- Put pressure on Tom Brady
What's the best way to stop Tom Brady's momentum?
"Sack him," Antonio Smith said. "Sack him hard."
The Patriots have given up 31 sacks for a loss of 201 yards in 2013, compared with 30 for 263 yards that the Texans have allowed. Brady, however, manages to release the ball quickly when he can.
"It's a quick tempo offense that Brady loves to do," Whitney Mercilus said. "Pretty much he gets that ball out quick, maybe two, two-and-a-half seconds. He gets that ball out quick and that's all you have got to do. Play up to the tendencies."
- Contain Gronk
Defensive coordinator calls Wade Phillips calls Gronkowski a "go-to guy in time of need." With Tom Brady's ability to spread the ball around, Gronkowski has returned this season and emerged as his favorite target.
After being inactive for the first six games this season, Gronkowski caught his 40th career touchdown pass from Brady in Week 11 against Carolina. With that score, Gronkowski surpassed Randy Moss as Brady's top touchdown target in franchise history.
The Texans secondary gains back a playmaker this week with the return of Kareem Jackson. Look for rookie D.J. Swearinger to also step up in his role to help contain Gronkowski. Johnathan Joseph says it will be important to disguise looks against Brady, but not too much.
"You don't want to get too far over the top with trying to disguise and that putting you in a bad spot on a particular play or a particular down and distance," Joseph said. "So for us, from a disguise standpoint, you have to kind of mix it up some because you don't want to throw in too much where it gets you off your normal game plan also."
- Don't look past the run
The Patriots running game is a sneaky one, often overshadowed by Tom Brady. With a committee of backs led by Stevan Ridley, New England ranks tenth in the league, averaging 125.9 yards per game.
"They're a downhill team," Joe Mays said. "With Ridley, he likes to get downhill. He likes to hit the hole very fast. He's a very good back. He's capable of taking it all the way to the house. He runs through you, runs around you. We definitely have to have every single person against the ball this week because even though they don't really get talked about a lot, their run game is pretty dangerous."
Ridley ran for a touchdown in five-consecutive games this season. LaGarrette Blount and Shane Vereen are also heavily involved in the Patriots run game. New England's backs average 4.3 yards per carry in 2013 and have rushed for a net 100 yards or more in 8-of-11 games this season.
Mays is not surprised and credits the Patriots offensive line.
"Their lineman do a good job of getting on blocks and staying on blocks," Mays said.
- Keep Case upright and moving
With second-year defensive end Chandler Jones, the Patriots defense has put up some big sack numbers this season. Jones had two sacks against Pittsburgh and in both meetings with the New York Jets for a total of 10.5 this season. Rob Ninkovich, who has five sacks and two forced fumbles this year, has more fumble recoveries (11) over the last four seasons than any other NFL player.
Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison calls New England's defense "big and physical" despite the injuries suffered this season to starters Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo.
"They are multiple in what they do." Dennison said. "That's what makes them very difficult. They seem to be able to change what they do on a week-to-week basis. So the structure is something that we're preparing for. Don't think that they'll change it that much, but know that you have to beat man coverage and you have to be physical, and you have to be patient and protect the quarterback."