Week 14’s clash between the Houston Texans and New England Patriots is the biggest Monday Night Football game of the year. Both teams are vying for the top spot in the AFC with the playoffs closing in and books have set the host Patriots as 5.5-point favorites.
To get a better grip on both sides, we’ve enlisted the help of expert blogs for each team. Stephanie Stradley of Texans blog “TexansChick
” and Joe Soriano of Patriots blog “Musket Fire
” put on the pads and go head-to-head about which side will cover the spread on Monday Night Football.THREE REASONS WHY HOUSTON WILL COVERStephanie Stradley writes TexansChick, a blog for the Houston Chronicle. You can follow her on Twitter @StephStradley and check out her blog at StephStradley.com.Balance
The Texans are a more balanced team offensively and defensively than the Patriots. Traditional statistics hide the explosiveness of the Texans offense. They haven't had to engage in many shootouts because their defense has been good enough that there has been no need to run many risky plays on offense. The Patriots are used to playing against teams that can't keep up with them offensively and/or unable to beat them defensively. The Texans’ balance presents challenges to any team, including the Patriots.Time of possession
Since the beginning of the season, the Texans have led the league in time of possession (excluding OT) at almost 34 minutes per game. They also lead the league in road time of possession at 33:49. The offense is unusual, difficult to prepare for and often wears teams down by the second half with their predominantly zone-blocking scheme.
Though Andre Johnson, Arian Foster, and Owen Daniels are the “name” targets on offense, it’s hard to key on any player defensively because they have so many targets and Matt Schaub distributes the ball well. Even when the Texans offense doesn't have successful plays early, having to defend the best play action in the league can wear down defensive lines by the end of the game, softening them up for more of the running game in the second half.
Injuries favor Houston
Statistically, this game is strength versus strength in many ways. Probably the biggest distinguishing feature is that the Patriots’ special teams is much better than the Texans this year, but with the loss of returner/WR Julian Edelman for the season, that advantage is eroded.
The Texans are the best road team in the league at 6-0 and will likely be getting a number of their defensive starters back who missed all or part of the last two games. The Patriots survived against the Dolphins last week with Brady being sacked four times, but with additional injuries to the offense and facing a better defense, perhaps it becomes too much. Brady only targeted five players last week and one of those targets was Edelman.
THREE REASONS WHY NEW ENGLAND WILL COVERJoe Soriano is the lead editor for Musket Fire. You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter @Musket_Fire.Key players getting healthy
Logan Mankins and Chandler Jones are back practicing and all indications are that both of them will be able to play against the Texans. Jones hasn’t only been the Pats’ top pass rusher but his work in run defense has been especially notable. If the Patriots are going to be able to put a stranglehold on the Texans’ running game, then they will need Jones at his best. Mankins has been dealing with injuries all season, but he's still a solid player even when not at his best.
Aaron Hernandez is also back and his big game against the Miami Dolphins (eight catches, 97 yards) was the first time the star tight end truly looked healthy since the season opener. He's going to be a difficult weapon for the Texans to stop. Digging down deep
The Texans struggle to cover the slot, which is a glaring weakness when facing Wes Welker. The Patriots love spreading the ball around and they are going to take deep shots to Donte' Stallworth and Brandon Lloyd. The Texans struggle against No. 2 receivers out wide, so Stallworth does pose a threat.
Houston is susceptible to the deep ball and the secondary hasn’t been at its best lately. In fact, they have allowed nearly 450 yards per game over the past three weeks. They also lead the league in time of possession, which is another reason why the Pats need to assess the passing game.
What a rush
Both teams feature two of the top run defenses in the NFL and it's difficult to say which team has the best one. However, the Pats’ running game is probably the most clutch in the NFL. The Pats have the best rushing conversion in the NFL on third and fourth downs at 90 percent. They also average more yards per attempt and hold opponents to fewer yards per attempt.
The Patriots lead the league with 19 rushing touchdowns and 116 first downs, while the Texans have 16 TDs on the ground and 95 first downs despite running the ball 12 more times. They average more yards per game but they aren’t as efficient as the Patriots are on the ground.Join the debate. Which team - Texans or Patriots - covers on Monday Night Football?