2014 DRAFT GUIDE
Pats offensive balance a challenge for Texans

By HOWARD ULMAN - AP Sports Writer
    2012-12-09 14:45

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) - Stevan Ridley has emerged as a top running back in his second pro season. He's not the only Patriots rusher Texans coach Gary Kubiak has to worry about.

The revived New England ground game, with Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden as backups, has brought balance to an offense that relied more heavily on quarterback Tom Brady in recent years.

Ridley, in his second pro season, is third in the AFC with 1,010 yards rushing going into Monday night's game between the Texans (11-1), who have the best record in the AFC and have clinched a playoff berth, and the Patriots (9-3), who have locked up the AFC East title.

``He's a heck of a player,'' Kubiak said. ``They've had a few different backs back there. It's what they do. It's almost like anybody they put back there is successful. They play young guys. Tom has got them in the right play all the time. They're not only running the ball well, but those backs out of the backfield catch the ball extremely well.''

Vereen has rushed for just 173 yards and three touchdowns but has scored on an 83-yard pass play. Bolden, a rookie who returns Monday night after sitting out a four-game suspension for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances, is second on the team with 234 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

``They're very capable of running the ball very well,'' Kubiak said.

And, of course, outstanding throwing it.

Brady is having his usual strong season with 25 touchdown passes and just four interceptions, and wide receiver Wes Welker leads the NFL with 92 receptions.

That pairing could be a real problem for Houston without cornerback Brice McCain, who had surgery on his left foot on Monday. Brandon Harris, a second-year pro, will replace him despite having played in just four games this season.

``Welker has 92 catches and I don't think Brandon has 29 plays,'' Houston defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. ``It's a challenge, certainly. We expect him to step up and play. We're going to try to help him in certain areas, but it's going to be one-on-one some. It's going to be one-on-one pass rush with our guys to put pressure on the guy and it's going to be one-on-one for our guys to cover them sometimes. That's just how it is.''

Balance also is a strong point for the Texans with Arian Foster, the AFC's leading rusher with 1,102 yards, and Andre Johnson, seventh in the NFL with 74 catches.

``He's a great player,'' Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of Johnson, a 10-year veteran. ``He's done it for a long time. He puts up big numbers every year and people are keying on him. They're looking for him and he keeps producing. He's a hard guy to cover.''

And then there's Foster, the NFL leader with 15 touchdowns.

The Texans disguise their plays well and make effective use of play action, which requires defenders to be well disciplined.

``Gary does a good job, scheme-wise, of balancing everything out - the running game, the passing game, play-actions, dropbacks, complementary routes, complementary runs - everything kind of ties together,'' Belichick said.

The Patriots and the Texans are the only two offenses ranked in the top 10 in yards rushing and passing.

``If you're stopping one thing, then you're probably light on something else and it won't take them too long to find that and exploit it,'' Belichick said. Johnson ``is definitely open on a few plays where it wouldn't matter who the receiver is, the guy is wide open and is going to make a big play. But there are also a lot of plays that he makes on his own.''

Fortunately for the Patriots, their weak pass defense has improved in recent weeks.

The acquisition of cornerback Aqib Talib, who has played the past three games for the Patriots, from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has allowed Belichick to start Devin McCourty at safety rather than his usual cornerback spot, and he's solidified the secondary.

McCourty's interception in the end zone in the final minute secured the Patriots 37-31 win over the Buffalo Bills on Nov. 11. In their next game, cornerbacks Talib and Alfonzo Dennard returned interceptions for touchdowns in a 59-24 rout of the Indianapolis Colts.

``They're a very physical, stout group,'' Texans quarterback Matt Schaub said. ``They understand their scheme well, a lot of veteran guys that have played a lot of football in that group. They can rush the passer. They can stop the run. They can do a little bit of everything. It's a group that we really have to be on top of our game plan, on top of our stuff and play good road football.''

The Texans have done that better than any team this season. At 6-0, they're the only team with a perfect road record.

But the Patriots haven't lost a regular-season game in December since Dec. 22, 2002.

``The better you play, the better your homefield advantage is because the more the crowd is into it,'' Brady said. ``I think the mark of our teams over the years has been we've improved as the season has gone along. December is the last month to really improve.

``Coach puts pressure on us in practice every day to improve, to get better and not to make the same mistakes (and) to learn from our mistakes. I think we as a team have responded to that and played well. That's what's important this time of the year: to not make the same mistakes we were making in September and to play our best football. This will be a great week to see if we can accomplish that.''

---

Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Fantasy Football Player Notes RSS FeedPLAYER NOTES

Blake BortlesDec 18 04:22p

Jacksonville Jaguars QB Blake Bortles has earned positive reviews from the team in his rookie season after being thrust into the spotlight early this year. 'That is not the [ More ]

Jay CutlerDec 18 04:12p

Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler was benched just for this week against the Detroit Lions, according to head coach Marc Trestman. Cutler will be active and serve as the [ More ]

DeAngelo WilliamsDec 18 04:02p

Carolina Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams (hand) will be fitted cast that he can play with on his injured hand. Williams still has not caught a pass with the injured [ More ]

Rashad JenningsDec 18 04:02p

New York Giants RB Rashad Jennings (ankle) has not been able to do any running this week, according to head coach Tom Coughlin.

