The Texans beat the Cincinnati Bengals in the Wild Card round on Saturday despite a dismal performance in the red zone.
Coach Gary Kubiak knows they can't repeat that on Sunday in the Divisional Round at New England. The margin of error will be razor-thin against a Patriots team that averaged 34.8 points per game in the regular season, best in the NFL in 2012 and sixth-best in NFL history.
"Missed opportunities, they hurt all the time, but against these guys, they're a lot worse because of what they do offensively and how good they are," Kubiak said on Monday. "When you get opportunities to go down there to score some points, you better. You better not hurt yourself. We've got to find ways to do that. They're going to make plays and we understand that, but we've got to find a way to make quite a few ourselves."
The Texans were 1-of-4 in the red zone Saturday against Cincinnati, settling for three field goals from inside the 10-yard line. It's why the game was close (19-13) despite the Texans' decided advantages in yards (420-198) and time of possession (38:39-21:21).
The Texans finished the regular season ranked 12th in red-zone conversion rate, scoring touchdowns on 56.14 percent of their chances (32 of 57). But their red-zone offense started showing signs of trouble in the final three games of the season.
In Week 15 against Indianapolis, the Texans won 29-17 at Reliant Stadium but were 1-of-5 in the red zone. They were 0-of-1 the following week in a 28-6 loss to Minnesota, then 1-of-3 in a 28-16 loss at Indy. Before that three-game stretch, they had converted less than 50 percent of their red-zone chances in just one game all season, a 1-of-3 effort in Week 5 in a road victory against the New York Jets.
The answer to their recent red zone problems?
"Finishing," Kubiak said. "That's the biggest thing. You get down, the field gets smaller. You've got to make the little plays down there, and that's probably the biggest thing we need to look in, especially (Saturday). We had a lot of second-and-nines down there from that standpoint, but we've got to make the small plays. Whether you check a ball down on a three or four-yard pass, you've got to do that so you're giving yourself a legitimate chance. One time, we had a first-and-20 that we didn't overcome and had to kick a field goal. We've just got to finish. We moved the heck out of the ball and had a good day offensively. We've got to finish, got to put those points on the board."
The Texans were 2-of-2 in the red zone in their 42-14 loss at New England on Dec. 10, but their first trip didn't come until they were down 28-0 in the third quarter. They didn't get back to the red zone until trailing 42-7 late in the fourth quarter and with backup quarterback T.J. Yates in the game.
Down 7-0 in the first quarter, the Texans drove to the Patriots' 21-yard line. Quarterback Matt Schaub threw an interception in the end zone on a pass intended for Kevin Walter. Down 21-0 in the second quarter, the Texans forced back-to-back three-and-outs on defense. Both times, the ensuing drive ended in a turnover on downs in New England territory. The Texans scored zero points on three first-half trips inside the Patriots' 40-yard line.
With Sunday's rematch on the horizon, Kubiak hopes the Texans can get into the red zone as much as they did against Cincinnati. Finishing those trips off with touchdowns instead of field goals will be an emphasis in practice throughout the week.
"I want to move the ball like we did this week," he said. "We moved the heck out of the ball. (Red zone offense) is the negative coming out of the game, but there were so many positives. To move the ball the way we moved it, we were excellent on third downs, to hold the ball 39 minutes in an NFL football game – let's take those positives, let's work on that negative. It's going to be extremely important, but we're going to stay committed to what we're doing. And like I said, hopefully we have just as many chances, but we have to take advantage of them."