Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Low Hanging Fruit in Orchard Park

The Houston Texans head to New York this week to take on the 3 - 4 Buffalo Bills. Both teams are looking to improve upon a two-game winning streak. For Houston, it is a chance to be 5 - 3 and taken seriously in the NFL. Both would be franchise firsts.

This game really comes down to Houston finally taking advantage of playing to its potential for 60 minutes, as opposed to playing down to the level of its competition. In front of the loyal Bills fanbase is no position to risk snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Buffalo's Quarterback Trent Edwards will not play because of a concussion, leaving Ryan Fitzpatrick (who?) at the helm of a team whose offensive line is decimated, running game is dismal, and receiving corp is anchored by the "he could blow any minute" underachieving Terrell Owens. Though Buffalo has made strides to strengthen its previously inexperienced linebacker positions via signings off the couch in September, they are still susceptible to Houston's potent passing attack and a potential break-out performance from the backfield.

The Texans are healthy, capable, and productive. Sound leadership from Schaub, ball security from Slaton and Brown, and continued excellence from the receivers will put 35 points on the board. Special Teams will maintain great field position. The continued cohesion of the defense will allow only 10 points.

This is a game the Texans could, should, and will win if they treat it like they respect themselves as much as they appreciate the opportunity to finally be taken seriously in the NFL. That would be a bountiful harvest with which to return from Orchard Park.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Pass-Reliant Stadium

Finally. The Houston Texans are not force-feeding a running game with an offensive line challenged by loss of personnel and lack of experience. Matt Schaub lit up the 49ers defense in the first half with TD passes to Owen Daniels and Steve Slaton. He led another drive punctuated by a Steve Slaton rushing TD, giving them a 21 - 0 lead at the half.

Quin, Barber, Reeves, and Robinson provided a "bend, but don't break" defense of Michael Crabtree and the wily veteran Isaac Bruce for the first half. Coach Michael Singletary benched the struggling Shaun Hill who gave up a sack to both Zgonina and Williams. Alex Smith seized upon the availability of his tight end Vernon Davis in the seams down the middle of the field for 3 TDs in the 2nd half.

If not for a clutch 50-yard Kris Brown field goal halfway through the 4th quarter to increase Houston's lead to 24 - 14, the 49ers would have come back to tie the Texans. Coach Kubiak's team continues to struggle to put away teams, allowing potential comebacks with possessions forsaked by the now alarmingly all too familiar lost fumbles by Steve Slaton.

But the Texans hung on to win 24 - 21. For the first time in franchise history, they look to successfully defend the winning record they take into the month of November. They face the struggling Buffalo Bills before they then travel to still perfect Indianapolis.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Why You Love Your Texans

Can play with them. Can win with them. Can coach with them. Can do it.

This Sunday at High Noon the showers will have passed through, the sun will have come out, and the roof will be open for the first time this season. Oh, and the Houston Texans will wield a winning record for the first time this season, too. Count on it.

The offense, especially if allowed to play to its strengths, will have no problem putting up enough points to win, even against San Francisco's 10th-rated defense.

Only Oakland's offense, held to a pair of field goals three weeks ago at Reliant, is less productive than that of San Francisco. Despite flu-like symptoms, Bernard Pollard will rebound to join Robinson and Cushing in setting the tone this weekend for a victory that will be referred to on Monday as the franchise's greatest win. Here's why:

This football team has responded to disappointment not with discouragement, but encouragement and perseverance to a point of superior play on many fronts. To have so quickly rebounded from a 1 -2 start with no home wins in two attempts, to 4 - 3 with a chance to go one better against lowly Buffalo, is remarkable.

That's why we love this game, and why we love this team. Not just that they can be great, but they can still be great despite a tough start. That's why football is the quintesential emobodiment of the American spirit of teamwork, strategy, endurance, resiliency, and conquest through sacrifice. The Texans are as lucky to have you as you are to have them, and that's why this team is perfect for the city of Houston.

That's why you love your Texans!

Monday, October 19, 2009

An Open Door to Success

While it's nice to know you've got players who will run through a brick wall for you, wouldn't it be nice if you coached as if you realized the benefit of instead just using the open door?

For the second consecutive week, the Houston Texans defense has made halftime adjustments on the road that have kept Kurt Warner-Anquan Bolden-Larry Fitzgerald and Carson Palmer-Cedric Benson-Chad Ochocinco offenses SHUTOUT in the 2nd Half. Say that out loud and let it wash over you.

Resist your inclination to point out shortcomings in individual ability and a slow start this season. This is a good defense, finally playing to their strengths...which brings me to my point about the offense:

Despite a coaching staff's distaste for a pass-happy yet effective offense, this is a talented group with potent weapons and sound leadership. With an interception the only blemish on an otherwise stellar day, Matt Schaub had a 124 quarterback rating on 70% passing efficiency just shy of 400 yards, and 4 touchdowns spread to Daniels (2), Jacoby Jones, and Steve Slaton.