Ryan MathewsDec 18 03:42p

San Diego Chargers RB Ryan Mathews (ankle) did not participate in practice Thursday, Dec. 18.

Cam NewtonDec 18 02:52p

Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton (back) fully participated in practice Thursday, Dec. 18, and appears to be on track to start in Week 16, according to head coach Ron Rivera.

DeMarco MurrayDec 18 02:42p

Dallas Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray (hand), who was expected to take some team snaps in practice Thursday, Dec. 18, is in no more risk if he plays in Week [ More ]

Cam NewtonDec 18 02:12p

Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton (back) said he is not dealing with any pain in his back but is taking things one day at a time. Newton said he [ More ]

Peyton ManningDec 18 02:02p

Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning (thigh) left practice early Thursday, Dec. 18, because he is receiving a scheduled day of rest. Manning was not limping when he was walking to the locker room.

LeSean McCoyDec 18 01:32p

Philadelphia Eagles RB Chris Polk appears to have become the team's goal-line back of late, and two of the three snaps he played in Week 15 led to short [ More ]

Chris PolkDec 18 01:32p

Philadelphia Eagles RB Chris Polk appears to have become the team's goal-line back of late, and two of the three snaps he played in Week 15 led to short [ More ]

Cam NewtonDec 18 01:22p

Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton (back) had an increased set of repetitions in practice Thursday, Dec. 18, and it looks like he's on track to play in Week 16 [ More ]

Rashad JenningsDec 18 12:52p

New York Giants RB Rashad Jennings (ankle) is not participating in practice Thursday, Dec. 18.

Andre JohnsonDec 18 12:52p

Houston Texans WR Andre Johnson (concussion) has cleared the leagues concussion protocol and will play in the team's Week 16 game.

Julio JonesDec 18 12:12p

Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones (hip) is not participating in practice Thursday, Dec. 18.

Case KeenumDec 18 10:03a

Houston Texans QB Case Keenum is expected to start in Week 16.

Philip RiversDec 18 09:22a

San Diego Chargers QB Philip Rivers (back) is battling a back injury that is more severe than the team has acknowledged, according to a league source. Rivers' back injury [ More ]

LeSean McCoyDec 18 01:03a

Philadelphia Eagles RB LeSean McCoy opened practice on the sidelines Wednesday, Dec. 17, while RB Chris Polk opened with first-team reps. After practice McCoy did not seem too concerned. [ More ]

Ronnie HillmanDec 18 01:03a

The Denver Broncos are hopeful RB Ronnie Hillman (foot) will be able to return for the Week 16 game against the Cincinnati Bengals Monday, Dec. 22, or for the [ More ]

Drew StantonDec 17 07:33p

Arizona Cardinals QB Drew Stanton (knee) said this injury is different from any other he's ever had, and he said it's too soon to know if he could return [ More ]

Carlos HydeDec 17 07:03p

San Francisco 49ers RBs Frank Gore (concussion) and Carlos Hyde (ankle) did not take part in practice Wednesday, Dec. 17.

Jay CutlerDec 17 06:43p

Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler will be benched in favor of QB Jimmy Clausen in Week 16 against the Detroit Lions, according to a source.

Jimmy ClausenDec 17 06:43p

Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler will be benched in favor of QB Jimmy Clausen in Week 16 against the Detroit Lions, according to a source.

Philip RiversDec 17 06:13p

San Diego Chargers QB Philip Rivers (chest, back) took part in a walkthrough Wednesday, Dec. 17, but didn't take part in practice, but he fully expects to play in [ More ]

Carlos HydeDec 17 05:43p

San Francisco 49ers RB Carlos Hyde (knee, back) received good news from his MRI results, but he said it would take a miracle for him to play in Week [ More ]

Robbie GouldDec 17 04:53p

Chicago Bears PK Robbie Gould (quadriceps) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Dec. 17.

Cam NewtonDec 17 04:13p

Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton (back) was listed as a limited participant in practice Wednesday, Dec. 17.

Frank GoreDec 17 03:13p

San Francisco 49ers RB Frank Gore (concussion) visited with a doctor at the team's facility Tuesday, Dec. 16, as part of the NFL's concussion protocol. Gore did not participate [ More ]

Ryan MathewsDec 17 02:33p

San Diego Chargers RB Ryan Mathews (ankle) is not participating in practice Wednesday, Dec. 17.

C.J. SpillerDec 17 02:13p

Buffalo Bills RB C.J. Spiller (shoulder) was limited during practice Wednesday, Dec. 17.

Blake BortlesDec 17 01:53p

Jacksonville Jaguars QB Blake Bortles (foot) was limited during practice Wednesday, Dec. 17, and is listed as questionable for Week 16.

Julio JonesDec 17 01:43p

Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones (hip) is not participating in the portion of practice open to the media Wednesday, Dec. 17.

RSS Feeds

NFL News:
 
Player Notes:
 
Forum Posts:
 

© 2014 RealTime Fantasy Sports, Inc.
Email Us  ·  Call Us 636.447.1170  ·  Lost Password
Advertising represented by USA Today Sports Media Group