FOXBORO — The Houston Texans, contrary to popular opinion, can beat the New England Patriots Sunday here at Gillette Stadium.
Victory or defeat will be decided not by the Pats, or Bill Belichick, or even Matt Schaub.
This one is on Texans’ boss Gary Kubiak, your typical run-of-the-mill, mired-in-the-mediocre 59-53 NFL coach, still looking to make a name for himself.
How does Houston win? It’s a matter of trust.
Kubiak must trust Arian Foster.
He has to believe in his defense implicitly, his front, his linebackers and defensive backs.
And with all his will, all his integrity, all his might, Kubiak can’t trust his quarterback, Matt Schaub.
Schaub will single-handedly throw his football team out of the playoffs if Kubiak allows him. He almost did on Saturday in the Wild Card round against Cincinnati.
He cautiously dumped underneath over and over, check-down after check-down on his way to a 29 of 38, 262-yard afternoon – good for a rather Sanchez-ian 6.9 yards per attempt.
Schaub’s most notable hookup? A floater to the flat that Leon Hall plucked and plodded with into the end zone.
Of course, Hall plays defense for the Bengals.
Yet, despite their panic-stricken pocket presence, the Texans, now 13-4, pose a distinct threat to knock off your New England Patriots.
Per usual in the NFL, this one hangs on the head coach.
If he approaches this Patriots’ team and Tom Brady with some recycled, inside-the-box approach – that works Tuesday night on paper and Wednesday in the initial walkthrough – the Texans will again be thrashed, as they were 42-14 in the previous regular season meeting.
Does Kubiak have it in him to innovate? To gamble? Can the coach allow Schaub to let it fly on first down when the Pats are spying Foster? Can he be creative on second, and let Foster attack the Pats on third?
Yes, run on third down, even third and long. It’s unheard of in today’s NFL. And that’s why, against the Patriots here Sunday, it just might work.
Schaub remains a puddle right now. Not a puzzle, but a puddle. Stick a pass rusher anywhere near his cage and the football goes up for grabs.
And the Patriots will get there on third down.
On first down, they can’t afford to attack, not with Foster around. He’s much too good to ignore.
Kubiak must be ready to play hard-nosed defense and give up the football when Foster can’t convert.
Defensively, he’s got to believe that the Texans will win one-on-one battles in the secondary. Jonathan Joseph wins weekly, but the Texans need more.
Wade Phillips’ defense has to commit athletes to the box, not just to take away the run, but to hit Tom Brady. Relying on J.J. Watt to do it all didn’t work in December and it won’t work now.
Passive was pathetic. But will Kubiak actually take a chance or two?
Judging by his past performance, one would have to say no.
Kubiak will probably throw in the Giants film in the last two Super Bowls and watch how the New Yorkers dominated the Pats in the front four. He too will look to win 17-13 in the final drive of the game.
And when the Pats are up 35 in the third quarter, Pats fans will heckle these pretenders to their throne all the way back to West Texas.
The Texans have what it takes to beat the Patriots Sunday. Have no doubt.
Gary Kubiak just doesn’t have intestinal fortitude to make it happen.