Houston Texans


NFL Team Column
2012 NFL Draft
2011 NFL Draft
By Mark Stein

23 April 2013

Texans Draft Needs & Projection

The 2013 NFL Draft is rapidly approaching and with limited money to spend in free agency, the Houston Texans must use this draft to find some starters as well as bringing in roster depth.  The lack of room under the current salary cap cost the Texans’ starters WR Kevin Walter, OLB Connor Barwin and FS Glover Quin, among others. 

Houston was lucky enough to at least bring in free safety Ed Reed to fill that hole, but due to free agents leaving, roster cuts and injury concerns, General Manager Rick Smith has plenty of other work to do over the next week.  Luckily, the Texans were awarded two compensatory picks at the ends of rounds three and six, giving Houston nine picks over the seven round draft.  The extra picks can’t hurt Smith’s cause.

Helping Rick Smith with the draft, as always, is Head Coach Gary Kubiak.  With the exception of drafting tackle Duane Brown in 2008, Coach Kubiak’s staff has a track record of drafting defensive players with his their round picks.  That could very well change this year.  With the release of Walter and a late season injury to WR Devier Posey in last year’s playoffs, Kubiak may have to go with the best wide receiver available at pick 27.  The Texans also could use the most help at inside linebacker, offensive tackle, safety and outside rush linebacker. 

Many fans would like to see a wide-bodied nose tackle inserted into the lineup, but that may have to wait.  There is no guarantee the Texans will take a wide receiver in the first round as Smith and Kubiak both espouse the “best player available player” strategy.  If a player at another position falls to them at 27, and they just can’t pass him up, they will grab that player, but they must take the wideout with their next choice if that happens.  The wide receivers on the roster besides Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson simply have not shown enough to think they can be a number two WR in the NFL.

Let’s look at how the Houston Texans draft may go:
(If I get one of these right, I shall consider it a success.)

Round One: WR DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson.  Hopkins has the size and hands the Texans like.

Round Two: OT Justin Pugh, Syracuse.  Short arms, but a fit for zone blocking.

Round Three: OLB Trevardo Williams, Connecticut.  The kid knows how to get to the QB.

Round Three: FS T.J. McDonald, USC.  If McDonald is gone, Texans take Rambo, Georgia.

Round Four: ILB: Shayne Skov, Stanford.  Smart, big, and plays fast.

Round Five: WR Aaron Mellette, Elon.  Size Texans like.

Round Six: ILB Kiko Alonso, Oregon.

Round Six: CB Rod Sweeting, Georgia Tech.

Round Seven: RB Theo Riddick, Notre Dame

Now, let’s all look forward to Thursday’s NFL Draft!

1 February 2013

2012 Season, 2013 NFL Draft Needs

The 2012 season was the most successful year in Houston Texans franchise history.  Never before had the team won twelve games in one season.  Only once before had the team made the playoffs and won a game, which was last year.  One would think the city of Houston would be more than happy with a season like that, but the way the year ended tainted a team the city was poised to love like no other.  The 2012 season was not a failure, but it could have been more, or so the fans of the team thought.

After a win in Tennessee on December 12th, the Texans had an 11-1 record.  This was the best record in the AFC at the time and the city of Houston was all in for their team.  Even after a sound defeat in New England to fall to 11-2 the next week, the Texan’s fortunes were still in their hands.  To lock up the #1 seed in the AFC and get a bye week from the first round of the playoffs, the Texans only had to beat an average Minnesota Vikings team in Houston or defeat the Indianapolis Colts in the final week in which the Colts really did not need the victory to improve their playoff seeding. 

Houston ended up the year with two costly losses and dropped to the #3 seed.  True, Houston did get to host the first round of the playoffs, but then had to travel to face a well-rested Pats team and lost again by a wide margin.

After playing so well for the first 2/3 of the season, the ending left much to be desired.  Both the offense and the defense of the Texans showed a marked decline in production.  The offense could not seem to score touchdowns and the defense could not stop the pass or force turnovers.  This was the second year in a row that the team seemed to relax after clinching their division, much to the chagrin of their fans.  The 2012 team set a franchise record for wins, yet left Houston thinking they could have done more.  Even with that feeling, there were many high points in 2012.

During the season that was, defensive end J.J. Watt stood out among all NFL defensive players as quite possibly the player of the year.  Along with his 20.5 sacks, Watt batted down many passes, forced fumbles, and led the team in tackles for loss.  He made first team All-Pro.  Wide receiver Andre Johnson had a fine comeback year off an injury plagued 2011 that saw him rack up over 100 catches and 1500 yards for the third time in his career. 

Quarterback Matt Schaub made the Pro Bowl based mostly off of his first 12 games, but deserved the honor.  Quite a few other Houston players made the Pro Bowl as you would expect from a twelve win team.  For Houston to take the next step to an elite team, however, some players on the team need to elevate their game, or the Texans need to acquire more play makers like Watt and Johnson.

With the NFL Draft approaching in April, Texan’s General Manager Rick Smith along with Head Coach Gary Kubiak is surely looking to bolster the depth of the team along with nabbing some impact players.  Houston is in a two to three year window where Schaub, Johnson, and star running back Arian Foster are capable of winning a Super Bowl.  This “win now” mode may spur the team into going after a key free agent or two, depending on the salary cap.  With the late season injury to last year’s high draft pick, WR Devier Posey, look for Houston to sign a free agent wideout with experience to bolster the receiving core. 

The Texan’s salary cap issues may prevent the team from signing too many other free agents, let alone their own free agents that they value, so the draft may be even more important this year than ever.  Smith usually comes away with solid picks, and the city of Houston should hope that he does well again in 2013 if the Texans are to take the next step toward a Super Bowl.

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9 January 2013

Will The Texans Defeat the Patriots?

Playoffs Rocking Along

Well, now we know the Houston Texans are better than the Cincinnati Bengals.  What the Texans need to prove, if they want to advance in the NFL playoffs, is that they are better than the New England Patriots.  That test comes next Sunday. 

Houston defeated the Bengals last Sunday in workmanlike fashion by the score of 19-13.  The Texans ran the ball very effectively against a good Bengals defense, and Texan’s quarterback Matt Schaub mixed in short passes to sustain long drives.  On defense, Houston limited Cincy to under 200 total yards for the game, and they corralled the Bengals passing game without having to constantly blitz extra rushers.  Suddenly, Houston’s defense decided to play with the pep they had in weeks one through twelve.

Over the last four games of the regular season, both Houston’s offense and defense were in a slump.  The Texans lost three out of their last four games, costing them the home field advantage throughout the playoffs.  No one is quite sure what caused the team-wide malaise, but at home, against the Bengals, Houston showed the passion and skill that had been missing over the last month.  The big question now is can they do it again on the road in New England?  Time will tell.

Just a few weeks ago, the Patriots destroyed the Texans by the score of 42-14 and controlled every phase of the game.  New England must feel good about a repeat performance, especially at home.  Early in this week’s contest, Houston must prove to themselves that they are in the same class as the Pats by scoring early, or things could spiral out of control again.  Cincinnati has a stout defense, and Houston ran the ball very well against them.  The Texans will have to repeat that Sunday. 

One way to do that will be to avoid the   Patriot’s big defensive tackle Vince Wilfork.  Houston’s smallish offensive linemen always have trouble with massive defensive linemen and Wilfork is the definition of massive.  In the passing game, Houston’s receivers need to get open with more frequency.  Many critics of the Houston offense point to the lack of the deep pass, but with a closer glance at the Cincinnati game, Matt Schaub looked deep quite often, but had to check down due to no receivers getting the necessary separation from the defenders.

On defense, Houston must play aggressively and with intelligence to slow down the Patriot offense.  The Texan’s defense can give New England trouble, but they will have to play one of their best games of the year.  Houston’s defense did not show many exotic looks in the first game at New England, but Texan’s Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips may have a few tricks up his sleeve to give his talented players an edge, otherwise, the game will again be over by halftime. 

Houston fans hope this is not the case, and after watching the Texans dispatch a highly motivated Bengals team, it does not seem likely.  What seems more likely is a hard fought game that comes down to the fourth quarter and is decided by seven points or less.  Can Houston pull off the huge upset?  That’s why they play the game…

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28 December 2012

Needing a Win: Texans face Colts

With one game remaining on the regular season schedule, the Houston Texans will travel to face the Indianapolis Colts on the road this Sunday.  The Texans need the win to solidify their spot as the number one seed in the AFC and guarantee that all their playoff games will be at home in Reliant Stadium.  If Houston loses to the Colts, there’s a good chance they would drop to the number three seed and have to play next weekend in the Wild Card Round.  It’s not a must win, but it’s about as close as it gets. 

Playing at home in the playoffs is a good thing, but the home field never guarantees a victory.  The Texan’s found that out last Sunday as a raucous home crowd watched them put on a wretched performance as they lost to the Minnesota Vikings 23-6.  This was a Vikings team that has a dreadful road record in 2012 and is not known as a great defensive team.  Even with all that factored in, the home Texans could not even score one touchdown.  The offensive line was dominated by Minnesota and Texan’s quarterback Matt Schaub looked confused and hurried all day.  The Texan’s defense did keep star running back Adrian Peterson in check, but in doing so, they made the very average QB Christian Ponder look like a Pro Bowler.  This type of effort does not bode well with the playoffs just around the corner.

Houston loves their Texans, and always wishes them well, but this edition of the Texans can confuse even the most loyal of fans.  One week, they dominate the Ravens, and on another week, they have to bite and claw their way to a win over the lowly Jaguars.  One week, they show the upstart Colts how football is played, and the next, they get taught a lesson by the Vikes. 

Other playoff teams like Denver, Green Bay and Atlanta are playing with confidence and dominating teams, but the Texans are having to work harder for their victories when they get them.  If they don’t shake off last Sunday’s showing, and get back into their early season groove, they could put an ugly ending on the franchise’s best season. 

Texan’s fans hope the team finds their winning groove in Indy.  If Houston plays up to their potential and abilities, they will defeat the Colts and get a nice week off to rest before their playoff journey begins.  The Texans have the talent to go far this year, but do they have the dedication and intelligence to put it all together?  We will start to see the answer to that question this Sunday in Indianapolis.

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6 December 2012

A Fine Season So Far

The Houston Texans are a very good football team.  I know most of you already know that, but for the purposes of this column, it’s important that you know that I know the Texans are a very good football team.  After defeating a bad Tennessee Titans team in Nashville by the score of 24-10, the Texans stand at 11-1, the best record in the American Football Conference.  The Texans have already clinched a playoff spot with four games to go, and hope to sew up the division soon.  This is all heady stuff for a team that just made the playoffs for the first time in team history last season.  Houston fans are correct in having fun while riding the wave of Houston victories, but let’s not overlook the fact that the 2012 Texans are not invincible.

While the Texans have had their share of impressive victories, such as in Denver, when they overcame an early deficit and Peyton Manning’s 330 passing yards with two touchdowns, they still show flaws that could hurt them in the playoffs.  On special teams, some very good kick returns have been called back due to blocks in the back.  This has become a running joke among some Texans fans, but they don’t really think it’s funny.  Special Teams Coach Joe Marciano has to improve both his return team and his kick coverage team.  Rookie returner Keshawn Martin has improved recently, but too often opposing teams start their drives following a kickoff at the 35, while the Texans start theirs behind the twenty yard line.

On defense, when facing three good quarterbacks, Manning, Mathew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers, the Texans pass defense has given up 10 touchdowns with no interceptions and a lot of yardage.  In the playoffs, it will be a rare day to not face a good quarterback.  The good thing about the Houston franchise is they usually rise to the occasion on offense and match the other teams output.  Like I said, they are very good, just not flawless.

Too many Texans fans around town seem to be expecting to go to the Super Bowl.  It’s been heard on the radio waves around Houston that “losing is unacceptable”, but 15-1 records are rare in NFL history.  It’s great to hope to go to the Super Bowl or have confidence that your team could go all the way, but to expect it?  Not so fast there, Houston.  Things could derail your team.  For example; Texans Head Coach, Gary Kubiak picks inopportune times to go conservative.  Almost any coach in the NFL, when given the ball back with 2 or 3 minutes to go in the first half, goes into hurry up mode to try to get one more score before the break.  A team never has enough points in the NFL, right?  Well, either Kubiak does not see the importance of an extra score, (which I highly doubt), or he fears the negative possibilities more than the positive ones.  Whatever the case, the Texans coach rarely “goes for it” before halftime, usually running the ball and taking his lead to the locker room.  This may backfire in the postseason where no lead is safe.

This column is not here to state the Houston Texans are a bad team, but to say the team is not above criticism.  They are not unbeatable or flawless, but they are, as a team, very good.  Fans should not be afraid to ask questions of the team or the media that cover the team.  There is still time for the Texans to improve upon their weak points.

The 2012 Texans are a team that won in Chicago while dealing with “Bear Weather”, (that is cold, mud, wind and rain).  The Texans are a team that decimated a good Baltimore Ravens team and won in Detroit against a highly motivated Lions team.  They make plays on offense and defense when they have must, and they show pride and determination in everything they do.  Houston is a high character team the city can be proud of and many of the individual players will make the Pro Bowl this year, but as a team, they are even stronger.  If the Texans work on their few flaws, this very well could be a super year.  Texans fans should enjoy and appreciate the season to date.  It’s already been a great year.

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29 November 2012

Texans Rolling

With a 10-1 record, the Houston Texans are winning at a record pace for their franchise.  The city of Houston has long waited for a pro football team of this caliber, and the fans are reveling in the success of their team.  With the defeat of the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day, the Texans showed once again they can overcome an early point deficit on the road to capture a win.  The Texans escaped Detroit with the victory by the score of 34-31.  The win capped off a three game stretch of hard fought football that surely wore the team down as it progressed.  After playing on a Thursday, Houston is getting some much needed rest for the stretch run.

The Detroit Lions game required an overtime period to finish, just as the week before, the Jacksonville Jaguars took Houston to overtime before losing.  These two overtime games followed a grueling win at Chicago on a Sunday night in the rain and mud.  It was a string of wins that certainly made Houston fans proud, no matter what the final scores.  The games were closer than expected due to Houston giving up a lot of points, but there was a reason.  The Texans are currently going through a rash of injuries to their defense, and while they are giving up more points than normal, the offense has picked up their production.  For example, wide receiver Andre Johnson just put together a two game span that has never before been seen.  Johnson tallied 461 receiving yards in two games.  The talk of him being over the hill has ceased.

The offense overall has really swung into high gear.  Playing Jacksonville and Detroit may have something to do with it, but quarterback Matt Schaub and running back Arian Foster have put together some mighty fine games.  The Texans hope to get their defense healthy by playoff time so that both units are of equal strength for the postseason.

On Sunday, the Texans host the Tennessee Titans for their second meeting of the year.  The Titans are coming off a loss to Jacksonville and the firing of their Offensive Coordinator, Chris Palmer.  They should be as fired up as they can be for a 4-7 team playing out the season.  The Titans always get up for the Houston game, but they just don’t have the talent to win in Houston.  Expect a Texan’s victory of around 31-17.

