Take a quick glance at the tale of the tape for Monday night’s showdown between the Houston Texans and New England Patriots.
Houston, which is averaging 33.7 points over its last three games, is fourth in the league in total offense; the Patriots are first. The Texans boast a well-balanced attack led by RB Arian Foster, who leads the NFL with 15 touchdowns and the AFC with 1,102 yards rushing. Top receiver Andre Johnson is tied for fourth in the NFL with 1,114 yards receiving and is alone in fourth in the AFC with 74 catches.
New England tops the league in scoring at 35.8 points (more than six better than runner-up Houston) but had its second-lowest offensive output in last week's 23-16 win at Miami. Tom Brady was sacked four times and threw only his fourth interception. The Patriots will once again be without the services of Rob Gronkowski (forearm) but have Aaron Hernandez, who caught eight passes for 97 yards last week versus the Fish, to fill in.
The Texans are without CB Brice McCain, their best slot defender, due to a broken foot and could march out top corner Johnathan Joseph at less than 100 percent. Joseph missed the last two games due to a tender hamstring and won’t get any favors from the cold and wet conditions expected to hit Gillette Stadium Monday night. Despite a beat up secondary, Houston has one of the toughest defenses in the league against the run and boasts pass-rush threat J.J. Watt.
New England's secondary was vulnerable to big plays early in the season and has allowed the fourth most yards passing in the NFL. But it has improved since Devin McCourty moved from cornerback to safety for the past six games and Aqib Talib was acquired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Rookie returner Keshawn Martin, who inherited duties on both kickoffs and punts after the Texans released Trindon Holliday after Week 5, is fourth in the league in punt-return average at 14.3 yards, and 21st in kickoff returns (24.1).
The Patriots special teams will suffer without Julian Edelman, who will be sidelined with a season-ending foot injury. Edelman split time as the third receiver this year and was a terror on special teams. He had 21 receptions, three touchdowns and also a 68-yard punt return for a touchdown. The loss of Edelman could mean a heavier workload for Wes Welker as a punt returner. Welker filled in for three weeks earlier this season when Edelman missed time with a hand injury.
Word on the street
“I think he’s extremely athletic for such a big man. Heck, I just left a special teams meeting and watched him rush a punter. There’s no telling how he’s going to be involved in the game, but he’s a huge factor week in and week out. He plays all over the place, so all of our guys will probably go against him upfront somehow, someway because of the many places that he plays." -- Texans head coach Gary Kubiak on Patriots DT Vince Wilfork.
"They're a very well-balanced team. If you're stopping the run, you're light on the play-action (passing attack). If you're stopping the play-action, you're probably light on the run. They do a good job of tying those plays together, complementing each other and making you defend all of it." -- Patriots head coach Bill Belichick on the Houston offense.