The New England Patriots' offensive line has played well this year. But they know a big challenge is ahead Sunday when they face the defensive line of the Houston Texans, led by Pro Bowl defensive end J.J. Watt.
New England did a solid job keeping the Texans off Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the first meeting in Week 14. Houston only sacked Brady once and was trounced by the Patriots, 42-14. Brady had plenty of time in the pocket and threw for four touchdowns.
But New England veteran guard Logan Mankins doesn't expect things to go as smooth in the rematch. He knows the Texans' defensive line will be much more determined.
"Well, it’s going to be really tough," Mankins said "You have probably the best D-lineman in the league in J.J. Watt and then you’ve got Antonio Smith, another very good defensive lineman. So those two together are very tough and then you put all four of them out there at one time and they’re a tough matchup for anyone.
"You see the problems they give teams every week. Cincinnati scored six points on offense, so that says a lot right there, to hold a team to six points in the playoffs."
The Patriots had a lot more success against Houston. New England head coach Bill Belichick did a masterful job of scheming against Watt by keeping extra running backs and tight ends in to protect Brady. Watt was active and still had four tackles and a forced fumble.
Watt is one of the game-changers for Houston who is capable of making huge plays to win this game. And if Mankins says Watt is the best defensive lineman in the NFL, that's very high praise from a credible source.
"It starts with he’s got all of the physical tools: he’s big, strong, fast and then he plays relentless," Mankins explained. "He's a high-motor guy that hustles a lot and he's got a great playing style, so that’s why he's good."