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1 November 2012

Rested and Ready

With a 6-1 record and coming off their bye week, The Houston Texans are doing about as well as anyone could have imagined before the season began.  Houston has avoided the big injury so far in 2012, and now has another home game coming up before entering the heart of their schedule.  This week’s game pits the Texans against the Buffalo Bills.  In their last outing the Texans dismantled the Baltimore Ravens by the score of 43-13.  This should give the team great momentum heading into the rest of the season.

Against the Ravens, the Houston offense finally got the running game going like they’ve been trying to all year .  The Baltimore defense has been weak against the run this season, but the Raven’s coaches had vowed to shore it up against Houston.  They failed as Houston running back Arian Foster tallied 98 yards at a 5.2 average and scored 2 TDs.  Quarterback Matt Schaub also had a very good game with 256 yards passing and 2 TDs against no interceptions.  Houston’s defense harried Baltimore QB Joe Flacco into a subpar game with two interceptions.  The Texans got out to such a lead by the end of the second quarter that the Ravens had to abandon their running game.  This worked right into the Texan’s hands as the defense, led by 2012 sensation, J.J. Watt, loves to rush the passer and knock down balls.  The game was a huge confidence builder as the Texans had never before defeated the Baltimore Ravens at any site.

Now after the Texans off week, the team is rested and energetic.  The only current glaring injury is the hamstring problem of backup running back Ben Tate.  Luckily for Houston, they have Justin Forsett on the roster, and the young tailback has a fine per carry average of 5.2 yards.  The Texans can give Tate all the time he needs to recover.  Hopefully Forsett will get a nice workload on Sunday which will mean Arian Foster getting the rest he needs for the stretch run.

With the Buffalo Bills coming to town, this means the return to Houston of defensive end Mario Williams.  Not so shockingly, Williams has been playing hurt most of the season with a wrist injury.  The legacy of Mario Williams in Houston is that he could have been great if he didn’t seem to always be hurt.  While it’s admirable that Mario played with pain, it’s also a shame that he never reached his full potential in Houston due to these constant injuries.  Early returns in Buffalo show the Bills fans and media are learning this harsh reality and they aren’t happy about it.  The Bills shelled out a lot of money on defensive free agents, and nothing seems to have improved.  Unless the Texans look ahead to the following game against the Chicago Bears, the Texans should dispatch the Bills with relative ease.  Many things would have to go wrong for Houston to lose their second game of the year to the Buffalo Bills.  They won’t happen, and the Texans will move on to Chicago at 7-1.

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17 October 2012

Lesson Learned

Well that Sunday night game did not go like the Houston Texans thought it would at all.  The angry Green Bay Packers schooled the Texans in every phase of the game on NBC’s Sunday Night Football and made it look easy.  The final score was 42-24 and as the kids say; “And it wasn’t really that close.”  The Packers came ready to play and the Texans did not.  It’s as simple as that.  The loss, however, does not destroy a very good season that Houston is compiling, and it could actually be a good thing.  The Texans need to use that humiliating home loss to motivate them over the next few weeks.  Apparently, Houston needed to learn the lesson that if you don’t come out swinging from the opening gun, you could get steamrolled, which is just what happened.  With the Baltimore Ravens coming to Houston next Sunday, the Texans need to put the Packer game behind them and get back to basics.

Last Sunday, every level of the Houston Texans showed flaws.  The defensive line, except Defensive End J.J. Watt, was handled with ease.  The linebacking corps was weak against the run and pass, and the secondary easily had their worst game of the year.  Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips seriously needs to think about just putting his best, (most athletic), four linebackers on the field at the same time.  If Connor Barwin needs to slide inside to make room for rookie Whitney Mercilus, so be it.  If Mercilus, with his size and speed, can move to the inside, it should be tried.  Phillips needs to think outside the box.  Houston’s run defense needs a dose of speed.

On offense, the receivers had a tough time getting open, and running back Arian Foster had his worst game of the year.  To be fair to Foster, Houston’s offensive line was dominated the whole game, as they showed no strength or spirit.  The flaws that were exposed by Green Bay need to be fixed quickly as the Baltimore Ravens are headed to Houston, and they are just as good as the Packers.

After a 5-0 start to the season, a loss was bound to happen at some time.  Surely Texan’s fans did not want to see their team get blown out, but lessons can be learned from that game.  Houston has a solid base of veterans mixed in with very talented youth, and expect the coaching staff to get the team back on track.  Like the Texans, the visiting Ravens have a very balanced offense featuring one of the league’s best running backs in Ray Rice.  Houston should look forward to proving to themselves and their fan base that they can handle such a back. On the other side of the ball, the Baltimore defense has lost some key players recently and Houston will try to take advantage of that fact.  The offense will play better this week purely due to better execution and determination, as they probably went back to fundamentals in practice this week.  We shall see if that’s the case against Baltimore.  Here’s hoping the loss to the Packers was a lesson learned, and not just a horrible game to be forgotten.

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11 October 2012

Texans on a Roll

Next Sunday night the Houston Texans will host the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football at Reliant Stadium.  For the first time in team history, the Texans are undefeated after five games and are favored to win their sixth.  The rookies on the Houston squad must think this NFL thing is pretty easy, but as long suffering Houston football fans know, this is a rare year.  The fans and the team alike need to savor what is happening.

After beating the Jets in New York last Monday night, the Texans are a very confident squad.  The Jets had their backs against the wall, came out fired up, and tried every trick they knew to steal the game, but Houston still prevailed by the score of 23-17.  Even the season ending injury to inside linebacker Brian Cushing is not bringing down the spirits of the Houston players.  Most of the Texans now want to win for Cushing, as well as themselves.  (Cushing was lost for the year with an ACL tear.)  Even with Cushing out for half the game last week, the defense did a fine job, as did the offense.

The Houston defense, led by end J.J. Watt, is making life very hard for opposing coaches and players.  Every level of the Houston defense has play-makers, and opposing teams don’t know where the attack will come from.  Fumbles, interceptions, and batted balls happen with regularity.  If the front seven can improve a bit against the running game, the defense will be even harder to score against.  Brian Cushing was a big part of the linebacking corps, but the Texans do have good depth waiting.  With Cushing out, look for LB’s Connor Barwin and Tim Dobbins to step up and do more for the defense.

The Texan’s offense has been very efficient in 2012, but they know they can do better.  Houston’s opening drives have been dominant, but after that, they coast for awhile, seemingly waiting for a break from the defense.  Luckily, those breaks have been happening.  If wide receiver Andre Johnson finds a way to break out of his funk, the offense will click with all gears. 

Johnson seems distracted on the field and is letting passes get into his body, which is unusual for him.  Whether he has personal problems going on or just needs an eye check, if he gets through it, he is still young and smart enough to be a top 10 receiver in the league.  While Johnson is sorting things out, tight end Owen Daniels and running back Arian Foster have been doing just fine carrying the load.
Now the Green Bay Packers come to Houston for a prime time contest. 

The Packers are sporting a record of 2-3 and will be desperate to avoid that fourth loss, but the odds are against them.  This is Green Bay’s second straight road game, and as Vegas knows, this is usually not good for the road team, especially when visiting an undefeated opponent. 

Also, Houston’s biggest defensive weakness is stopping the run, and with the recent loss of RB Cedric Benson, the Pack does not seem to have the talent to take advantage of this weakness.  On the other side of the ball, Packer’s defensive tackle B.J. Raji, is not expected to play, and if he does not, look for Houston to run the ball at will.  Even at full strength, the Packers offensive line is ill-equipped to handle the Texans pass rush, so this matchup just looks better for Houston the deeper you look into it. 

At home, expect Houston to outscore the Packers; 27-20.  The Texans will roll on.

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4 October 2012

Ready for Prime Time

There are only three undefeated teams left in the NFL and the Houston Texans are one of them.  (The Arizona Cardinals and Atlanta Falcons being the others.)  Houston is sitting at 4-0 after defeating the Tennessee Titans last Sunday, and has outscored their foes by an average of 17.5 points per game.  This is easily the best start in franchise history and more than a few observers of the NFL say that Houston is the best team in the league.  Heady stuff for a franchise that just two years ago almost fired their Head Coach, Gary Kubiak, after a 6-10 season in 2010.  Houston owner Bob McNair did not panic, kept Kubiak, but hired his own Defensive Coordinator, Wade Phillips, and the team has been very solid since.  Kubiak still has his flaws, but his players love him and once he gets his offensive line all working as one, the offense should be even better.  Actually, both sides of the ball could perform better, even with the team at 4-0.

On offense, running back Arian Foster is being asked to shoulder much of the load and is on pace for 400 plus carries this year.  Something is wrong with the running attack as Foster is only averaging 3.7 yards per carry so far on the season.  Kubiak says this will be the focus of their work this week.  The Head Coach should also look into why WR Andre Johnson is not getting his hands on the ball enough in 2012.  Opposing defenses always look for ways to take Johnson out of the game, but this year, it’s working more often than not.  Tight End Owen Daniels, among others, has been picking up the receiving slack with a very good season so far.  The Texans schedule has been easy to date, but it does not stay that way for long.  Games against the Ravens, Packers and Bears loom on the horizon and it’s good to know that Houston has not played their best ball yet.

On defense, the problem has been stopping the run.  The Texans are giving up too much rushing yardage and against a top flight team, this could hurt them.  Houston is one of the hardest teams to score on, which leads one to believe most of the yardage given up has been between the twenty yard lines, but once again, better teams are coming up on the schedule.  Overall, the defense is getting national respect and individually, defensive end J.J. Watt is the focal point.  Watt is dominating opposing offenses and is well on his way to Pro Bowl status, and more.  The Texans secondary has also been stellar with great coverage and quite a few takeaways.

Texans get ready for the Jets:

Houston now ventures to New York City to take on the Jets on Monday Night Football.  This is the first of four scheduled night appearances for the Texans this year and could not come at a better time.  The Jets just came off a terrible loss to the San Francisco Forty-Niners and are fighting amongst themselves and the media.  They have also suffered serious losses to their roster on both sides of the ball.  Houston should not have to do anything special to beat the Jets, just execute well.  Quarterback Mark Sanchez is having a dreadful year, and New York is finding it hard to score at all, let alone against a top tier defense like Houston’s.  The Texans have been scoring on everyone.  Look for Houston to remain undefeated and take down the Jets on Monday Night Football by the score of 27-10.

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27 September 2012

Texans Set Team Record

Until last Sunday, the Houston Texans had never won their first three games before.  Toss that milestone out the window.  The Houston Texans efficiently dispatched the Denver Broncos by the score of 31-25 last week in Denver to remain undefeated and in the eyes of some, remain the best football team in the NFL.  If you talk to the Texan’s players, they say, almost to a man, that they can play much better.  The thought of this cannot be a welcome thought to upcoming opponents.  To be sure, Houston could have played better in Denver, especially in the fourth quarter, when the Broncos scored 14 points to make the game close, but a road conference win, especially against Peyton Manning has to be savored no matter how the team played.

On the downside of Sunday’s game, the defense dropped some possible interceptions, the kick return game was very average and All Pro wide receiver Andre Johnson said he played like s….  Well, let’s just say Johnson thinks he could have played much better.  It must be nice for Houston fans to hear that their team, while 3-0 for the first time ever in team history seeks to correct what flaws they have to improve their game.

On the good side, the Texans found themselves in an early hole in a nasty environment, and came out swinging.  The team did not falter from their game plan of mixing the run and the pass game throughout the day.  The team put together some long drives and still mixed in some long throws.  In fact, quarterback Matt Schaub had his best day in quite a while throwing the deep ball.  Running back Arian Foster not only broke 100 yards rushing again, he also averaged over 4 yards per carry on average.  The offensive line did a good job, but may need some work on pass protection as Schaub took some hard hits.  Some of the hits seemed intentionally rough, and one Denver linebacker was suspended for a late hit.  The team got out to a fine lead, then held on against a highly motivated team at their house.  All in all, a great days work.

Now the Texans come home for the first time in 3 weeks to play the Tennessee Titans at Reliant Stadium. The betting line shows Houston to be a big favorite, but in a division game, almost anything can happen.  The Titans always come ready to play against Houston, but this year, it looks like Vegas may be right.  The Titans have been giving up a lot of points early in the season, and on offense they’ve been relying on the passing game.  This has not worked out well for them as they have a 1-2 record, and they needed a miracle finish last week at home to get their win.  This week, they should come back to Earth and the Texans should win comfortably, 31-13.  A new team milestone at 4-0?  Houston fans wouldn’t mind that at all.

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20 September 2012

Jags Go Down Easy

Another week, another 20 point victory.  The Houston Texans must think this NFL regular season thing is easy!  Of course, the team and Texans fans know the first victories of the year were against two of the weaker teams in the league, but when Houston defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars last week by the score of 27-7, it was an impressive road win.  Not only was it a road win, it was conference win and a division win.  These things count heavily when a team is expected to contend for a playoff spot, which the Texans are expected to do.  It’s never too early to talk about home field advantage in the playoffs.  At least in this column it’s never too early.

The victory over the Jaguars last weekend was a total team victory.  The top rated Texan’s defense dominated all afternoon and almost kept the Jags from scoring at all.  Defensive End J.J. Watt was named AFC defensive player of the week for his outstanding performance in the contest, but the game balls were handed to linebacker Brian Cushing and cornerback Kareem Jackson, according to Head Coach Gary Kubiak.  This goes to show how balanced the Houston defense was in Jacksonville.

The Houston offense chewed up the clock by rushing for over 200 yards and dominating the time of possession.  Quarterback Matt Schaub had a fine game by spreading his passes around to many different receivers and he didn’t throw an interception.  The Jaguars concentrated on slowing down wide receiver Andre Johnson, but could not cover Houston’s other receivers or running backs.  The combo of Schaub’s passing and a great running attack was too much for the Jacksonville defense.

This coming Sunday, the Texans will face the best team they have seen this year as they travel to Denver to play the Broncos.  Houston is playing their second straight game on the road and will have to deal with the thin air of Denver.  These elements do not bode well for Houston’s chances of success. But against Atlanta last week, Denver’s offense showed some serious flaws, and Bronco quarterback Peyton Manning showed he may not be the player he was two or three years ago.  One other thing in Houston’s favor is that Denver played on Monday night, so they are on a shorter week of rest than the Texans, albeit one day shorter.  With Houston’s defense only on the field for 38 plays last week, they should be just about as rested as a defense can be after two games.  This should be just the edge Houston needs to pull out another road win.  Look for the Texans to win in Denver, 24-20.

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11 September 2012

Big Win Not Enough

Well, now we  know the Houston Texans are better than the Miami Dolphins.  The Texans defeated the Dolphins last Sunday by the score of 30-10, and according to the players and the coaches, they can play much better than they showed.  It should be comforting to Houston fans to hear such talk.  The Texans beat a team by 20 points, yet the first thing they talk about is correcting their mistakes.  This kind of attitude is what is needed if the Texans are going to move up from just being a good team, to a true Super Bowl contender.

