saturday afternoon/evening. On the road, they’ve given up 24.4 points which is a jump of at least one touchdown. 3 of their 8 road games they’ve allowed less than their average and a 4th game at the average. The lowest point total allowed on the road was 17 to the Colts. For the divisional round, the Texans will be going from an indoor stadium to frigid Foxboro where the temperature will be in the 20s and potentially snowing according to Boston Herald beat writer/amateur weatherman Jeff Howe.

On the other side of the ball is Tom Brady, a QB who thrives in cold weather conditions and a balanced offense that attacks the opposing defenses weaknesses. While I, myself, struggle to see where the weaknesses of the Texans defense is, Bill Belichick has found something and is plugging away to craft a game plan to attack them.