Defensive Key to the Game: limiting Arian Foster
The Houston Texans have run the ball 413 times (34.4 per game), the most in the NFL this year. While their 4.1 yards per carry is middle of the pack, between running the ball that often and having a home run threat pounding the rock, that causes defenses to honor the run. That in turn allows for very effective play action passes by Matt Schaub, which has a lot to do with why Houston is 2nd in the league in scoring (29.3 points per game), and has an 11-1 record.
There are other positive side effects to being productive in the running game as well. Running more plays means a more tired defense, which opens up opportunities for big offensive plays. Opposing defenses can become impatient, resulting in a careless play made when they go for the big play. With their own offense on the field the Texans’ defense can rest on the sideline, and come out fresh for the next series. Meanwhile it keeps the opposing offense off the field, and when they do get back on they may be cold or impatient themselves, which could lead to a turnover or three and out.
Although he has already rushed for 1,102 yards this season, Foster is only averaging 3.9 yards per carry. The Texans have had their best success running off right tackle, averaging 5.53 yards per carry (3rd best); the Patriots are on average allowing 4.94 yards per carry (28th) in that direction. Rob Ninkovich will need to be stout setting the edge, and Dont’a Hightower will also need to have a good game on that side. The two need to be productive in their individual battles and funnel runs back up the middle towards Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love and Brandon Spikes; the Pats are allowing only 3.3 yards per carry up the middle. Foster has great vision and ability to cutback; it is imperative that the Patriot defenders win their blocks, contain the edge, and maintain their assignments.
The Pats secondary has shown much improvement recently with Devin McCourty stabilizing the group since moving to safety. Aqib Talib is an improvement over the other options at corner, and Steve Gregory has played much better the last two weeks. Neutralizing the Houston running game makes the play-action pass less effective, and makes it much easier on the secondary to do their job.
While it is true that the Patriots rank 8th in the NFL in rush defense at 3.9 yards per carry, they have not been as good recently as they were earlier this season. Opponents have rushed for more than 100 yards against the Pats in six straight games, and both the Bills and Colts ran for over five yards per carry. The Bills, Colts and Jets combined for 15 runs of 10+ yards, which is the 5th most in the NFL during that time span. In their first eight games the Pats never allowed more than three runs of 10+ yards in a game, and led the league with the fewest (14) at that point in time.
If the Patriots can limit Foster, Justin Forsett (who has been getting more carries in an apparent effort to reduce Foster’s workload), and Ben Tate (finally healed from his hamstring injury), then they should be in very good shape to win Monday night’s game; if not, then it is going to be very difficult, regardless of how well the New England offense plays.
This Day In Patriots History
December 7, 2008:
New England Patriots 24, Seattle Seahawks 21 at Qwest Field
On 4th down with 2:44 to go, Sammy Morris scored on a one-yard plunge to give the Pats a win, placing them in a three-way tie for the lead of the AFC East.
Seattle did get the ball back but with 1:54 to go Brandon Meriweather sacked Seneca Wallace, and Richard Seymour recovered the fumble to clinch the victory.
A week after committing four turnovers Matt Cassel was flawless, going 26-44 for 268 yards, a touchdown, and no turnovers; he was 5-8 on the game-winning drive, with 3rd down completions to Jabar Gaffney and Wes Welker. Welker had a season-high 12 receptions, for 134 yards. Deion Branch had two touchdown catches for Seattle, his first since 2007, and a nifty 63-yard catch and run.
December 7, 2003:
New England Patriots 12, Miami Dolphins 0 at Gillette Stadium
The Pats won their ninth in a row, with the lasting image from this game being Tedy Bruschi dropping to his knees in the end zone in celebration after intercepting a pass and returning it five yards for a touchdown. That made the score 10-0 with 8:55 to go on and fans in Foxboro joined in the celebration, throwing fists full of snow up in the air throughout the stadium; a nor’easter had dumped 28 inches of snow just a day before the game was played. The final score of the game came with 1:13 to play when Jarvis Green tackled Jay Fiedler in the end zone.
December 7, 1997:
New England Patriots 26, Jacksonville Jaguars 20 at Alltel Stadium
Despite being without Curtis Martin and Terry Glenn the Pats – who had defeated Jacksonville less than a year previously in the AFC Championship Game – defeated the Jags again.
On the opening Jacksonville drive Steve Israel forced a fumble near midfield, and the Pats drove down and scored on a 9-yard touchdown pass from Drew Bledsoe to to Troy Brown. On the ensuing kickoff, Vernon Crawford forced a fumble on the Jaguars 27-yard line to set up Adam Vinatieri‘s second field goal, putting the Pats up 13-0. Bledsoe then hit Ben Coates with a 5-yard touchdown pass to push the lead to 20-7 at halftime. The Jaguars scored on a kickoff return but as time expired Chris Carter knocked down a Hail Mary pass by Mark Brunell to preserve the win.
December 7, 1986:
Cincinnati Bengals 31, New England Patriots 7
James Brooks ran through the Patriots for a then-team record 264 all-purpose yards as the Bengals upset the Pats in Foxboro, dropping New England to 10-4. Stanley Morgan had five receptions for 107 yards and Tony Collins had the only TD for the Pats on a 3rd quarter one-yard run.
December 7, 1975:
New York Jets 30, New England Patriots 28 at Schaefer Stadium
A 4th quarter rally fell just short as the Jets got their third win of the year in Foxboro. Steve Grogan threw for 273 yards and two touchdowns, Randy Vataha had a career-high 149 yards receiving (and two touchdowns), Don Calhoun rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown, and John Smith booted four field goals.
December 7, 1969:
San Diego Chargers 28, Boston Patriots 18
Jim Nance rushed for two touchdowns and a 2-point conversion but the Pats were unable to overcome a 25-point deficit due in large part to four turnovers. Ron Sellers had 102 yards receiving for the Pats while the home-team Chargers were led by Lance Alworth‘s 147 yards.
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December 7, 1941:
A Day Which Will Live In Infamy
December 7, 1967:
Otis Redding recorded (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay
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