The biggest thing that could use some practice is the running game.  Head Coach Gary Kubiak said as much in his post-game interviews.  Running back Arian Foster tallied 79 yards, but only averaged 3.0 yards per carry getting there.  Kubiak knows this will not do.  The Texans could have scored two more touchdowns, but settled for field goals due to penalties and poor blocking.  Coach Kubiak, to his credit, will not blame any one part of the offense.  He has told the team he does not want to hear anyone talking about “the right side of the line” or “the left side of the line.”  The coach said the offense is all one unit, and the will be judged that way.  In the Texans’ scheme, receivers also do a fair shair of blocking, and he says the whole offense needs to improve.  With that being said, the offense did punch in three quick touchdowns in the second quarter when given a short field by the defense, so they did look good for part of the game.

The best thing about the offense was obviously the passing game WR Andre Johnson and TE Owen Daniels both had big days, as did QB Matt Schaub.  Besides some early drops by the receivers, the passing game is right on schedule.

As good as the passing game was, the defense as a whole was the story of the game and defensive end J.J. Watt was the star of the defense.  Watt deflected two passes into interceptions and recorded 1.5 sacks on the day.  Watt and LB Brian Cushing were just overall menaces to the Miami offense.  The Houston defense did not allow a Miami offensive touchdown, as the only Dolphin TD was on a kick return.  Houston’s kick coverage will need to improve, as will the kickoff returns.  Houston’s defense, however, seems primed for the big time.

Houston now travels to Jacksonville to take on the 0-1 Jaguars.  The long time divisional foe always plays Houston tough and cannot be taken for granted.  That being said, Houston just defeated a team by 20 points without their usual, efficient running game.  The Jaguars will be in for a long day if Houston fixes that problem and the defense continues their stellar play.  Look for Houston to focus on stopping the Jags running game thus forcing Jacksonville QB Blaine Gabbert to win the contest.  This is not a good recipe for success in Jacksonville, and it says here the Houston will win the game 24-10.

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5 September 2012

Season Starts Now

The NFL regular season starts this week and the Houston Texans seem ready to make another run at the playoffs.  The team still has a few questions about the talent on their offensive line and the consistency of their wide receivers, but overall, the Texans seem to be the most balanced team in the American Football Conference.  With the strength and depth of their defense, coupled with a strong running attack and a solid passing game, Houston seems poised to take on any foe.  With a tough schedule ahead, Texan’s fans are hoping for a quick start to the season.  They should be rewarded.

This week, the Houston Texans take on the Miami Dolphins in Houston at Reliant Stadium.  The home field has been good to the Texans recently, and don’t expect that to change.  The Dolphins are a team in transition, with a rookie starting quarterback and inexperience all across their team.  Houston should win handily and make a statement to the rest of the NFL that they not going to have a let-down season.

The Texans defense is built to be strong for years.  Most of the core players are young, smart and aggressive.  Defensive back Johnathan Joseph, linebacker Brian Cushing and defensive lineman J.J. Watt are the standout players at each defensive level, and all are in their prime.  The have bought into Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips system and copy his quiet confidence.  (They also have a Ninja Assassin, Antonio Smith, which is nice.)  Houston’s defense has never been this strong and deep in any season in the team’s history, and they are poised once again to finish as one of the top defenses in the NFL.

The offense is built around the running attack, and no team has a deeper stable of talented tailbacks, featuring Arian Foster.  The right side of the offensive line, guard Antoine Caldwell and tackle Derek Newton, need to seize their opportunities as NFL starters and impress early, or General Manager Rick Smith will be forced to make an in-season trade for a starting lineman, which would deplete depth in other areas.  The talent of the running backs should make up for any minor line deficiencies.  The passing game is also a great weapon as long as both quarterback Matt Schaub and wide receiver Andre Johnson stays healthy.  If both of these gifted players can put in a full 16 games, the Texans will have a balanced and dangerous offense, capable of scoring on any team.

So, as the 2012 season is about to begin, it’s hard not to be optimistic about the Texans.  The team also features an incredible return man, Trindon Holliday, and if he can hold onto the ball, he could be the best in the league.  Overall, the special teams’ play was very good last year, and now, with Holliday, they could be even better.  An NFL season is a long, bumpy road, but there are few teams better equipped to make a deep playoff run than the Texans.  Houston fans are in for a fun ride.

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28 August 2012

Keeping it Basic

The NFL preseason is swiftly drawing to a close, and it can’t come too soon.  Preseason is necessary and fun to watch up to a point, but the games just don’t compare to the intensity of the regular season.  The Houston Texans play at home against the Minnesota Vikings this week on Thursday night, and the game will be met with a city-wide yawn.  After last week’s entertaining game against the New Orleans Saints, in which the starters played the first half, the upcoming Vikings game just does not have the same appeal.  At least Texan’s fans will have a chance to see some players vie for the last few roster spots.  The Texans will cut down the roster from 75 players to 53 this week.

Against the Saints last Saturday night, the Houston offense was impressive early, scoring on two nice drives to take a 14-0 lead.  Quarterback Matt Schaub was accurate and in control, showing that he is ready for the regular season to begin.  Due to Houston mistakes and turnovers, the Saints quickly came back and took a 17-14 lead.  At the half, the score was tied at 24.  The second half was not nearly as exciting for Texans fans as Head Coach Gary Kubiak kept his playbook basic and boring.  This, coupled with aggressive defense by New Orleans limited Houston to only three second half points.  The end result was a 34-27 Saints win.  The Saints coaches clearly cared about getting the win more than the Houston coaching staff.

The Texans showed many good things against the Saints, but knowing Gary Kubiak, the bad will outweigh the good in his mind.  Houston allowed too many sacks on their QB’s, and fumbled the ball too many times.  Rookie wide receiver Keshawn Martin fumbled and lost two balls, but to be fair, the second one was a good defensive play where the New Orleans player put his helmet squarely on the ball.  That’s probably luck, but no one would’ve held onto that ball.  Still, Martin’s fumbles, along with kick returner Trindon Holliday’s fumble that led directly to a Saints score will not be tolerated by Kubiak.  The coach has benched far better players than Martin and Holliday due to fumbling.

On the whole, the preseason has been a success to this point.  Matt Schaub looked like the very good QB he was when he went out last year to injury.  The team has come out of training camp without any injuries to key players, and some rookies have shown well in camp.  Chief among the star rookies has been linebacker Whitney Mercilus.  Mr. Mercilus drew good reviews early in camp and has continued to impress.  Additionally, wide receiver Keshawn Martin has done so well, that he is sure to see many passes his way during the regular season.  The offensive and defensive units both played well while not showing too much of their playbooks.  This will continue against the Minnesota Vikings as the coaches will play simple, smash mouth football, trying to evaluate their fringe players.  This final preseason game will be the players’ last chance to impress the coaches at full speed against another NFL team.  By the end of Friday, they will know if they did enough to play for the Houston Texans.

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22 August 2012

Winning Pretty?

Some wins look prettier than others, and the Texans 20-9 victory over the San Francisco 49ers last Saturday was not very pretty.  When a good team wins against another good team, it has to boost morale, but the Houston Texans coaching staff knows their team has a long way to go before they are ready for the regular season.  Luckily, there’s still plenty of time before that occurs.  Before the regular season, the Texans have two more preseason games and plenty of practices.

The Texans played against a very good Niners defense last Saturday, and found they have a ways to go with their running game.  They team came our throwing, which worked quite well, but when Head Coach Gary Kubiak decided to try the running game, it was slow going.  With Kubiak still deciding on exactly who will be the starters on the right side of the offensive line, the lack of continuity is evident.  Running back Arian Foster still managed 46 yards on 10 carries even on an off night, and that’s a testament to his raw ability.

The passing game was working just fine as quarterback Matt Schaub had a nice night.  Any discussion about his injured foot seems to be shelved for now.  Wide receiver Andre Johnson looked injury free, and made a very pretty grab on a long throw from Schaub that showed both Johnson’s speed and leaping ability.  Houston fans have to be happy to see Johnson running free once more.  Above all else, any chance for Houston to go farther this year than they did last year hinges on those two players.

The Houston defense looked good in the red zones, holding San Fran to only 9 total points on the night, but when the Forty-Niners had their first team offense on the field, they ran the ball much too easily.  Texans Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips likely will make fixing the run defense the focus of the rest of the preseason.  The run defense surely will get better when defensive end J.J. Watt comes back from his elbow injury, which will be soon.  Houston’s pass defense was excellent, and could have been even better if a couple of the defensive backs could have hung on to interceptions that hit their hands.  This will come in time, but for now, the coverage and pass rush of the Texans is very impressive.

Now, it’s on to New Orleans, where the Texan will play the Saints in the Superdome.  Look for Coach Kubiak to continue to evaluate his young offensive linemen and play his starters into the third quarter.  The Saints love to play in front of their home crowd, so expect New Orleans to come out pumped up for what usually is the best game of the preseason.  The Texans will work on what worked for them last year; running the ball, and stopping the other team from running the ball.  The outcome of the game should be secondary to the coaches this week.  The priority should be evaluating how well the team works together and nailing down the starting units.  But with that being said, another win, pretty or not, wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

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14 August 2012

Texans Sack Panthers

It’s been said by more than one person that preseason games aren’t fun to watch.  While that may be true of most, last week’s Houston versus Carolina contest proved the exception to the rule.  At least if you are a Houston fan.  The Texans defeated the Carolina Panthers by the score of 26 to 13, but the real winners were the Houston fans because they got the chance to see the their team not only win, but do so with style and by showing off the depth on their roster.  The score of the game was tied at 13 at the end of the first half, but Houston’s superior bench players scored three more times in the second half while the defense held the Panthers scoreless.  That’s how you win the game.  Carolina is a good, young team with a 2nd year head coach.  You can be sure they were trying to impress their home fans, but it just did not happen.

Houston’s defense held the Panthers to just 12 first downs on the night, and only 137 total yards.  The Texans defense also recorded 8 sacks without having to resort to much blitzing.  One of the standouts on defense was ILB Tim Dobbins.  With LB Brian Cushing sitting out with a virus, Dobbins made the most of his playing time and all but locked up a spot on the roster with three preseason games to go.  One player that did not help his cause was cornerback Alan Ball.  The veteran corner was brought in this year to perhaps replace the departed CB Jason Allen, but after a very weak performance Saturday night, Ball needs to step up his game quite a bit to stick around.

On the brighter side, rookie linebacker Whitney Mercilus showed some nice speed and moves to notch 1.5 sacks.  Mercilus may just be a pass rushing specialist in his rookie year, but from what he showed against Carolina and from reports out of training camp, that may be enough to keep Texan’s fans very happy.

Another rookie played very well, but on the offensive side of the ball, and his name is Keshawn Martin.  The rookie wide receiver out of Michigan State got the start in place of injured WR Andre Johnson, and did not look out of place at all.  In fact, after catching two passes for 24 yards and running a smart end around for a first down, he looked like a young man seizing a huge opportunity.  He was not the only rookie that showed offensive skill, because running back Jonathan Grimes from William & Mary also looked very good.  Grimes gained 37 yards rushing and scored a rushing touchdown.  The young running back played hard and hit the holes quickly and with good lean. 

Starting running back Arian Foster only had one carry on the night as he lost a fumble on that carry.  Head Coach Gary Kubiak sat Foster the rest of the night to think it over.  Houston fans may remember that Foster developed a bit of a fumbling problem in 2011, and he needs to cure that problem quickly to remain in Kubiak’s good graces.

Overall, there was much to like about the Texans offense as each quarterback led an extended scoring drive.  The drives did not all end in touchdowns, but expect that to get better with practice.  Texan’s fans and the Houston press can get a little over-critical when the teams does not score TD’s in the red zone, but even the Patriots and Packers kick field goals sometimes.  No team is 100% in red zone touchdown efficiency. 

The tight ends played well as a unit, and TE/FB James Casey had some very nice blocks, including a key block that helped spring KR Trindon Holliday’s 90 yard punt return for a touchdown in the first half.  If Holliday continues to impress as a wide receiver, he will make Kubiak’s decision even harder on which wide receivers to keep on the 53 man roster, but this is a good problem for the coach to have.

This week’s game takes place at Reliant Stadium in Houston Texas.  The opponent will be the San Francisco 49ers, and they bring with them a clearly better defense than Houston faced last week.  The starters should play the entire first half, so it will be interesting to see who steps up against a team that almost made the Super Bowl last year.  Who says preseason games aren’t fun?  Not me.

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8 August 2012

Practicing for the Panthers

Houston Texans fans rejoice!  Your team’s first game of 2012 happens this week.  It’s a preseason game versus the Carolina Panthers, but hey, it’s still an NFL game.  (Sort of.)  There will be tailgating, cheerleaders, and large men hitting each other for fun and profit.  Just because you won’t recognize any of the player’s names after the 2nd quarter should not lower your enjoyment factor.  Get a full roster of the team, then sit back and enjoy the show.

Just across the street from Reliant Stadium, the Texans have been wearing each other out in practice during training camp.  The entire team has to be fired up for a chance to finally hit another team’s players and show the Houston coaches what they can do at full speed.  From reports in camp, the rookie that has shown the best is wide receiver Keshawn Martin from Michigan State.  With All Pro WR Andre Johnson sitting out some practices with a groin strain, Martin was starting opposite Kevin Walter.  It seems Keshawn is adjusting to the speed of the NFL just a touch faster than third round pick, WR DeVier Posey, but time will tell who will have a better rookie year.

On defense, the biggest story is defensive end J.J. Watt’s dislocated elbow.  Watt will not play this week or in the near future, but the trainers like the way he’s responding to treatment and he is already doing some curls and pushups.  Watt says he’ll be ready at least in time for opening day.  Rookie defensive end Jared Crick has also sat out some practices with a neck strain, but Head Coach Gary Kubiak believes he still may be cleared to play on Saturday.

In camp, the defense so far has been outplaying the offense, but this usually is the case in any camp.  With all key members of the offense rounding into shape, it won’t be long before they regain their swagger and get rolling.  Kubiak loves the play of backup offensive linemen Derek Newton, Shelley Smith and rookie Brandon Brooks . 

The coach singled them out after a recent practice, saying they are “pushing” the current starters Antoine Caldwell and Rashad Butler.  Look for the Texans to run more than pass when the first team is in.  This will serve to protect QB Matt Schaub from hits, and let the new starters on the O-line practice the Houston zone blocking scheme.  No matter what happens, however, the team will just be happy to laying it to another team for the first time this year.  Hopefully, practice makes perfect, or as close to perfect as they can be after two weeks of training camp.

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1 August 2012

First Look at Texan Camp

It is now August in Houston, one of the hottest cities in the country, and as we all know, that’s the perfect time and place for Texan’s training camp!  The heat is not keeping Texans fans away, as they keep pouring into training camp practices in record numbers.  The playoff success of the team was not forgotten in the offseason, and Texans fans are crazy for their team.  Houston has always been a football city, and never more so than in 2012.  With the Rockets and the Astros not doing anything exciting, sports fans in Houston have been talking football for months, and now they can watch their beloved team on the field once again.  Training camp is one hot ticket.

