By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor
Here are five keys for Sunday’s divisional-round playoff game between the Houston Texans and New England Patriots:
>>Patriots quarterback Tom Brady needs to establish from the start that he owns the game, just as he has owned so many others in the postseason. Brady did exactly that in Week 14, when the Patriots dominated the Texans. He was able to decipher all of the Texans’ complex blitz packages before the snap, and react accordingly by connecting for big throws. In the end, Houston’s defense was no match for Brady’s brilliance. Still, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt is more than capable of making life difficult for Brady with his ability to generate pressure and uncanny knack for knocking down passes at the line.
>>The Texans must get a dominant rushing day from Arian Foster. This not only is the Texans’ best hope to win the game, but might very well represent their only hope. The Texans can be effective if they’re able to use their zone-blocking scheme to consistently create cutback lanes for Foster, who could enjoy a big day if the Patriots’ front seven ends up over-pursuing too often.
>>New England’s receivers have to take advantage of the edge they have against Houston’s secondary. With the Patriots mostly going with two wide receivers, two tight ends and one back, the Texans – like most of New England’s opponents – are going to be hard-pressed to be able to match up with them. The Texans are vulnerable in the back end of their defense. They don’t do particularly well in man-to-man coverage, yet that is likely what they will be playing for much of the game because defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will be calling plenty of blitzes in an effort to pressure Brady.
>>Houston quarterback Matt Schaub must maintain his composure and take care of the ball. He rebounded from some shaky performances late in the regular season with a fairly solid game against the Bengals last weekend. But that was at home. Doing the same in Foxborough, Mass., is an entirely different challenge. Schaub cannot allow himself to be rattled by the variety of defensive looks the Patriots will present. He must stay poised, and, if he gets the help of a strong running game, he should be able to make his share of plays with his arm.
>>The Patriots have to get consistently strong one-on-one coverage from cornerback Aqib Talib. This is the key to the Patriots’ defense. The Pats will ask Talib to handle the Texans’ best receiver, Andre Johnson, by himself, something he did reasonably well when the teams met in Week 14. That does plenty to allow them to be aggressive with blitzes. But Talib is dealing with a hip injury, and if that impedes his movement, it could significantly alter New England’s defensive plans and open things up in the Texans’ passing game.
>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET, for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford” on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on ClevelandBrowns.com.
>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/browns_daily, Twitter.com/viccarucci, e-mail: Daily@ClevelandBrowns.com, or by calling 855-363-2459.
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