|Gary Kubiak is under pressure this week.
Having already beaten the Houston Texans earlier this season, the New England Patriots won't be intimidated by the prospect of facing them again in the AFC Divisional round this weekend. The Texans will travel to Foxboro after beating the Cincinnati Bengals in the wildcard round of the playoffs this past Saturday. As the second seed in the conference, the Patriots haven't played in two weeks and will have homefield advantage throughout the playoffs if they can avoid the Denver Broncos.
What will unnerve Bill Belichick during his week of preparation however, is how the Texans will approach the game. The Patriots proved that they had a sure gameplan to shut down the Houston side's regular approach during the regular season, but if the Texans feel confident enough in Matt Schaub and their young receivers, they could completely flip their offensive attack to take advantage of the Patriots' frailties.
The question isn't whether Gary Kubiak should do it, it's whether he is brave enough in his job security to put his fate in an approach that is foreign to their team and one that would ask a lot of inexperienced players. Matt Schaub didn't exactly impress against the Bengals, but there is next to no chance that Arian Foster will be able to carry the team to victory against the Patriots' front seven. that is, unless Foster is used differently.
By changing their approach and spreading the field, the Texans don't necessarily have to completely revamp their passing attack, or even their overall offensive identity. Instead of running tight formations that allow passing plays and running plays to look exactly the same, before using play-action to exploit the secondary, the Texans could craft an offense around Foster that would put him in space. The Texans may be limited with receivers, but both Foster and Ben Tate are excellent receivers out of the backfield who can make big plays in space. You don't have to throw the ball down the field to have big completions.
If the Texans flip their approach from a formation perspective, using multiple receivers and shotgun sets opposed to multiple tight ends and having the quarterback under center, they can still focus on the running game. Foster is the type of back who has excellent patience, awareness, agility and breakaway speed. Running from a passing formation shouldn't hurt his production, while it would force the Patriots to take a linebacker or defensive lineman off of the field, ie the team's strengths on defense.
Foster was bottled up the last time the two sides faced each other. He was unable to set the tone for the offense as the whole of the Patriots' defense was able to converge on him. By establishing a short passing game with receivers such as Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter, DeVier Posey, Lestar Jean and Keshawn Martin, the Texans would pull the Patriots' focus away from Foster and be able to use him in the screen game and handoffs for big plays. Instead of riding Foster and Tate, look to get big plays from them as complementary pieces.
That does put the pressure on Matt Schaub to play better than he has all season long, but you have to trust your quarterback and he would at least have the advantage of catching the Patriots off guard. The Patriots will study every single thing that the Texans have done on offense this season, even after controlling them already this season. The one way the Texans can counter that is by surprising them with a different approach. That appears to be the only way that they will be able to use Bill Belcihick's work against him.