2011 was a great year in Houston Texans history, and many NFL experts fully expect Houston to return to the playoffs this year and do just as well or better.  The offense comes with a few questions, but it’s still the class of the AFC South.  Head Coach Gary Kubiak did a fine job last season while facing an onslaught of injuries including losing his first and second team quarterbacks.  With the return of QB Matt Schaub, WR Andre Johnson, and RB Arian Foster, the Texans are sitting pretty at the skill positions.  TE Owen Daniels is very good at what he does, and FB/TE James Casey will keep opposing defenses guessing.  The offensive line has a couple new faces, but all starters have at least two years of experience in the zone blocking scheme.  The Houston defense has even less questions.

The Houston defense rose to never before seen heights in 2011.  Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips came onto the Texan’s staff last year and swiftly turned around a very bad defense into a squad that led the team into the playoffs.  The schedule gets tougher this season, and the quarterbacks to be faced are a higher grade than in 2011, but with the vast majority of the starters back and the addition of first round pick LB Whitney Mercilus, Houston’s defense could be the best unit in the AFC this year.

The biggest questions to be answered in training camp concern the offense:

Can All Pro WR Andre Johnson play the full season without injury?
How good are the wide receivers behind Andre Johnson?
Will the right side of the offensive line hold up?
Is Matt Schaub’s foot injury totally healed?

We may not know the answers to these questions right away, but it looks like WR Kevin Walter is back to full speed after playing the end of 2011 with a shoulder injury.  The Texans drafted two gifted, if not well known WR’s in the draft, and the coaches have high hopes for them.  Houston also brought back last year’s training camp surprise, Lestar Jean, and early word in camp is that he is impressive once again.  With the return of WR Bryant Johnson and these youngsters, Texans coaches hope their depth issues at WR are solved.

The word on Andre Johnson is not so good.  Johnson already tweaked his groin on the first day of practice and will miss some practice time.  Johnson is not old for a wide receiver, and he should have more than a few good years ahead of him, but his last few injuries have been of the non-contact variety, and that it concerning.  His resiliency is still a question for now.

From all indications, QB Matt Schaub’s foot is 100% healthy.  Houston coaches will not have him take as many reps as he has in past years in camp, but the young backup QBs, T.J. Yates, John Beck and Case Keenum need as much practice as they can get.

The new starters on the offensive line, OT Rashad Butler and OG Antoine Caldwell may be shy on starting experience, but both are well schooled in Kubiak’s blocking schemes.  Teammates and coaches both seem firm in their beliefs that the two will play at a high level.  Fans may be harder to convince, but the new starters will have plenty of chances to impress over the next weeks.

Houston is abuzz about NFL football cranking up again, and Texan fans cannot wait for that first preseason game versus QB Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers to get here.  The 2012 season brings with it a lot of promise, and Houston fans are ready to get things kicked off.

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2 May 2012

Texans Draft Review

The Houston Texans went into last weekend’s NFL draft needing to find players that could provide depth in the 2012 season if called upon.  The team has lost some key players to free agency and a trade in the offseason.  They started with eight picks and ended with eight picks, but they did pull off a trade on day two by moving their late 2nd round choice and their 7th rounder for an early 3rd round pick and a 4th rounder.  While it is too early to grade the draft, the Texans have had such good drafts over the last three seasons, it’s easy to give them the benefit of the doubt on their choices.  Most draft experts and analysts have given the Texans picks their approval, but with some reservations.  Let’s look at the new Houston Texans:          

Round One, Pick 26:  OLB Whitney Mercilus, Illinois 6-4, 260lbs – Mercilus played defensive end at Illinois, but did also show he could play standing up in space.  He was moved around to take advantage of his speed and knack for getting to the QB.  Mr. Mercilus notched 16 sacks last year along with 9 forced fumbles.  The Texans will waste no time getting him on the field on passing downs, as Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips loves his motor and closing speed when he gets around the edge.  Phillips also dismissed the new linebacker’s tag of being a “one year wonder” when he joked after the draft that his only wonder is “why Illinois didn’t play him the year before.”

Round Three, Pick 5: WR Devier Posey, Ohio State, 6-1, 210lbs – Posey only played three games last year due to being suspended for NCAA violations, but the Texans are sure his problems are behind him.  General Manager Rick Smith and Head Coach staunchly defended Posey’s character after the draft and predicted great things from the young receiver.  Houston released WR Jacoby Jones soon after the draft, so the door is open for Posey to win either the #3 or #2 WR position on the team.  Posey is very fast, has great hands and good body control.  His weaknesses are getting separation from defenders and blocking.  Kubiak will get to work quickly on correcting both.

Round Three, Pick 13: OG Brandon Brooks, Miami (Ohio), 6-5, 343lbs – Brooks is bigger than most Texan’s offensive linemen, and larger than a zone blocking scheme generally employs, but Gary Kubiak loves his speed and strength.  Brooks was clocked at 4.99 in the 40yd dash at the combine and 4.98 at his pro day.  He played guard at Miami, but may be able to also handle the right tackle position.  Either way, the Texans needed offensive line help and they got it, big time.

Round Four, Pick 4: C Ben Jones, Georgia, 6-3, 305lbs – Strong, but not particularly fast, Jones was a four year starter at Georgia.  That is quite an accomplishment.  Jones is a battler and very smart.  He will be counted on for depth behind Texans’ center Chris Myers and at times at guard.

Round Four, Pick 26, WR Keshawn Martin, Michigan State, 5-11, 190lbs – Martin has very good speed and agility.  He was known at Michigan State as a multiple threat.  Along with kick and punt returns, Martin was a receiver and a rusher, totally 64 carries in his college career.  Martin will get every chance to be Houston’s new punt returner with dismissal of Jacoby Jones.

Round Four, Pick 31, DE Jared Crick, Nebraska, 6-4, 285lbs – Crick could be the steal of the fourth round.  The Nebraska defensive end was projected by most to be a 2nd rounder before tearing his pectoral muscle last year, which caused him to drop in the draft.  While not considered an elite pass rusher, Crick uses his size to bat down passes and has a non-stop motor.  Once fully healed, he will fit into Houston’s defensive rotation at end and sometimes tackle.  Coach Kubiak also says Crick could carry a little more weight on his tall frame.

Round Five, Pick 26, K Randy Bullock, Texas A&M, 5-9, 205lbs – Bullock won last year’s Lou Groza award for the best kicker in college football.  That was enough for the Texans to draft their first ever kicker in franchise history.  Also the fact that last year’s kicker, Neil Rackers was not re-signed helped the process.  Bullock will be given every opportunity, and more, to win the kicking job in 2012.

Round Six, Pick 25, OT Nick Mondek, Purdue, 6-6, 305lbs – A strong, quick offensive tackle, Mondek only played one full year on the offensive line after playing defensive end early in his college career.  Very athletic and quick of foot.  He is also strong, but his strength does not translate to great blocking.  He will need time to learn offensive line and is a prime candidate for the practice squad.
Also, after the draft, teams were free to sign undrafted rookie free agents.  Although the Texans have not published their official list, these are the names most services say are talking to Houston.

Case Keenum QB Houston
Dwight Jones WR North Carolina
Loni Fangupo NT BYU
Logan Brock TE TCU
Jason Ford FB Illinois
David Hunter DE Houston
Jerrell Jackson WR Missouri
Mario Louis WR Grambling St.
Shawn Loiseau ILB Merrimack
Desmond Marrow S Toldeo
Davin Meggett RB Maryland
Rennie Moore DE Clemson
Eddie Pleasant S Oregon

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24 April 2012

Texans NFL Mock Draft

The NFL Draft finally arrives this week to the joy of many NFL and college football fans.  It’s hard to explain to people why the NFL draft is fun to watch.  You either get it or you don’t, but the ratings show that it is very popular.  This year’s draft will run Thursday the 26th through Saturday the 28th.  Round one takes place on Thursday night, round two on Friday night, and rounds four through seven on Saturday.  This column will take an educated guess on the round by round draft choices of the Houston Texans.  You will remember that last year, I predicted every pick correctly in every round.  Please don’t waste your time going back in the archives to look, just take my word for it.

Without further ado, here are the predicted 2012 draft picks of the Texans:

Round One, Pick 26: Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama, 6’2”, 270 lbs. – The Texans will be shocked to see Upshaw drop to 26.  They will be prepared to take the best wide receiver or offensive lineman at this spot, but Upshaw too good to pass up.  Upshaw will be able to back up one of the Texans outside linebacking spots.

Round Two, Pick 58: Zebrie Sanders, OT, Florida State, 6’5”, 307 lbs. – Sanders is quick of foot and can back up at both tackle positions.  A good fit for the zone blocking scheme.  He may win the right tackle spot outright.

Round Three, Pick 76: Brian Quick, WR, Appalachian State, 6’3”, 215 lbs. – Quick is a great leaper and a willing blocker.  This is important for Texans Head Coach Gary Kubiak.  Quick has very good hands and can make the acrobatic catches, but will drop the easy one every once and awhile.

Round Four, Pick 99: Michael Egnew, TE, Missouri, 6’5”, 255 lbs. – Former basketball and track & field star.  Good hands and willing blocker.  Houston needs some tight end depth with James Casey at full time fullback.

Round Four, Pick 121: Dwight Bentley, CB, Louisiana-Lafayette, 5’10”, 190 lbs. – Very good speed, but not a great leaper.  Will drop to round four due to lack of competition at college level, but a very aggressive corner.

Round Five, Pick 161: Hebron Fangupo, DT, BYU, 6’1”, 325 lbs. – A very strong run stuffer to fit Texan’s 3-4 scheme.  Not great range, but can hold the point of attack.

Round Six, Pick 195: Quinton Saulsberry, C, Mississippi State, 6’2”, 310 lbs. – Very quick feet for a 300+ man.  Four year starter.  Physical, with high motor.  Can play center or guard.

Round Seven, Pick 233: Patrick Witt, QB, Yale, 6’4”, 225 lbs. – Three year starter at Yale after transferring from Nebraska.  High completion percentage.  Houston needs arms in camp since they only have two on the roster, so Witt is their man.

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10 April 2012

Texans Draft Strategy

The NFL schedule was just announced and the Houston Texans were awarded four prime time games plus a date at Detroit on Thanksgiving Day before a national television audience.  Could this portend a Super Bowl run for the Houston Texans?  Crazier things have happened.  Apparently, the schedule makers and the TV networks believe the Texans will be even better than last year’s 10-6 campaign.  This is probably true because Houston will get back a healthy starting quarterback in Matt Schaub.  If everything goes right, the team also gets back WR Andre Johnson at full strength.  What will also help the Texans achieve such success is if the team can shore up their depth with remaining free agents and rookies from next week’s NFL Draft.  Houston is lucky in the respect that they do not have any glaring holes in their starting lineup.  They have weak positions, to be sure, but not any needs that are so strong that they would make the team reach for a player in the upcoming NFL Draft.

The draft is quickly approaching and NFL teams and their fans alike are abuzz over who their teams will take this year.  It’s part of the popularity of the NFL that even four full months before the regular season begins, the fans have something as exciting as the three day event that is the NFL Draft.  Fans love to play general manager, and critique their own, and now is one of the best parts of the year to do just that.  Even though these young players have never had one practice in the NFL, fans will start the debate over which pick will be a boon or a bust.  It’s not logical, it’s just good fun.

In the draft next week, the Texans will tell the media they are looking for the eternal “best player available”, and this may be true, but expect the team to really focus on the positions of wide receiver, offensive line, outside linebacker, tight end and nose tackle.  The Texans have lost some starters and key backups at these positions and are looking to draft some depth.  (If they get lucky and find a rookie that can start, even better.)

In this year’s draft, Houston has eight total picks; One in each of the seven rounds, and an extra pick in the fourth round received as part of the trade that sent LB Demeco Ryans to the Philadelphia Eagles.  At pick twenty-six of the first round, Houston’s General Manager, Rick Smith may not be able to use his usual strategy of trading back for more picks.  What he will be hoping for is for other teams to reach for players that aren’t really first round material, but fill that team’s positions of need.  This will happen.  Whether it’s pressure from the team’s owner, or the team’s need to placate their fan base, one or more general manager will take a player they truly know should not be taken that high.  The Texans will be waiting to pounce on the player that falls, and should get a fine rookie that can contribute in 2012.  If Houston sees a player falling in the second round that they like, Smith may even package his third round pick and one fourth rounder to move back into the second round and pick him up.  Crazier things have happened, you know.  In the NFL Draft, almost anything’s possible.

This week’s shot at the first round pick of the Texans; Peter Konz, C/G, Wisconsin.  In 2012, Konz could backup C Chris Myers, or is good enough to win a guard spot from Antoine Caldwell as a starter.  /  Next Week: The Texans round by round projection.

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10 April 2012

2012 Draft is Vital

As of early April, the Houston Texans seem to be putting a lot of emphasis on the upcoming NFL Draft.  It looks this way because the team has not done much by way of signing free agents to replace the personnel they’ve lost since last season.  Through free agency, trades or waivers, the Texans have lost two key offensive linemen, two starting linebackers, one cornerback, and a very good backup tight end.  The only new player the team has signed is a punter.  The rest have been their own free agents.

Many Houston fans have been upset with Texans’ management because they did not see this shedding of salary coming.  Even after re-signing RB Arian Foster, Houston’s brass had talked boldly of re-signing OLB Mario Williams and keeping most of their own free agents, but suddenly the dominoes started falling when right tackle Eric Winston was unexpectedly waived.  When Houston fans found out what exactly Mario Williams was going to get on the open market, and how much money Houston had to offer, they realized Texans management was far from honest with them.  The team also had to trade MLB Demeco Ryans and lost OG Mike Brisiel, TE Joel Dreessen and CB Jason Allen to other teams that had more cap space available.  Houston could barely scrape together the money to re-sign center Chris Myers.  Of course, Mario Williams did sign with another team, the Buffalo Bills.

Historically, NFL teams have been forced to lose good players for salary cap reasons, but usually such turnover is reserved for teams that have had a run of playoff appearances over a stretch of years.  After such a stretch of success, teams have to pay their veterans or lose them.  What is perplexing is the Texans have had no such run of success.  In fact, they’ve only made the playoffs one time, (last year), with a 10-6 record.  With some other teams having 10, 20 or 30 million dollars to spend under the salary cap, one wonders how the Texans overspent on a collection of players that have not exactly ruled the league. 

Houston General Manager Rick Smith assures the fans that there is a plan, and the Houston faithful hope the Texans can sign a few free agents before the draft, but anything significant seems unlikely.  Therefore, the NFL Draft, which starts on Thursday April 26th, is vitally important for the Texans to replace depth that has been lost.  The most important positions to look for the Texans to target are: wide receiver, offensive line, linebacker, cornerback and tight end.  Houston may have been in the market for a space eating nose tackle in the first or second rounds, but their personnel losses dictate they draft depth at other positions.  Last year’s performances by the teams’ wide receivers plainly show that after WR Andre Johnson, the position needs shoring up. 

This also begs the question in many fans minds of why WR Jacoby Jones is still on the team.  If Houston needed to save some money, surely Jones made more sense to let go than some of the other players.  He would also be easier to replace than some of the others.

