As we come to the end of a week’s worth of analysis, here are four points of emphasis for the Texans heading into Sunday’s divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium .
The Texans can’t be conservative. Houston did go for it twice on fourth down against the Patriots in December and came up short on both occasions, but in the context of both situations, the moves made sense. When facing New England, you can’t coach conservatively, and part of that means taking some chances. In that same vein, Houston cannot continue to settle for field goals — since their loss to the Patriots last month, the Texans have gone 3-for-13 in the red zone. Relying on kicker Shayne Graham  to win this game for you isn’t going to get it done.
The Texans have to start fast offensively. So much of what the Texans do is predicated on them playing with a lead. They’re at their best when they run the ball, utilizing a tricky zone-blocking scheme that can be difficult to stop, as Arian Foster continues to bang away at opposing defenses. The success of the running game opens up play action — which Matt Schaub can execute as well as anyone in the league — and that allows Houston to pick up big yards in the passing game, as Andre Johnson  is particularly adept at finding holes in a defense that’s cheating up in hopes of bottling up Foster. That didn’t happen the first time these two teams played. New England took advantage of some Houston errors, and the Texans were forced to throw the ball to try and catch up. That’s not what they want to do. If you’re Houston, you want to start with a steady and balanced attack that features a heavy dose of Foster out of the gate, which — theoretically — leads to Schaub connecting with Foster. If they stay away from digging themselves a 14-point deficit this time around, they could get their shot to execute the sort of game plan they want against New England.
Schaub has to pick his game up. In that same vein, the Texans quarterback has struggled over the last month-plus, not only at the end of the regular season but into the playoffs. While his completion rate has remained EXACTLY the same over the last five games as it was over the first 12 (he was averaging 22-for-34 for 65 percent going into the New England game, and has managed to keep the same average since then), his accuracy has taken a big dip. He had 21 touchdowns and nine interceptions coming into that game, but in his last five starts (including the wild-card win over the Bengals), he’s had one touchdown and four picks. That sort of output won’t be enough against the high-scoring Patriots offense .
The Texans’ defense has to control the line of scrimmage. Every team that has had success against the Patriots the last two-plus years has managed to control the New England offensive line. Opponents who have gotten physical with the Patriots — and managed to bring consistent pressure on Brady with a minimum number of rushers — have done well. Regardless of whether or not the Texans decide to send as much pressure as they did the first time around — or even decide to try J.J. Watt in the middle as a way to change up their look — Houston has to figure out a way to be able to collapse the pocket on Brady and the Patriots. One thing that the Texans can take from that 2010 playoff contest between New England and New York — the one where the Jets pulled off the upset — is that they were able to get after Brady with a relatively small number of rushers and flood the rest of the field with zone coverage. (A change from their usual approach of man coverage.) For what it’s worth, the Texans are more of a man coverage team. You’ll know they’ve taken a page out of Rex Ryan ‘s book if it looks like they’re playing mostly zone.