5 things about Texans: Brock Osweiler leads popgun offense into Foxboro for divisional playoff showdown

January 09, 2017 - 8:11 am
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[caption id="attachment_89237" align="alignright" width="350"] Bill O'Brien brings his Texans into Foxboro for a playoff date with the Patriots on Saturday. (Bob Levey/Getty Images)[/caption] Five things you have to know about the Texans, who will come to Gillette Stadium this weekend for a divisional playoff contest against the Patriots. 1. Brock Osweiler played his best game of the season on Saturday against the Raiders. We can probably narrow that down even more by saying Osweiler had his best half of the season in the first two quarters Saturday against the Raiders, going 12-for-18 for 146 yards and a touchdown pass. After Houston went into super-conservative mode in the second half and fundamentally turned the game over to its defense, Osweiler finished the game 14-for-25 for 168 yards, with a rushing touchdown and a passing touchdown. Good numbers for him. If he's able to replicate those on Saturday night against the Patriots, Houston will probably be happy. It probably won't be enough, but you have to take what you can get. For the record, in three career starts against New England, Osweiler is 1-2, and has gone 47-for-83 (57 percent) with 466 yards, one touchdown and two picks in those three games. 2. Osweiler leans heavily on his two tight ends. There are plenty of reasons why, but it's probably no coincidence that the Houston offense — with Bill O'Brien and George Godsey, both of whom have roots in New England — love to favor the tight ends in the passing game. Osweiler favors C.J. Fiedorowicz (54 catches, 89 targets, 559 yards, 4 TDs on the season) and Ryan Griffin (50 catches, 74 targets, 442 yards, 2 TDs). They made up two of Osweiler's top three targets in the passing game this past season. The Patriots have occasionally had issues containing tight ends; look for that to be the focus of the New England pass defense heading into Saturday. Of course, Osweiler also leans on DeAndre Hopkins (a team-high 78 catches, 151 targets, 954 yards and 4 TDs), but it's tight ends he really likes. They've also been able to get good production out of the running game, as Lamar Miller (268 carries, 1,073 rushing yards, 5 TDs) is the closest the Texans have to a lead back. 3. But the truth is that the offense is middle-of-the-road at best. The Houston offense has trouble putting together long drives — the Texans' 10-play, 75-yard drive against Oakland on Saturday that resulted in a 38-yard field goal from Nick Novak marked the first time all year the Texans started a drive inside their own 10-yard line that resulted in points. But it's more than just an inability to drive the field for a consistent length of time — the bottom line is that Houston struggles to score. The Texans (279 points on the season) scored fewer points than the last-place Jaguars (318). Hell, Houston barely scored more points this year than the Browns (264). They were held to 13 points or less on five occasions. Overall, Houston is 29th in the league in passing, (198.5 yards per game), eighth in rushing (116.2 yards per game) and tied for 28th in scoring average (17.4 points per game). 4. Their defense is good. Not great. The narrative on Saturday night was that the Texans defense was the best in the league (at least from a pure yards allowed standpoint), and the fact that it overwhelmed a rookie quarterback did nothing to eliminate that storyline, at least nationally. The truth is they're probably closer to average; against two-dimensional teams, they've frequently struggled to contain either the run or the pass, which has allowed some good quarterbacks to forgo overwhelming passing yards at the expense of exploiting some of the softer spots on defense, particularly when it comes to stopping the run. Over the course of the season, the Texans were second against the pass (201.6 yards allowed per game), 12th against the run (99.7 yards allowed per game) and 11th in scoring (20.5 points per game allowed). In addition, Houston's 17 takeaways tied for 26th in the league. The thinking here? The Patriots get to an early lead with a couple of quick scores, and then go heavy on LeGarrette Blount as they try the run defense in the second half. For the record, here's a look at how Tom Brady has done in his career against a defense led by Houston DC Romeo Crennel. 2007 (Crennel was head coach in Cleveland) Brady went 22-for-38 for 265 yards with three touchdowns and no picks in a 34-17 win. 2011 (Crennel was defensive coordinator in Kansas City) Brady went 15-for-27 for 234 yards, with two touchdowns and three sacks in a 34-3 win. 2015 (Crennel was defensive coordinator in Houston) Brady went 22-for-30 for 226 yards, 2 TDs, 3 sacks in 27-6 win. Overall, that averages out to 20-for-32 (63 percent) for 242 yards, just over two touchdowns, no interceptions and two sacks per game. 5. Except for Jadaveon Clowney. Clowney? He's great. Clowney is a really impressive player who overwhelmed Oakland's backup left tackle on Saturday. The 6-foot-5, 266-pounder controlled the game off the edge, which was pretty much par for the course in 2016. He ended the year with 40 tackles and six sacks. Expect the Patriots to try and slide protection to his side in an attempt to keep some heat off Brady, which could mean more snaps than usual for the likes of Cameron Fleming, Matt Lengel or James Develin.

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