The upshot of all this is that the Houston Texans better have on heck of a 2012 draft up their sleeve.  Another one like 2011 would be welcomed.  Most of last year’s crop of rookies, with few exceptions, did a fine job when called upon.  The Texans management needs to recreate last year’s draft magic.

First shot at the Texans pick at number 26 of the first round:  WR Kendall Wright, Baylor.  (If somehow WR Stephen Hill is still available, he would be the pick, but it seems unlikely Hill will still be there.)

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14 January 2012

Onward to Baltimore

Baltimore now beckons.  The Houston Texans defeated the Cincinnati Bengals last Sunday to win the first playoff game in team history.  If I may borrow from Monty Python; “…and there was much rejoicing”.  The Texans won by 21 points, 31-10.  They won because they have a very good running game and a very strong defense.  They won because the home town crowd was deafening.  They won because quarterback T.J. Yates made the throws he had to make.  They won because they avoided turning the ball over.  It was a total team effort.  The same effort will be needed to win this coming Sunday at the Baltimore Ravens.  (Too bad they can’t take the hometown crowd with them.)

The Baltimore Ravens have not lost a game at home this season.  That is a fact.  The optimistic Texan fan would say “They must be due to lose.”  The pessimistic Texan fan would say “Well, there’s no way the Texans can win.”  Truth be told, we all know it could go either way, but whatever happens Sunday, it’s been a heck of a ride for Houston fans.  The Texans lost many key players along the way in 2011, including their starting quarterback, yet still won ten games.  Houston made the playoffs and won a game, something some fans had started to doubt would ever happen, but it’s now in the record books.  Now that the team has moved on to round two of the NFL playoffs, they have nothing to lose.

The Texans can defeat the Ravens if they win the takeaway/giveaway war.  Texans’ running back Arian Foster is battling a fumbling issue this year, but so it Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco.  It comes down to protecting the ball.

The Texans can defeat the Ravens if they can run the ball successfully.  When the Texans played at Baltimore earlier this season, Houston was without wide receiver Andre Johnson.  Now that he is back, the Ravens safeties will have to play back a bit more.  It comes down to the rushing attack.

The Texans can defeat the Ravens if the defense can hold Baltimore to a reasonable score.  Takeaways will help, but Houston’s defense will have to play their best to force punts, not touchdowns or field goals.  It comes down to defense.

Of course, the Ravens know all this too, and will try to do the same things.  It’s remarkable how similar the two teams are in their rushing attacks and defenses.  Where the Ravens have the edge is at quarterback and home field advantage.  Will that be enough to carry the day?  We shall see.  It’s been said that NFL team can win on any given Sunday.  Maybe this Sunday will be one of those Sundays for the Houston Texans.  The way the Texans played last week, it is possible.

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4 January 2012

Texan’s First Postseason

The Houston Texans host the Cincinnati Bengals this Saturday in the Wild Card round of the NFL Playoffs.  The long suffering fans of the Texans, who deserve to finally see their team in the playoffs, are ready for the kickoff right now.  The team, after winning ten games and winning their division for the first time in team history, are now out to prove they can win in the playoffs.  The Texans have hit a bit of a lull lately, losing the last three games of the regular season, but the players are not worried.  The team has adopted a “don’t look back” attitude and seem full of confidence.  They know they have a very good defense.  They know they have a very good running game.  What they don’t know is if their passing game is good enough to keep opposing defenses honest.

Rookie T.J. Yates is the third quarterback to start a game for Houston this year, and during last Sunday’s loss to the Tennessee Titans, he led the team on an impressive opening touchdown drive before sitting down for the day.  Head Coach Gary Kubiak probably wanted to see Yates lead a few more drives once the Titans adjusted to what he was doing, but when Yates was nearly badly injured, Kubiak used veteran backup Jake Delhomme for most of the game.  Houston fans will now have to wait until Saturday to see if Yates can sustain more than just one drive.  The rookie QB will have a healthy Andre Johnson back at wide receiver and tight end Owen Daniels plans to be back as well.  Even though Yates had to leave early, the bright side was that Delhomme saw more action than he had in over a year.

Since Delhomme performed solidly, Kubiak probably will have a quick hook with Yates if he makes too many mistakes against the Bengals.  The rookie from North Carolina looks to have a good future ahead of him, but the Texans need to use any and all weapons available to give their city a playoff victory.  Yates psyche will just have to take the hit of being benched if it comes to that, but against a Cincinnati team that’s not special at any one facet of the game, expect Houston and their rookie quarterback to win the day.

On Saturday in Houston, look for the team with the best running game and the best defense to prevail.  That is Houston.  Remember that the Bengals also have a rookie at quarterback, and even though Andy Dalton has played more games than T.J. Yates, he has not started an NFL playoff game on the road.  Dalton has no idea how loud an NFL stadium can get.  He is about to find out at Reliant Stadium, which provides a very underrated home field advantage.  Between the noise and Houston’s various blitz packages, Dalton will find it very hard to lead scoring drives.  Putting everything together, expect Houston to move on to round two of the playoffs versus the Baltimore Ravens.  Their fans and their city deserve it.

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31 December 2011

Prep for Playoffs

With the end of the season fast approaching and their first playoff appearance coming up soon, the Houston Texans are not performing as well as they could.  Losers of their last two games against teams not considered strong, the Texans would do well to get back to fundamental football this week against the Tennessee Titans in preparation for the postseason.  Winning the contest against the Titans is secondary, however, as the Texans can neither improve nor hurt their playoff seeding.  They are locked into the third seed.  More important is getting the offensive line back into synch after the loss of guard Mike Brisiel.  Brisiel’s replacement last Thursday against the Indianapolis Colts, Antoine Caldwell, did not mesh well with his teammates on the line.  This needs to get corrected quickly as Houston’s young quarterback, T.J. Yates, needs all the protection he can get.  Also important is to keep the players rested and ready for the playoffs.  If the game against the Titans gets out of hand either way, expect the Texans to substitute liberally.

One player that may get more rest than others could be running back Arian Foster.  Foster was just named to the 2012 Pro Bowl, and he is the key to the Texans playoff success.  Ben Tate, Houston’s backup tailback may end up getting the bulk of the carries and Tate also has an outside shot at a thousand yard season.  Cornerback Jonathon Joseph also made the Pro Bowl this year but no other Texans made the squad.  Fans and players may complain about this, but players get their reputation on prime time games, and it seems lately that when Houston plays on prime time, they self destruct.  To get a Pro Bowl spot, the players need to go out and make it happen.  After many years of futility, the Texans will have to work even harder to shake their loser reputation.  Taking a loss to the hapless Colts did not help.

While the Texans have lost their last two games, some things are looking up.  Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips will be coaching from the booth this Sunday after having kidney surgery.  Texans defenders are very happy about this as Phillips is a popular coach, and it should boost their effort.  Wide receiver Andre Johnson will also be back to help out on the offensive side.  With just the threat of Johnson on the field, opposing safeties will have to back off and Houston’s running game will function more smoothly.  Now, if only the Texans coaches would use fullback James Casey in the offense again, QB T.J. Yates would have even more options available to him.  After a fast start this year, lately Casey has not been a factor.

All things taken into consideration, Texans fans should be happy to see their team finally assured of a playoff appearance.  Given that the team lost its top two quarterbacks weeks ago, the team still did what it had to do to make the postseason.  Though Houston may lose this week while resting key players, it does not mean the Texans are destined to lose in the playoffs.  If the offensive line settles down and the defense starts taking the ball away again, there is a good possibility of the home town fans seeing a postseason victory at Reliant Stadium.

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21 December 2011

Streaking Ends

There is a theory about “let-down games” in football.  The theory is that after a team achieves a big goal, or defeats a huge rival, the next week they have “let-down”, and lose an easier game.  The Houston Texans proved this theory correct.  The week after securing their first division championship in team history, the Texans lost to an inferior opponent on their home turf.  After a seven game winning streak and clinching a playoff appearance, Houston played as if they could just show up for the game and be handed the victory.  That did not happen.  The Carolina Panthers, who had only won four previous games, walked away with the victory over the Texans 28-13.

Losing to the Panthers was an entire team lack of effort.  The offense kept turning the ball over, and the defense could not force a turnover.  When the offense did muster some points, the defense let Carolina score again.  It was not Houston’s finest hour.  Rookie quarterback T.J. Yates locked onto his intended targets which resulted in a couple easy interceptions for Carolina. 

On other occasions, Yates hit his receivers in the hands, only to see the ball dropped.  On the Panthers third touchdown, Carolina lined up inside Houston’s ten yard line in an odd formation that obviously confused the Texan’s defense.  Instead of calling a timeout, Houston’s defensive leaders froze, and Carolina scored on a laughably easy trick play.  Houston’s players need to think more quickly than that if they hope to win a playoff game this year.

It’s unfortunate that young teams have to lose badly to learn the lesson that any team can beat them if they don’t put out 100% effort.  Physically and mentally, the Texans did not put out full effort last Sunday.

Looking at the big picture, Houston should not have been expected to run the table without WR Andre Johnson, LB Mario Williams, their top two quarterbacks and so many other players they have lost to injury this year.  The Texans are truly more banged up than most teams on the NFL, and people should remember this.  Houston fans quickly got used to the Texans mantra of “Next Man Up”, and started to believe their team could just keep plugging in reserve players and not lose a game.  It’s just too hard to sustain a long winning streak in the NFL, just ask the Packers.

Houston quickly gets a chance to flush the memory of the game against Carolina, because they play on Thursday night.  On a short week, Houston travels to Indianapolis to take on the Colts.  Houston has never won at Indy, but if there ever is a time, it is now.  The Colts have only won one game this year.  With that in mind, the Texans hope to get back to their winning ways and avoid giving their fans another let down.

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15 December 2011

Next Game Up

Now, this is getting ridiculous.  The news out of Houston Texans camp is that Defensive Coordinator, Wade Phillips, will now miss 7 to 10 days due to a kidney ailment.  The Texans, who seem to lose at least one player a week due to injury are now losing coaches!  The mantra of the Texans this season has been “Next Man Up”, as second and third string players have been called upon to start games.  Now we shall see how linebackers coach, Reggie Herring does while in the Coordinator’s seat for Phillips.  Offensive guard Mike Brisiel is also out with a broken leg suffered in the Texan’s 20-19 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals last Sunday.  Third year man Antoine Caldwell will fill in for Brisiel.

Speaking of the Cincinnati game, one of the Texan’s next men up, QB T. J. Yates, did at fantastic job on the road against a good defense to direct Houston to a come from behind win.  Down by 9 points in the fourth quarter, young Mr. Yates led his team on two scoring drives to steal a nice conference road win.  The former third string quarterback hit WR Kevin Walter with a pass right in the end zone with 2 seconds left in regulation time.  There was talk by the media early in the year about the Texans being a “soft” team, but the way they fought back against the Bengals, that case should be now put to rest.

Houston started the Cincinnati game as if in a haze and fell behind quickly, with the defense allowing long drives and the offense turning the ball over.  After halftime, the Texans came out with more fire, executed much better and extended their team record winning streak to 7 games.  With the victory, the Texans won the AFC South and for the first time ever, and assured themselves a spot in the playoffs.  With the improbable win, DE Antonio Smith proclaimed that the 2011 Houston Texans were “a team of destiny”.  He just may be right.  Outside of Denver, and the Tim Tebow phenomenon, Houston’s story is the most miraculous.  With three games left in the regular season, Houston now hopes to secure one of the top two seeds in the AFC, gaining a bye week and an extra week of healing.  That late season drive starts this Sunday at home against the Carolina Panthers.

Cam Newton and the Panthers now make their every eight year venture to Reliant Stadium to try to tame the Texans.  Newton is a special talent with his knack for running for touchdowns, but Houston’s rookie quarterback, Yates, is leading a better team.  Expect Houston to run for big yardage behind RB’s Arian Foster & Ben Tate and score at a high clip.  Houston’s 3-4 defense is just the tonic to keep Newton in check for most of the game, and the Texans should end up outscoring the Panthers for their eleventh victory of 2011.  Hopefully for once, Houston can make it through a game without losing another player (or coach) to injury.

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8 December 2011

Texans Roll On

If the playoffs started today, the Houston Texans would be the number one seed in the American Football Conference.  With four weeks to go in the 2011 NFL season, that is quite an accomplishment, but considering the amount of games lost by key players due to injury, it’s phenomenal.  Last Sunday in a victory over the Atlanta Falcons, Houston saw Pro Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson go down again with another hamstring injury.  Though Johnson says this injury is not as severe as the first, expect him to miss at least two games. 

The Texans also lost their punter, Brett Hartmann for the year when he went down, untouched, with an ACL tear.  Linebacker Brian Cushing also left the Falcon game with a knee injury in the 2nd quarter, but is expected to play next week against the Cincinnati Bengals.  Houston beat the Falcons 17-10, and the home crowd was rocking despite the injuries.  Rookie quarterback T.J. Yates finished off his second NFL game with a win, and is quickly becoming a favorite of Texans’ fans who are maintaining a positive attitude.

Yates did a fine job in his first start with Houston.  He did not hesitate to look for the deep pass and avoided a heavy rush with some nifty moves.  Later, with the contest tied at ten in the third quarter, Yates led the Texans on a 19 play, 85 yard drive for a touchdown.  The drive ate up a lot of clock and the touchdown forced Atlanta into having to go for their own TD at the end of the game.  They failed.  With the win, the Texans go to 9-3 on the season and are closing in on clinching a playoff appearance for the first time in team history.  The easiest way to assure the playoffs would be to win the division, and with a full two game lead over the Tennessee Titans with four games to go, the Texans have great confidence they can do it.  If Houston’s defense keeps playing like they did last Sunday, it’s hard to envision them not achieving the postseason.

The Texans defense has now reached a level that has not been seen in Houston since the Buddy Ryan led defenses of the early 90’s.  The line continually bats down passes, the linebackers do everything well except cover tight ends, and the secondary is clearly the best the Houston Texans have ever fielded.  After a win over the high powered Falcons, even doubters of the Texans have to admit they are a formidable foe.  Houston next travels to Cincinnati to face the 7-5 Bengals.  This will be T.J. Yates first pro start on the road, and the Bengals do field a good defense.  It will be a stern test for Houston, but expect the Texans to run the ball better than they did against the Falcons.  With the defense playing so well and a great rushing attack, the Texans could keep rolling on.

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1 December 2011

3rd String’s the Charm?

T.J. Yates is now the starting quarterback for the Houston Texans.  Let that sink in a moment.  The rookie quarterback from North Carolina is now the starter in Houston.  When the 2011 season began, most Texans fans were happy to have Matt Schaub as their starting QB with Matt Leinart as the backup.  Surely, if Schaub got hurt, Leinart could guide the team until Schaub’s return.  Things didn’t quite work out that way, did they?  Now that Houston has lost both Schaub and Leinart to season ending injuries, the rookie Yates will lead the team over the final five games.  (Barring injury, that is.) 

Texans fans must have mixed emotions right now.  They have an 8-3 team on a five game winning streak, yet now must rely on their 3rd string quarterback to guide the team to the playoffs.  It is a confusing situation, to be sure.  But things could be worse.  Really.  Young Yates actually did a good job when thrust into service last Sunday and if he can avoid rookie mistakes, he could be the man for the job.