Coach Gary Kubiak has said in the past that he wanted to limit Matt's passing to diminish his risk for injury. Ironically, it is precisely that mindset and accompanying strategy that has put Matt in predictable situations in which the opponent's defense could tee off on him. Schaub's safety is enhanced when the staff finally stops trying to "square peg in a round hole" the strengths and opportunities of this squad with ineffective, run-heavy playcalling.

This is one of those rare groups that doesn't have to run to set up the pass. Defenses have to honor that Matt can accurately hit one of five targets regardless of the look they give him. Stop trying to run through a brick wall...there's an open door right in the middle of it!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

An Open Letter to the Houston Texans from...Guess Who?

(No time left for you) On my way to better things

I've dedicated over 7 seasons to you, I'm done

(No time left for you) I found myself some wings

Despite the perpetually closed Reliant Roof, I'm flyin' the coop

(No time left for you) Distant roads are callin' me

Even the team on I-45 north of here looks good

No time for a summer friend

I've been burned by draft-choice potential

No time for the love you send

I'm tired of training camp promises

Seasons change and so did I

Summer's gone and so am I

You need not wonder why

Do you even need to ask why?

You need not wonder why

Seriously, you wonder why?

There's no time left for you

It's over

No time left for you

It's really over...

Unless you return home from Cincinnati victorious. In which case, I'll be sending you a Whole Lotta Love...Whole Lotta Love.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Bad News Bears Good News

First, the bad news:

400 yards passing, 3 TDs/0 INTs, a QB rating north of 110, and a comeback road victory to define himself and his team as he staked a claim to the path leading to an AFC Wild Card berth. That's what Matt Schaub forsaked with a Pick-6 to instead go down 28 - 21 while driving to go up 28 - 21, and an uncharacteristicly technique-deficient pass to a WIDE-open Joel Dreessen in the back of the endzone. It would have tied the game with time winding down in regulation to force overtime against an opponent whose offense had all but collapsed.

After an exciting Andre Davis kick-off return for 62 yards following Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie's interception return for a touchdown, Schaub drove his team down to the 6-yard line. With under a minute to go, a nifty delayed flick of a shuttle pass to Steve Slaton advanced them to the 1-yard line and the Texans were in business. 3 chances at 3 feet!

2nd Down: Chris Brown straight up the gut behind the battering ram that is Vonta Leach for no gain. Two more times, right? Spread the field...make them respect the receivers and Schaub's accuracy, create some gaps and give our burgeoning backfield 2 more shots at the opportunity, right? 3rd down: Instead, a sophisticated play-action playcall left a safe and space-protected Matt Schaub, with eyes no doubt as big as the heartbreak of this loss, free to deliver an easy toss-and-catch to Dreessen waiting patiently and all alone. He hurried the throw without setting his feet, and a valiant effort to bring down the sailing ball in bounds failed. 4th Down: Chris Brown straight up the middle for a last, desperate attempt. Stoned.

Now the good news:

Playing in front of a hostile crowd and initially succumbing to the high-powered weaponry of Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, and Anquan Boldin, the Texans dug themselves from a 21 - 0 hole with successful defensive adjustments, inspired special teams play and sporadically effective quarterbacking, even if ultimately tragic.

People will second guess playcalling, I call attention to poor execution. Kevin Walters should not have been thrown to so late in his pattern allowing the interception for a score, and Joel Dreessen was open to tie the game. The loss came down to one person. He knows who he is, the team knows who he is, and the city knows who he is. Matt will overcome and learn from the harsh lessons of this tough defeat, and deliver like the pro he can be next Sunday in Cincinnati.

That's good news, because he's got a heck of a team waiting for him.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Is a Win in the Cards?

For the duel in the desert this weekend, a Houston Texans win comes down to how they play their cards.

The odds are stacked in the Texans favor when you consider that the Arizona Cardinals are the worst rushing team team in the NFL. It's no bluff that the Houston Texans have figured out how to effectively defend against the run. Winning on the road this Sunday in Phoenix will to some degree come down to whether or not Kurt Warner is flushed by the defensive line while his receivers are checked by a resurgent secondary. Admittedly, there's not a taller order at a free all-you-can-eat pancake promotion at IHOP!

There's no denying Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin are two of a kind. They comprise the most impressive receiving corp in the NFL for people not familiar with Houston's Four Aces: Johnson, Walters, Anderson, and Daniels. But as an opponent, what their defense yields and its offense takes, the Cardinals are statistically exactly what has put the Texans in a position to have the best starting record in franchise history, save a goalline fumble by Chris Brown in the final moments of a heartbreaking home loss against a desperate Jacksonville. I know, I know... "ifs and buts, candy and nuts".

The NFL has only 4 teams more anemic on offense than Arizona. They can't run the ball, and the yardage totals through the air are down for Warner. Houston can run the ball, and 300+ yard games for Schaub are a constant threat against teams he faces.

