BOSTON (CBS) – The New England defense will have its hands full on Monday night.
They’ve had their fair share of star players on the opposite side of the field this season, and been successful with nearly all of them. Titans running back Chris Johnson was held to just four yards in Week 1, followed by All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald catching just one pass in Week 2. Rams running back Stephen Jackson managed just 23 yards against the Patriots in London, while the Bills’ C.J. Spiller needed two games to break the 100-yard mark against New England.
That’s not to say players haven’t enjoyed success against the Patriots defense in 2012. Ray Rice ran for 101 yards against New England in Week 3 – the only running back to break the century mark against the Patriots this season – and Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas caught a career-high nine catches for 180 yards in Week 5. In New England’s worse defensive effort of the season, Buffalo’s Fred Jackson and Spiller combined for 150 rush yards, and Ryan Fitzpatrick accounted for 337 through the air.
Overall, the Patriots have done a great job neutralizing their opposition’s best player. But they’ll be put to a big test come Monday night, with the 11-1 Houston Texans coming to town. This past week, the Patriots have found themselves preparing for two of the more dynamic offensive players in the game today.
Running back Arian Foster has already racked up 1,102 yards on the ground this year, and has nearly 4,000 since becoming the Texans’ premiere back three seasons ago. In those three years, he’s found the end zone 39 times – and that’s just on the ground. He adds another 200 yards and six touchdowns to those totals when factoring in his contributions in the passing game.
If Foster isn’t enough for the Patriots’ defense to worry about, lining up on the side is receiver Andre Johnson. He’s been a premiere receiver since being drafted third overall by Houston in 2003, with 55 touchdowns and nearly 11,000 receiving yards to his name. He’s already over 1,100 yards for the year – the fifth time in the last four years – and still has three touchdowns despite Foster’s tendency to take those away from the Houston receiving corps.
“You’re talking about two of the best in the league right now, and then down the line at their position in NFL history,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said of the Texans’ two-headed monster of Foster and Johnson. “They have a dangerous offense and we know that. Now it’s about going out there and playing. We can’t take anything away from those guys, but we have to prepare ourselves to be ready to go.”
The 6-foot-1, 228-pound Foster can do it with power or speed, making him a difficult guy to bring down on the open field. Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo has first-hand knowledge of that, as the two were teammates at Tennessee and still remain good friends.
One surprising fact about Foster is that he went undrafted back in 2009. But Mayo always knew his college teammate would be a hit in the NFL.
“I always thought he was a good running back. He’s doing a lot of good things in the NFL,” said Mayo. “Hopefully he doesn’t do those things on Monday night.”
Foster can be slowed, though he still makes the most of his “off games.” Last week against the Titans, he managed just 38 yards on the ground but still scored a touchdown and chipped in with another five receptions for 15 yards.
And if the Pats contain Foster, they still have Johnson to worry about.
“He really can do it all; from short routes to deeper routes, run with the ball and go down and get it down the field,” New England corner Aqib Talib said of Johnson. “He catches the ball wherever it’s thrown, and he can do something with it after he catches it.”
Read: Patriots-Texans Preview
In terms of scoring touchdowns, it’s been a couple of down years for Johnson. He has just five touchdowns in his last 19 games after averaging eight per season between 2007 and 2010. But Johnson’s 74 receptions – and 15.1 yard per catch average – make him a threat each time he breaks down the field.
Both players have had success against the Patriots, albeit in very small samples. Foster has just one game against a Bill Belichick defense under his belt, but had his way for 119 yards and a pair of touchdowns in their Week 17 matchup in 2009 — a Houston win. Johnson has three games to his name, and much less success, with 15 receptions for 130 yards and a touchdown. The most catches he’s had against the Patriots was six, in that 2009 game when Foster supplied most of the Texans offense.
The Patriots have tempered an opposing offensive star’s output very well this season, but Monday night will be their toughest challenge yet.
They’ve contained one star, now they’ll have to contain two.
Tune in to Patriots-Texans Monday night on 98.5 The Sports Hub! Pregame coverage begins at 5pm with Patriots Preview, and tune in to three hours of post game coverage following the game. WBZ-TV will have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s post-game press conferences live on Patriots 5th Quarter on myTV38 following the game.