With 1:45 left in the first half last Sunday at Jacksonville, starting QB Matt Leinart was hurt and had to leave the game.  Yates was thrown not only into a game, he was thrown into a two minute drill.  From all accounts, the new starting QB took charge of the huddle and did just fine.  He led the offense to a field goal just before the half.  Not too bad. 

In the second half, Head Coach Gary Kubiak went ultra-conservative, secure in the knowledge that his defense could keep his team ahead of the inept Jacksonville team.  The strategy worked and got Mr. Yates some well needed game experience without asking him to do too much.  Next week against the Atlanta Falcons, it won’t be so easy. 

Against the Jaguars, the Houston running backs and the offensive line did not play as well as they had been playing.  Jacksonville was determined to stop the run and force Leinart to beat them with the pass.  When Yates had to go in, the Jags re-doubled their efforts, and successfully stymied Houston’s running game.  With a rookie now starting at quarterback for Houston, you can bet Atlanta will follow the same plan and load up against the run, daring the Texan’s passing game to beat them. 

The rookie QB must be ready for the challenge.  The Texans staff seems to sincerely believe Yates is prepared and ready to play.  Just in case, Houston has signed QB Jake Delhomme, recently of the Cleveland Browns, to backup Yates.  (More recently, he was retired.)  After watching Delhomme play last year, Houston coaches should hope Yates can do the job.  Because he is at the helm of the fine running machine that is the Texans, young T.J. just needs to keep the offense on the rails.  He could just be the man for the job.

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17 November 2011

Texans Win, but Lose

You win some, you lose some.  In the Houston Texans brief history, they have lost more than they have won, but last Sunday was just ridiculous.  Houston won the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quite handily, but probably lost quarterback Matt Schaub with a season ending foot injury.  This is quite a blow for the 7-3 Texans who seem to be on their way to the NFL playoffs for the first time in team history.  Houston will now rely on backup QB Matt Leinart to guide the team the rest of they way.

The Tampa game took Houston to their bye week with a team record four game winning streak and was a thing of beauty on both sides of the ball.  Houston’s offense put up 37 points with three different running backs scoring TD’s.  The defense has moved into another category as they confused and abused a good Tampa Bay team who have defeated both the Saints and the Falcons this year.  The defense was led once again by linebacker Brian Cushing, who is the heart, (and the mouth), of the Texans’ defenders.  The future of the season was looking so bright that Head Coach Gary Kubiak was thinking of wearing shades, but then reports started surfacing that his star quarterback’s injury was worse than first thought.

ESPN reported on Monday that Matt Schaub was out for the year with a broken bone in his foot.  If this is indeed true, it is a huge blow to the Texans, but Houston still has many weapons to make a successful run to the playoffs.  After the upcoming bye week, the Texans expect WR Andre Johnson to return from his injury and play once again. 

The running game has never been better, and the receivers are catching everything thrown their way.  New starting QB Leinart will have a full week of taking reps with the first team before his road test in Jacksonville.  It’s about as easy a re-launch into the NFL as Leinart could have.  (He used to start for Arizona a couple of years ago before being beat out by Kurt Warner.)  Houston’s upcoming schedule is not very hard according to the records of the foes, and the Texans should still win 10 or 11 games to reach the post season.  What they will do there is anybodies guess, but Houston fans will surely be hoping for more wins than losses.

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10 October 2011

Streaking Texans

Defending the home turf was the goal.  Winning the game against the Jacksonville Jags was the goal.  Keep the home fans happy was the goal.  The Texans say mission accomplished.  Houston took out the Jacksonville Jaguars in workman-like fashion last Sunday by the score of 24-14.  The victory came after a nice road win against Tennessee to put together back to back wins.  Now, two wins in a row does not a streak make, but three in a row does, and if the Texans can take down the Cleveland Browns in Houston next Sunday, it is officially a winning streak.  …And there will be much rejoicing.  But, if Houston is to defeat Cleveland next week, there is plenty of work to be done.

The Houston running game has been producing big numbers, but when put in a position where they must pick up short yardage, they come up lacking.  Two things contribute to this.  1) The middle of their offensive line is weak, and 2) Head Coach Gary Kubiak insists on running up the middle in short yardage situations.  The Texans have had some success running up the middle this year, but when an opposing defense has time to load up against the run, it usually goes nowhere.  Once Kubiak learns this, the offense will progress.  On the good side of things, running back Arian Foster seems fully healed from his leg injury and has run for over 100 yards in back to back games.  Without injured WR Andre Johnson in the lineup, Foster has carried more than his share of the load.

Not everyone has stepped up their game as quarterback Matt Schaub is having a sub-par year by his standards.  It is my belief that the Texans receivers, especially the tight ends and WR Kevin Walter are better than most people believe because they turn bad passes into catches.  Schaub’s 2011 year is noticeably worse than his 2010, and the team needs him to turn it around if they are to beat stronger teams in the future.

One unit of the team that is stepping up their production is the defense.  After limiting Tennessee to only 7 points last week, Jacksonville could only manage 14 of their own.  Both of the Jags scores were helped immensely by Houston turnovers that led to the Jacksonville working on a short field.  The Houston Texans franchise has never had a defense this good in their history.  Along with better personnel, they are finally receiving quality coaching.  Combined, these things tend to create streaks of winning, such as Houston hopes to continue.  Their next chance for victory comes next Sunday at Reliant Stadium.

The Cleveland Browns bring a 3-4 record to Houston and have played well in their road losses for the most part.  It would not be smart for the Houston players to take the Browns lightly.  Cleveland lost at Oakland by only 7, and lost to a very good San Fran team by only 10 on the west coast.  The Texans would do well to start fast and never slow down.  The hometown fans want to see a solid effort from the opening kickoff until final gun.  They also want to see the Texans streak to a record of 6-3, a record they have never before achieved.  It can be done.  It should be done.

Streak on.

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13 October 2011

Texans Outplayed by Oakland

If the Texans are still entertaining ideas of going to the playoffs this season, they must play better than they did last Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.  The Texans were outplayed and outcoached by the Raiders and lost by the score of 25 – 20.  Oakland was obviously motivated by the death of long-time owner Al Davis on the eve of the game and Houston could not match the Raiders intensity.  The Raider defensive line overpowered Houston’s offensive line and disrupted most of Houston’s running plays.  Houston did dominate the first half, but only lead at the break 14-12.  After halftime, the Raiders came out with playoff-like intensity and just seemed to want the game more.

Houston did find a way to get the ball to running back Arian Foster through a series of swing passes and Foster showed how hard it is for any defense to keep him down for long.  His performance and the improved play of Houston’s defense give Houston fans hope for the future.  The mental errors did not.

The Texans were out-thought in all phases of the game and the extra effort Oakland

expended kept them in a game in which they were outgained.  The Raiders caught on to the fact that Houston punter Brett Hartmann took too long to get his punts off and blocked one.  Oakland also did their own fake punt for great yardage and the Texans seemed totally unaware that fake punts existed.  More than just mental errors, Houston committed physical mistakes too, such as fullback Lawrence Vickers not catching an easy pass in the fourth quarter that could have been a touchdown.  Wide receiver Jacoby Jones started the game due to Andre Johnson’s injury, but did not step up to help his team.  He will get another chance this week at Baltimore.

The Texans take on the Ravens in Baltimore this coming Sunday after the Ravens off week.  It will be a stern test the Texans could win, but are not expected to.  After a home loss and getting beat up in the press all week, perhaps Houston could use it as motivation to prove their doubters wrong.  Their fans certainly hope there is more to the 2011 Texans than they saw last Sunday.

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6 October 2011

A Solid Victory

Fans of the Houston Texans were looking for the 2011 edition of the Texans to get a win against a quality team before they could totally get on board with the team.  Defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday was that win.  The Texans dominated the first half and went on to win 17-10.  Running back Arian Foster returned from his hamstring injury to lead the offense by carrying the ball thirty times for 115 yards and a touchdown.  The defense collected five sacks and stopped the Steelers when they had to.  Now 3-1 on the young season, the Texans have some real momentum heading into tilts with the Oakland Raiders and the Baltimore Ravens.

By defeating the Steelers, the Texans showed that this year’s 3-1 start is stronger than last years.  There are many good things happening with Houston, like Foster being back, but it’s not a finished product yet.  The team is committing far too many penalties and that will hurt them sometime in the future if they don’t fix it.  The Texans also have a disturbing habit of coasting when they have a lead.  They did it against the Saints in week 3, and it cost them the game.  They also did it again Sunday in the third quarter prompting Head Coach Gary Kubiak to yell at his offense in full view of the fans and television cameras.  This type of action is uncharacteristic of Kubiak, but it was needed against Pittsburgh.  The very next drive, the Texans went on their last scoring drive ending in a Foster TD.

Arian Foster came back from his hamstring injury with a vengeance.  He showed a burst and moves that few NFL backs have.  In fact, he is starting to invite comparisons to some of the greats in NFL history.  He does not have the speed of O.J. Simpson or the moves of Barry Sanders or the breakaway ability of Eric Dickerson, but what he does have is roughly 90% of each.  If he stays healthy and keeps his head straight, he has a great future.

The Texans are rolling even with a close loss to the Saints just two games ago, and they should keep it going at home against the Raiders.  Even though Pro Bowl WR Andre Johnson will miss some time with his own hamstring injury, Houston should have enough offense to score many points on Oakland, whose defense reminds no one of the all time greats. 

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27 September 2011

Outscored by Saints

The New Orleans Saints score a lot of points at home.  This is a fact.  The Houston Texans did their best to keep pace last Sunday, but fell short by the score of 40-33.  It was a tough loss, but losing on the road to a playoff team happens.  The loss can be equally shared by the Texans’ offense and defense.  Houston’s offense scored 33 points.  This should be enough to win any game, but they settled for field goals in the red zone too many times.  If one were to blame the defense, that’s easy.  They gave up 40 points, including 21 in the 4th quarter.  That’s too many.

In the fourth quarter, the Saints targeted the Texan’s weakest link in their defense.  His name is Kareem Jackson.  When Saints QB Drew Brees needed a key reception, he went to the man Jackson was covering, or not covering as it were.  The strategy worked well.  When the Saints wanted to mix it up, they ran with success up the middle of Houston’s defense, like they did when rookie RB Mark Ingram did on the game clinching touchdown.  These weaknesses in the Texans defense need to be addressed, and surely the Houston coaching staff is doing just that.  What Texans fans should keep in mind is that historically when a defense changes coaches and their entire scheme, it usually takes three or four games for the defense to click.  (If it’s going to click)  The New Orleans Saints are a very stern test this early in the year.  Houston’s offense has no such excuses.

The Texans offense scored a touchdown on their first possession but had to settle for field goals on their next four serious scoring threats.  Against a very good team like New Orleans, this obviously won’t do.  It’s hard to blame an offense that scores on seven different drives and puts up 33 points, but as the team kept kicking field goals, there was just a feeling it would not be good enough, and that ended up being true.  Also, given a 9 point lead in the fourth quarter, the offense could not run enough clock to help the defense.  In fact, they gave up on the run and had too many short drives.  Ben Tate had a healthy 4.3 yard average for the game but in the fourth quarter, he was the forgotten man.  Houston threw much more than they ran the ball, and Head Coach Gary Kubiak knows he needs a more balanced offense.  He has said it many times.

What needs to be remembered is that no one thought Houston would go 16-0, and losing to a very good playoff caliber team on the road happens.  What counts is how the team responds.

Next Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers travel to Houston to face the Texans.  The Steelers are coming off a road victory against the Colts and sport the same record as the Texans at 2-1.  If the Texans are indeed going to turn it around this year and become a playoff team, this is a game they need to win.  The Steelers are a conference foe and are coming off a Super Bowl appearance. If Houston could defeat them, if would surely boost the confidence of the entire Texans team, both offense and defense.

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15 September 2011

Texans Top Colts Again

What a difference a quarterback makes.  The Indianapolis Colts traveled to Houston last Sunday to take on the Texans and did not look like a team that was going to continue their streak of making the playoffs.  With quarterback Peyton Manning sitting out the game after neck surgery, the Colts were thoroughly whipped in every phase of the game.  The Texans shot out to a 34-0 halftime lead and cruised in to an easy victory.

Lest we think the Texans only won because Manning didn’t play, remember that Houston beat Indy last year at home by ten points.  It can be done.  In fact, this win means Houston has won two out of the last three contests against the Colts.  (Wrap your minds around that, Houston fans.) 

The Texans had the offense going behind running back Ben Tate, wideout Andre Johnson and a very good offensive line.  The defense was crazy good with linebacker Mario Williams leading the way, and returner Jacoby Jones brought back a punt 79 yards for a touchdown.  Fun was had by all at Reliant Stadium if you were a follow the Texans.  Not so much if you were pulling for Indy. 

The Texans are still calling Mario Williams a linebacker, but when every passing situation came up, Mario sure lined up like a defensive end.  Hey, whatever works, as they say.  Williams notched two sacks and pressured the Colts all day.  New Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips’ hybrid 3-4 defense looked great and every Houston defender seems to be buying into the scheme.  Linebacker Brian Cushing led the Texans in tackles and playing at a lighter weight, he seems to have his first year speed back.

On offense, running back Ben Tate wowed the hometown folks.  Tate broke the hundred yard mark and scored a TD while not even starting the game.  When RB Arian Foster returns, Houston will boast the best one-two punch in the league, and that should be this week when Houston travels to Miami.  Foster ran a full practice on Wednesday.

The Texans are 5-0 in their history against the Dolphins and more than likely will be 6-0 after next Sunday.  Miami is not special in any area and rely on RB Reggie Bush to generate the offense.  This is not a recipe for success.  Houston’s offense will be one of the top units in the NFL this year and will just put too much pressure on the young Dolphins defense.  Also, the Dolphins don’t have the wide receivers or the quarterback it takes to exploit Houston’s biggest deficiency, which is the secondary.  This all adds up to the Houston Texans starting the 2011 season with a 2-0 record.  You just can’t get much better than that.

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24 August 2011

Texans March over Saints

The Houston running game was in high gear last Saturday night as the Texans defeated the New Orleans Saints by the score of 27-14 at Reliant Stadium in Houston.  QB Matt Schaub and the passing game did alright too, but the running backs stole the show.  On the other hand, the Texans defense made some big plays when it had to, but gave up too many long runs and big passing plays.  They still have a lot of work to do and so do the special teams, which have not been special at all so far this year.  Luckily, there are two practice games left before the real first kickoff on September 11th.  The defense should be better than last year.  (It’s not possible to be worse, is it?)  The unit that is most ready for the season is the offense, and if Saturday night was any indication, RB Arian Foster will lead the way with another fine year in 2011.

Foster and the Texans offensive line were in total synch against the Saints as the young man out of Tennessee rushed for 47 yards on only 5 carries and scored two TD’s.  Foster actually seemed to have a bit more burst than last year even though he was coming off a hamstring injury.  He was not the only Texans’ running back to do well as 2nd year back Ben Tate was next up and he was equally impressive.  Tate chewed up 95 yards on 9 carries with a long run of 43 yards.  Tate also notched a TD and pushed injured RB Steve Slaton farther down the depth chart.  The Texans would probably like to trade Slaton to a team in need like Miami or Arizona, but if he can’t get on the field to show what he can do, the team may have to waive him.  On the night, Houston running backs netted 208 yards rushing against a deep New Orleans defense.

