Photo: Bob Levey/Getty Images
The Houston Texans are 9.5-point underdogs against the New England Patriots on Sunday, and for good reason.The Pats squashed the Texans 42-14 a few weeks ago, and that was without Rob Gronkowski.
If Houston is going to pull off the biggest upset of the playoffs so far, there’s only one realistic way to do it — their defensive line dominates New England’s offensive line, and they get constant pressure on Tom Brady.
James Walker of ESPN says that’s the only way to beat Brady. But the Patriots know it’s the only way, so they focus a ton on protecting him:
“The key to stopping Brady is not a secret: You must beat him up. Brady doesn’t like getting hit in the face, especially at age 35. The problem is that is much easier said than done. New England is extremely good at self-scouting and schemes very well to keep Brady upright. Houston got only one sack against Brady in the first meeting, so it was no surprise that he threw four touchdowns.”
Because of their personnel, the Texans have a chance to mount this sort of pass rush. JJ Watt isn’t just having a great defensive season, he’s having one of the best seasons in modern NFL history.
According to the WSJ, Watt had 59 “disruptions” this year (a stat that combines sacks, blocked passes, and run stuffs). The previous high for a defender since 1992 was 35.5. So Watt’s season has been nearly twice as good as the second-best season by a D-lineman in the last 20 years.
Watt has help too. Antonio Smith, Connor Barwin, and Brooks Reed (who didn’t play in the first meeting between these teams), can all get after the passer.
The Texans are rightfully big underdogs in this game. They’ve regressed considerably since playing so well back in September, and they lack the deep threats that really give the Patriots defensive problems.
But they have the best player on the field in Watt, and their pass rush at least gives them a puncher’s chance on Sunday.
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