Here's the river card for victory on Sunday: Turnovers. Straight up, the Houston Texans improve to 3-2 if the hand they play starts and ends with their own hands ensuring ball security.

And from the reports of lagging ticket sales in Tempe, it appears they won't face a Full House.

Monday, October 5, 2009

A Day of Firsts

Lit was the short fuse of a beleaguered Houston Texans Defense maligned for its soft point of attack and undisciplined play. They were eager to prove themselves capable of contributing to victory versus the visiting Oakland Raiders. Their play sparked an intensity that transcended the entire roster, leading to a 29 - 6 victory that kept their opponent out of the endzone and a day of firsts for the 2009 season.

First, the obvious: A Home Win! But there was also Amobi Okoye's First Sack, Reliant's first home-team sack, Mario Williams' First Forced Fumble, Connor Barwin's First Fumble Recovery, First Safety courtesy of Brian Cushing, First Return for a T.D. via Jacoby Jones' 95-yard thriller off the ensuing free-kick, Steve Slaton's First Rushing Touchdown, his First Receiving T.D., and his first dual-threat pay-dirt delivery in the same game.

It started with the defense. Coinciding with the new arrival this week of Bernard Pollard's play and attitude, a veteran-led effort showcased run-defense that was as stingy as its pass rush was relentless. Open-field tackling was as technically sound as it was hard-hitting. The inspired Glover Quinn and Brice McCain frolicked: With reckless abandon they flew to the ball...piercing the protection of blockers to deliver drive-ending tackles for losses and teaming up for punishing blows to receivers who dared tread their secondary. Within the huddle the defense insatiably fed off an intensity and confidence Brian Cushing told me was a big part of the squad's success.

The successful rushing tandem of the complementary styles of Moats and Slaton resulted in the opportunity for a balanced Texans attack. Schaub was given the time needed to let his receivers get open, enlisting even Slaton in the aerial assault when he struck for 18 yards off a catch from the left slot for his second touchdown of the game.

There were a multitude of offensive gems evenly spread to the receiving corp's Johnson, Walters, Anderson, and Daniels. After burning Oakland on a textbook-perfect "double move" Post Corner for 62 yards in the First Quarter, Andre admitted in private he caught himself laughing out loud as he later ran a route that left Daniels wide open for his career-long catch of 43 yards. That play was made possible by Slaton, the lone back who beautifully executed his protection assignment against the would-be opportunistic Raider defender who had snuck to the line of scrimmage just prior to the snap of the ball. "I was inspired by our defense. I did what had to be done" he said.

It bears repeating: It started with the inspired play of the Defense. Dunta Robinson explained, "It came down to holding each other responsible and accountable, as both individual players and as a team." While open to the idea that the Defense may have won back some fans, Dunta reminded me, "It's a work in progress...", that challenges remain. Indeed. Next week they face on the road a Kurt Warner-led offense at The Toaster in Tempe.

Speaking of "firsts", a road victory following a home win would be a first for the Houston Texans this young season.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Winning Back Fans Rests with The Defense

Defense wins Championships. There, I said it. Happy?

As someone who still wears a necklace with #80 around his neck based on my affection for flashy offense, I have long fought and refused the notion that anything other than well executed offensive strategies, schemes, and plays was responsible for Division victories, playoff seeding, and post-season success.

It was, I steadfastly held, inventive offenses, sexy sets, imaginative play calling, and athleticism that yielded first downs, sustained drives, big plays, and amazing scores. But I now stand before you a convert. Allow me to introduce to you the newest member of the combined congregation of The Disciples of Run Defense, The Temple of Pass Rush, The Church of Cornerbacks, The Benevolent Order of Nickelbacks, Safety Synagogue, The Divine Diocese of Da' Blitz, and Our Lady of Disguised Coverage.

The Offense is staying healthy and productive, appearing to be on track after stumbling out of the gate in the season opener. But without field position management and a majority of time of possession---both inarguably resulting more directly from defense than any other facet of the game---the efforts of our multiple Pro Bowl-talented players on the offensive side of the ball will be for naught, regardless of how many fun and exciting scores to which they treat us.

Our Defense takes to the field this Sunday in an attempt to prevent for the first time this season an opponent scoring at will. They gave up 31 points each of the last two games, and in a loss to a rookie quarterback in the season opener they yielded 24 points.The 1-2 Houston Texans host the 1-2 Oakland Raiders who average just half that with 12 points a contest. But when the 32nd best defense takes on the 31st best offense, you throw out the records, right? I can just see the marquee at Kirby and 610: Defensively Deficient vs. Offensively Challenged...Something's gotta give! Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!

"As long as there are tests, there will always be prayer in school," states a semi-sarcastic argument in favor of allowing religion in public education. I pray our defense rises to the challenge of the test it will face this Sunday.

Let us bow our heads...