As for the passing game, QB Matt Schaub looked sharp and got in and out of the game unhurt.  That’s the name of the game in preseason, not getting hurt.  Schaub spread it around quite a bit and it seemed like he had two receivers running free most of the night.  This was especially true when FB/TE James Casey was in the game.  Casey blocked well when in fullback mode, but sometimes split out wide to confuse the opponent defense.  It worked.  Here’s hoping head coach Gary Kubiak keeps mixing it up and using his imagination when the regular season begins.  The offense, without a doubt is ahead of the defense.

The Houston defense gave up too many yards to the Saints, but made some key plays to thwart scoring opportunities.  It should be noted that New Orleans was playing hard, and still only scored 14 points, but the Texans have obvious holes to plug before the first real game.  Cornerback Jason Allen was beaten badly on a long pass, and both Houston safeties were out of position on a long TD throw in the 2nd quarter.  To be fair, the Texans were playing without some key veterans that will be back in the lineup soon, but Houston fans get nervous when opposing teams run right up the middle of the line for big chunks of yardage.  Another thing to make Texans’ fans nervous is the bad play of the return teams.  The lack of a return game that began in 2010 is still here, and it needs to get fixed fast.  The team has speed and plenty of young players to fill out their special teams.  Another bad year should not be tolerated by Kubiak.

The Texans travel to San Francisco for their first roadie of 2011 on Saturday and are hoping to stay undefeated on the preseason.  More important than winning, though, is getting some starters healthy, and getting used to Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips new schemes.  Getting good work in is more important than winning in the preseason, but hey, why not do both?

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22 August 2011

Houston Review/Preview

The Houston Texans defeated the New York Jets last Monday night by the score of 20 to 16, and it didn’t mean anything.  Wins and losses in the preseason just don’t mean anything.  You know it, and I know it.  If any Houston fan needs reminding, look at last years’ results when Houston soundly defeated the Dallas Cowboys in the preseason, and then got whipped by those same Cowboys just a few weeks later in the regular season.  It wasn’t pretty, remember? 

What did matter about last weeks game against the Jets was that the Texans’ 2nd and 3rd teams played with fire and energy.  What did matter was that some young players that have practiced well also played well.  What did matter was that the new defensive scheme came up with 7 sacks without using any exotic blitzes.  Overall, this meant the game was fun to watch and a mild success.

The Monday night game could have been better if the Texan’s first team offense had looked sharp in the first quarter, but they did not.  Houston fans should not be worried about this, as they should get on track if their history shows anything.  The defense did okay until the 3rd quarter, when the Jets came out of halftime and quickly scored twice.  Most of Houston’s young defenders showed well enough, and got a key turnover in the fourth quarter.  This was a positive. 

The defense looked good overall, but the experiment of Mario Williams at linebacker does not look good.  This is not just based on one game, just common sense.  Mario Williams is too big and slow to play linebacker in the NFL, and his lack of experience standing up will just make the problem worse.  The Texans will move Mario back to the defensive line before the 3rd regular season game is played.  More evidence for this will be on display Saturday night when the Texans host the New Orleans Saints.

The 2011 edition of Saints the will be on display this Saturday at Reliant Stadium to play the hometown Texans.  Both the Houston first team offense and defense better be ready to start fast as the Saints bring two good units to the matchup.  The Texans are playing on a short week, so it’s a good thing they didn’t play their starters very long last Monday.  It’s like the  coaches planned that or something, isn’t it?  Hopefully, Houston fans will get to see another entertaining game this week, but remember, it won’t mean anything.  …Okay, maybe a little something.

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10 August 2011

Houston Launch 2011

The Houston Texans launch their 2011 season next Monday night against the New York Jets, and Houston fans are ready.   It’s only a preseason game, but fans of NFL football in Houston could not care less.  Football is football, and in Texas, football is king.  Texans’ owner Bob McNair went out and spent some money on coaches and players in the off-season and that should be commended.  (Why he did not do that in 2010 is still a mystery, but I digress.)  The Texan’s porous defense from 2010 now has a new leader, Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips, and quite a few new starters.  Chief among these new starters are cornerback Jonathan Joseph from Cincinnati, and safety Danieal Manning from the Chicago Bears.  These two players are clear upgrades over the players the Texans started last year.  Houston also moved last year’s best cornerback to safety, and Glover Quin paired with Manning will be the fastest pair of safeties the Texans have ever had.

Houston’s defense is changing from the old 4-3 to the 3-4, which means Houston does not need as many defensive linemen, but they do need more linebackers.  The team solved part of this problem by moving defensive end Mario Williams to linebacker.  …You read that right.  Mario is now a linebacker, and from early reports, he’s slimmed down and adjusting to his new duties quickly.  The switch to the 3-4 defense should also help the special teams as there will be more linebackers on the roster this year.  Special teams coaches love to use linebackers and tight ends, and Houston will have a bunch of both.

The Houston offense should do very well again this year as most of last year’s key players are back.  If they stay healthy, they are one of the NFL’s top units.  Remember last year the Texans’ return game was not good, and the defense was probably the worst unit in the NFL, but the offense was so good, the team still won six games.  With just an average defense in 2011, Houston can’t help but be better.  But, for now, let’s get ready for preseason.

The New York Jets hit Space City soon for the first Monday Night Football game of the year, and Texans’ fans should brace themselves for ESPN to refer to the Texans only as “the team the Jets are playing.”  East coast bias will be in full effect.  But don’t be bitter, Houston fans, when your team gets to the AFC Championship games two years in a row, ESPN will increase their coverage of your beloved team.  With the Texans about the embark  on their tenth season, Houston fans should expect and demand that their favorite organization do whatever it takes to finally make the playoffs.  It’s about time.

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7 May 2011

Texans 2011 Draft Breakdown

The Houston Texans completed the NFL Draft last weekend with seven choices over the last six rounds.  Houston traded up early to get a player of need, then later traded back to pick up an extra choice.  By most accounts, the Texans did well, but we will know better in three years.  Heck, we’ll know a lot more by the end of 2011.

Pick 10 of Round Two:  Brooks Reed, LB, 6’2”, 255 lbs, Arizona:  The Texans first choice on day two looks like he could be a nice fit at linebacker in the team’s new 3-4 scheme.  Reed started 34 games while at Arizona and in 2010 was named first team All Pac-10.  Reed is fast and is consistently timed in the 4.6’s in the 40yd dash.  He had a very good Senior Bowl and Combine.  Reed easily could have gone in Round One, and should win a starting job with Houston.

Pick 29 of Round Two:  Brandon Harris, CB, 5’10”, 190 lbs, Miami:  The Texans traded two later round picks with New England to jump back into the 2nd round to nab this talented corner.  Harris could stand to gain some upper body strength, but this coaches’ son was a solid two year starter at Miami and was 2nd team All-ACC in 2010.  Harris will compete immediately for either a starting role or playing key minutes in the nickel defense.

Pick 30 of Round Four:  Rashad Carmichael, CB, 5’10”, 192 lbs, Virginia Tech:  This speedy cornerback had a fine senior year with the Hokies.  Like Harris, Rashad needs to hit the weights, but has good agility and cover skills.  From some reports, he needs to work on looking back toward the quarterback while the ball’s in the air.  A solid fourth round pick for Houston, he does play at an area of need for Houston and could do well.

Pick 13 of Round Five:  Shiloh Keoh, SS, 5’11”, 219 lbs, Idaho:  This strong safety was a fan favorite at Idaho for doing whatever it took to win.  Not blessed with great speed, he returned kicks and did very well.  At the East-West Shrine game, Keoh impressed with his versatility and hard hitting style.  Keoh should be glad to have been chosen by the Texans as the team has a glaring need at safety.  He should make the roster.

Pick 21 of Round Five:  Taylor Yates, QB, 6’2”, 219 lbs, North Carolina:  Drafting a quarterback in the fifth round was the first questionable pick by Houston.  QB is not an area of need for the team and this pick probably surprised quite a few Texans fans.  Yates had a solid, but not special senior year at Carolina, but may stick around on Houston’s practice squad.  Some scouts like him more than others.

Pick 12 of Round Seven:  Derek Newton, OT, 6’5”, 311 lbs, Arkansas State:  Seventh round draft picks rarely make and NFL roster, but Newton could be the exception.  In quite a few mock drafts, Derek was listed as a possible fifth or sixth round choice.  He has nice size and had a very good senior season.  Newton could find a fit on the practice squad, giving him time to work on his technique.

Pick 51 of Round Seven:  Cheta Ozougwu, LB, 6’2”, 248 lbs, Rice:  For the first time in Houston Texans history, the team had the last pick of the entire draft, and the Texans took a local product.  Ozougwu is a high motor player and was named first team All-Conference USA in 2010.  He tallied 54 tackles as a senior but will be hard pressed to make the team.

Overall, the Texans had a better than average draft.  Texans fans were a more than a little puzzled by the first round choice of DE J. J. Watt from Wisconsin, but they will be won over by his athleticism, size and enthusiasm.  Most of the Texans choices were characterized by the experts as “high motor guys”.  That’s not a bad thing, is it? 

Fans expected Houston to draft heavily from the defensive side of the ball and they did, giving Head Coach Gary Kubiak some fine football players to begin overhauling his less than stellar defense.  Houston fans should be happy with this draft.  Now, when's the lock out going to end?

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29 April 2011

Texans Grab Big End

The Houston Texans chose to go defense yesterday on the first day of the NFL Draft.  They nabbed defensive end J. J. Watt from the University of Wisconsin with the 11th pick of the first round.  The first team All Big Ten selection stands at 6’ 5” and weighs in at just over 290 pounds.  Watt was also 2nd team AP All American and led Wisconsin in tackles for loss.  He also led the team in sacks, quarterback hurries, forced fumbles and blocked kicks.

While Houston also has needs at outside linebacker, cornerback and safety, new Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips was very pleased with the pick of Watt according to first reports from Texan camp.  From most scouting reports on Mr. Watt, he has a high motor and great measurables.  He is strong, hard-working, smart and had a great combine.  Watt will give the Texans a great rotation at defensive end and allow DE Mario Williams to take fewer snaps, thus allowing Williams to go harder when he is on the field.

Houston still has needs to fill at every level of the defense.  Look for them to address the secondary and the linebacking corps in rounds two through four.

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19 April 2011

Texans Only Mock Draft

April 28th is just around the corner, and the Houston Texans’ big thinkers are hard at work preparing for the NFL Draft.  General Manager Rick Smith knows he needs to do well with his picks in 2011.  Smith and Head Coach Gary Kubiak did not go after many free agents this year or in 2010, so this year’s draft is very important to beefing up one of the league’s worst defenses.  Most Texans’ fans are looking forward to seeing quite a few defensive players taken by Houston this year.  And please…no tight ends.

Without further delay, here’s a round by round prognostication of every Houston Texans 2011 NFL Draft pick:

Round One; 11th Pick Overall:  Robert Quinn, LB, North Carolina – Quinn has great acceleration and quickness for his size.  As a defensive end, he could get overpowered sometimes, but Houston’s new Defensive Coordinator, Wade Phillips, will use Quinn as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme.  A perfect fit.  (For the first time ever, Rick Smith may be tempted to trade up in the first round to grab LB Von Miller or CB Patrick Peterson, but it’s really not his style.)

Round Two; 42nd Pick Overall: Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia – Very good size for a cornerback.  Could be a first round pick, but injury concerns will let him fall here.  A steal in round two…if he can stay healthy.

Round Three; 73rd Pick Overall:  Quinton Carter, FS, Oklahoma – Safeties always tend to fall in the draft, but the Texans’ needs dictate using a third rounder on a safety here.  Carter is adept at coverage and tackling and should start right away.

 Round Four; 105th Pick Overall:  Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina - On day three of the draft, the Texans are surprised Austin is still here and can’t pass him up.  Austin will compete at the nose tackle.

Round Five; 138th Pick Overall:  Terrance Tolliver, WR, LSU – Tolliver has good size, and the Texans need someone to push WR Jacoby Jones to do better.

Round Six; 178th Pick Overall:  Curtis Marsh, CB, Utah St. – Very good speed and size.  Good attitude.  He could surprise in the league.

Round Seven; 214th Pick Overall:  Brad Thorson, OL, Kansas – Very tough blocker.  Plays smart.  Lack of foot speed is what makes him fall to round seven.

Round Seven; 254th Pick Overall:  (Mr. Irrelevant) Brandon Saine, RB, Ohio State – Very good straight line speed, but not shifty.  Can return kickoffs and play special teams.  This pick means Steve Slaton’s time in Houston is almost over.

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8 April 2011

2011 Texans Draft Needs

The 2011 NFL Draft takes place in late April, and it is fast approaching.  The players are still locked out and free agents cannot be signed, but at least we have the draft to look forward to.  (That and whenever Charlie Sheen’s tour comes through your town.  That man’s a freakin’ genius.) 

Since the Houston Texans chose not to sign any free agents in the short period prior to the lockout, and they have no way of knowing if they’ll have another chance to do so before the start of the season, it stands to reason that they must draft for need this year.  They don’t have the luxury of taking the best player available.  Houston must also hope that these drafted rookies can contribute right away as their defense needs immediate help.

The Houston defense in 2010 was very bad.  There’s just no debate about that statement, so in the 2011 draft, the Texans need help at every level of their defense.  Since they switched to the 3-4 defense under Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips, they will need linebacker depth.  Everyone knows Houston needs cornerback and safety help, and they probably will take a speed rushing lineman to compete with end Antonio Smith.  Phillips says he is content with the defensive tackles on the roster, but it will shock no one if the Texans pick a space-eating nose tackle for the new scheme. 

For the secondary, there are rumors that the team is considering moving CB Glover Quin to free safety, but since he was the teams’ best corner last year, that just does not make sense.  Better to move a marginal cornerback on the roster to safety to give him one last shot at making the team.  (Are you listening, Antwaun Molden?)  Hopefully, the lockout will be resolved and Houston can sign a veteran cornerback to team with Quin.  Obviously, the defense will be the focal point of this year’s draft, but the offense also needs depth.

Houston’s offense last season did well statistically, but there was a disturbing trend to start slow, then try to catch up.  This is more of a coaching/motivational problem than something to be cured in the draft, but some offensive personnel are always taken.  I’m sure Houston fans are anxious to see if General Manager Rick Smith takes yet another tight end this year. 

With the re-signing of Owen Daniels completed and quite a few other tight ends on the roster, that position seems filled, but you never know with Smith.  The Texans rushing attack was very good last season as the offensive line did a nice job, but you can never have enough depth on the O-line, so if a nice player falls to them, Houston would pick him up.  A wide receiver probably will be taken late to compete for the number three or four spot in the receiver rotation. 

Perhaps very late in the draft, a quarterback could be taken to compete with backup QB Dan Orlovsky.  The running back stable is almost as deep as tight end, so in this year of need, there is no need to draft a rookie running back.  In summary, the offense just does not need the attention the defense does.  Expect Head Coach Gary Kubiak to defer to Wade Phillips in the early rounds so he can fill out his defense.  (Whether he admits to this or not.)

First guess at who will be taken by the Texans with the 11th overall pick:  DE/LB Robert Quin, North Carolina.

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19 January 2011

Adios to 2010

So the 2010 NFL regular season is behind us and the playoffs once again roll on with no Houston Texans.  Nine seasons into their existence, the Texans did not come close to the postseason.  You have to hand it to the Houston organization, they don’t panic.  Head Coach Gary Kubiak kept his job as did General Manager Rick Smith.  Houston did fire Defensive Coordinator Frank Bush and some defensive coaches, so we know the Texans owner Bob McNair was watching after all. 

Wade Phillips, recently fired Dallas Cowboy Head Coach will be the new Defensive Coordinator in Houston.   It’s not all doom and gloom for the Houston football team, though.  For all the bad things that happened in 2010, there were some good things to talk about in 2010.  (On offense)

Second year running back Arian Foster led the league in rushing yards with 1616 and made the Pro Bowl team.  He averaged 4.9 yards per carry and tallied 2220 combined yards from scrimmage.  No matter what happens in Foster’s career after this, they can’t take away his rushing title.  (Unless he over-trained with LB Brian Cushing)  With backup Derrick Ward averaging 6.3 yards per carry, one wonders why the Texans were only 19th in rushing attempts in the league. 

As a coach, it’s probably hard to stick with the run when you are playing from behind most of the time.  It’s also hard to stick with the running game when you have Andre Johnson playing wide receiver.  Johnson led the league with 93.5 receiving yards per game and was voted to another Pro Bowl.  A nagging ankle injury kept Johnson out of a few games and will probably keep him from making All Pro, but when he played, he was as good as ever.  QB Matt Schaub had a good season, but after a fantastic 2009, a little more was expected of him.  Schaub regressed a bit, but by no means is he the problem.  Whatever flaws he showed this year can be corrected.  Fullback Vonta Leach did a superior job and made the Pro Bowl for the first time.

The 2010 edition of the Houston Texans defense was very weak, and that’s being kind.  The young secondary was exposed weekly by almost every quarterback they faced.  The pass rush was not good enough to help them out either.  DE Mario Williams did get 8.5 sacks on the year while playing with a sports hernia, but it was another year, another injury for Mario.  Houston fans, who already feel snake-bit by going nine seasons without the playoffs, must wonder if Williams career will be defined as “he coulda been great if….”. 

Now, about 2011; If the defense can stay healthy, if the general manager signs some defensive free agents, and if Coach Phillips works his magic, the Texans defense may just rise to average next season.  A fan base can dream, can’t it?  Anyway, let’s watch some playoff games, and get ready for the 2011 NFL Draft!  Houston picks 11th.  Start your research now.

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29 December 2010

Defense Implodes Again

Now we know just about any quarterback can throw for 300 yards on the 2010 Houston Texans defense.  QB Tim Tebow of the Denver Broncos is not known as a particularly good passer, but last Sunday he threw for 308 yards in a 24-23 victory over Houston.  Tebow also led Denver back from a 17-0 deficit to take the win.  It was highly unusual for the Texans to take a first half lead, but they did.  After halftime, however, Houston was outscored 24 to 6 as the defense fell apart and the offense misfired.

Question:  Who can stop RB Arian Foster? 
Answer:  Houston Head Coach Gary Kubiak can.

After leading his team to a large first half lead, the young Foster did not touch the ball much in the second half.  One might think with a lead and the running game working, the team would come out in the second half and impose their will on Denver or die trying, but the Texans did not.  Kubiak called for more passes than runs and helped conserve time for the Broncos to muster a late fourth quarter drive for a touchdown.  The Texans did get the ball back for a last minute drive of their own, but a batted pass turned into an interception for Denver and that meant doom for the Texans.  It was Houston’s eighth loss in nine games.

The loss in Denver hardly helped Kubiak’s chances of coming back next season as the Texans coach.  After almost five full seasons in charge of the coaching and most of the personnel, Kubiak has not shown himself to be an above average head coach.  A nice guy, yes.  A stand up coach, yes.  A winning coach that breeds confidence?  No. 

Whether owner Bob McNair brings Kubiak back next year is still a mystery, but the defensive coaching staff needs an extensive overhaul to say the least.  Maybe this offseason, General Manager Rick Smith will also decide the defense could use a good, veteran free agent or two.  Such are the dreams of Houston Texans fans.

For the season finale, the Jacksonville Jaguars travel to Reliant Stadium in Houston.  The Texans will host a Jags team that will begin the day with a chance to make the playoffs.  Without much to play for the home team will make a game of it for a half, but eventually wear down.  Look for the Jags to win; 27-20.

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21 December 2010

No Playoffs

The Houston Texans 2010 playoff quest officially ended in Nashville last Sunday.  The Texans were defeated by the Tennessee Titans by the score of 31-17.  After falling behind in the first quarter by 21 points, the game was never in question.  Houston’s offense and defense both shared equally in the blame for this defeat.  They weren’t just outplayed, they were outhustled.  For the first time in Head Coach Gary Kubiak’s tenure in Houston, you could see some quit in the Texans.

The loss to the Titans dropped the Texans to 5-9 on the year and kept loyal Houston fans wondering just what they’ve done to deserve such a team.  The Titans had lost six games in a row coming into the contest, but dominated in every phase of the game.  RB Chris Johnson broke out of a slump to run for 130 yards and a TD.  The Houston defense once again gave up big chunks of yardage in the passing game, dropped possible interceptions and missing tackles.  With this season winding down, the thinking at the Texans offices should be how to trade back in the draft to gather up picks.

On offense, the Houston team once again started very slowly.  The Texans could not score a touchdown until the third quarter when QB Matt Schaub hit probable Pro Bowl WR Andre Johnson for a 12 yard strike.  The Houston running game never got on track as the Titans had a good game plan to shut down RB Arian Foster.  Foster is still leading the NFL in rushing yards, but his lead is shrinking.  The Houston offensive line was dominated by Tennessee.  They could not open running lanes or pass block effectively as Schaub got hit early and often.  Unless Houston exerts more effort in the last two games, this team may end up the year at 5-11.  One wonders if Texans owner Bob McNair will re-evaluate his view from last week that his team is “is still on track”.

Next up on the schedule for the Texans is the Denver Broncos led by rookie QB Tim Tebow.  With a new head coach and a fun, new QB at the helm, you can bet the Broncs will bring a good effort to the game.  No one can be sure what type of effort Houston will bring with them to Denver.  The Texans will be smarting all week over the harsh coverage by the media and it could cause them to pack it in for the year.  More likely, talent will win out over youth.  Tebow just does not have the passing arm to exploit the Texans defense.  (And that’s saying something.)  The Denver defense won’t be able to stop Houston and the Texans defense will stop the Broncos running game.  Houston will win in Denver; 34-21.

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17 December 2010

Monday Night Letdown

Well at least the Houston Texans are consistent.  Almost each and every week they play badly in the first half, do much better in the second half to make a game of it, then lose.  This week they did it on Monday Night Football in front of the entire nation.  Houston lost to the Baltimore Ravens in overtime by the score of 34-28.  This kind of performance by their home team must test the faith of even the most loyal Texan fan.

There are three games left to play in the 2010 season, and an 8-8 record for the Texans is still achievable.  Given what the team has done under recent years under head coach Gary Kubiak, winning two or three of these games is expected.  Once the pressure of the playoff race is off, the team usually ends on a winning streak.  Texans owner Bob McNair should not be fooled by this anymore.  Kubiak has had five full seasons to turn this team around, and still shows no sign of figuring out how to get his team to the playoffs.  Quite a few coaches have turned bad teams around in less time.  Some have done it in only one or two seasons.  Kubiak has had five.

Since the Houston Texans were founded in 2002, other teams have gone from playoff caliber to the cellar and back again.  Just looking at the NFL since Kubiak took over as head coach in 2006, many teams have made at least one appearance in the playoffs.  In today’s NFL with free agency, it’s obviously not that hard to at least get to just one playoff game in a five year period.  Kubiak and his hand picked general manager, Rick Smith have shaped the team exactly like they wanted it, and it’s not good enough.  I’m sure Coach Kubiak and Mr. Smith are nice people, but in the NFL, people get fired for non-performance.  Now is their time.

The Texans offense is so good this season, that if Smith had bothered to sign a few more defensive free agents in the offseason, or traded for some defensive help at the trading deadline, this Houston team might have snuck into the playoffs.  He did not, and they will not.  Many Houston fans showed their displeasure with the product by leaving Monday’s game before the team made their comeback to go into overtime.  It spared them the pain of witnessing another heart-wrenching loss.  Next year, those same fans may not attend the games at all.  It’s doubtful this is what Bob McNair is waiting for before he makes a coaching change, but a case could be made for that scenario.  If the stadium continues to sell out, why pay another coach more money?  Let’s hope McNair isn’t that kind of owner.

Next week, the battle for the bottom of the AFC South is on.  Houston travels to Nashville to take on the Tennessee Titans.  Since Kerry Collins is quarterbacking the Titans and WR Randy Moss seems to have quit on the season, the Texans can concentrate on stopping the run.  Tennessee should find it hard to score.  Texans will win; 24-17, and someone on the Texans staff will proclaim; “the kids never stopped fighting”, and “this team will be good next year”.  Too little, too late.

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7 December 2010

Prime Time Loss

The Houston Texans were featured on “Mike Vick Night” last Thursday on the NFL Network.  The Eagles starred and the Texans were the supporting act.  After a two hour pregame tribute to how great Vick is, they played the game.  What do ya know?  Vick is pretty darned good.  I know Texans fans are tired of this kind of treatment by the national media, but they must realize the Texans have to win big and demand the spotlight before they will get that kind of attention.  In the game, Houston followed their normal formula; Get behind early, make a valiant comeback, then lose.  This time the Eagles came out on top 34-24.

Some Texans players actually said the defense played a little better against Philly.  It’s hard to see where.  The Houston defense gave up 416 total yards, including 301 yards passing.  Philadelphia was the sixth team this year to score 30 points or more against the Houston defenders.  If this is playing better, the bar is set very low in the Texans clubhouse.

To the Texans’ credit, they did not get pushed around by the NFC East power.  They gave as many good shots as they took.  Houston found it hard to run against the Eagles but kept at it and averaged 4.2 yards per carry.  The passing game worked too, although QB Matt Schaub took a few good shots on the night.  The problem that continues to plague Houston is their slow starts.  The Texans offense put together a touchdown drive in the second quarter, but they were down 17-3 before they got to the end zone.  They were trailing at the half 20-10.  If the players and the coaching staff could figure out a way to start the game at full speed, perhaps Houston wouldn’t spend so much energy trying to come back from deficits.  The loss dropped Houston’s record to 5-7 and the playoffs seem far away.

Next on the schedule is another prime time game against the Baltimore Ravens on ESPN’s Monday Night Football.  If the Texans still have dreams of the playoffs, the first step would be to win their final four games.  Nothing about the Texan’s defense makes anyone think they are capable of reeling off four victories, but looking at the Texans recent history, they do tend to finish the season strong.  Baltimore is coming off a bruising division loss to the Steelers and are working on a shorter week than the Texans.  Houston has disappointed their fans with three home losses already in 2010, and will bring max effort to the game.  The Ravens secondary is nearly as weak against the pass as Houston’s back four, the difference is the Texans are better equipped to exploit a weak secondary.  Houston comes out throwing, Head Coach Gary Kubiak actually allows the offense to run a trick play or two, (maybe), and Houston will win 31-27.

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2 December 2010

Losing Streak Ends

The Houston Texans ended their four game losing streak last Sunday by defeating the Tennessee Titans 20-0.  Led by LB Brian Cushing and CB Glover Quin, the Houston defense shut out an opponent for the first time in team history at their home stadium.  The opponent did happen to be starting a rookie quarterback, but the Texans will take any achievement they can in 2010.  The offense had a workmanlike day against a good Tennessee defense, holding the ball for over 39 minutes, clearly winning the time of possession war.  Oh, yeah, there was a fight too.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Texans WR Andre Johnson seemed to have had enough of Titans’ CB Cortland Finnegan’s questionable actions.  Finnegan is known through the league for cheap shots and various instigating tactics designed to anger opponents and get their heads out of the game.  Last Sunday, Johnson endured one too many hands to the face, so he tore off Finnegan’s helmet and landed a couple punches to the corner’s head.  Both players were ejected and fined, but neither was suspended.  If the referees had been more forceful earlier in the game toward Finnegan, the fight may have been avoided.  The fight, though exciting, was only a side show.  The real story was the Texans dominating an opponent for the first time since opening week versus the Colts.

The Texans were in total control of the game from the opening kickoff.  Houston fans excitement should be tempered by the fact that the Titans started Rusty Smith at quarterback. Also WR Randy Moss looks like he’s opened a big can of quit on this season.  The fact remains that Houston dominated a team they should have.  RB Arian Foster produced 218 all purpose yards and WR Andre Johnson gathered nine catches for 56 yards and a TD.  On defense, CB Glover Quin set a team record with three interceptions and DE Mario Williams was very active, notching another sack.  Quin was named AFC defensive player of the week for his efforts.  Houston did well last Sunday, but on a short week, they now face a sterner test.

Houston now travels to Philadelphia to face the Eagles on Thursday Night Football.  Philly QB Mike Vick is the highest rated signal caller in the NFC this year and he has a little more experience than Rusty Smith.  (He’s faster than Rusty too.)  The Texans defense will be facing a highly motivated Eagles offense as they lost to the Bears last weekend and don’t want to drop two in a row.  Expect the Texans to try to keep Vick and the Eagles off the field by running the ball and burning clock.  If Philadelphia gets an early lead, this plan will probably be shelved and a shootout will ensue.  What the heck, just tune in for a shootout.  Philly outscores Houston and takes the win: 35-31.

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27 November 2010

Another Stunning Loss

The Houston Texans lost to the New York Jets in New York last Sunday by the score of 30-27.  By just looking at the score, one would think Houston fans could be proud of their team because they played a tough Jets squad and almost won on the road.  If you are Houston Head Coach Gary Kubiak or Texans owner Bob McNair, that’s probably what you’re telling yourself.  Alas, it’s not true.

The Texans did fight back to score 20 unanswered points in the second half of the game to take the lead, 27-23, but then the Texans defense took the field one more time.  The Jets had to score a touchdown to win.  A field goal would not do.  And with only 49 seconds to go 72 yards for the go ahead score, the Houston defense fell apart.  It took the Jets only 39 seconds to score the winning touchdown, and Houston’s defense continued to be a national joke.  The Texans defense has allowed at least 24 points by their opponent in every game this year.  That defensive coordinator Frank Bush still has his job is one of life’s mysteries.  Kubiak and McNair must be the most patient people in football today as they see the once 4-2 Texans fall to 4-6, and as of today, they have fired no one.  The defense is letting a good season by the Texans offense be wasted.

Some have criticized the Texans offense for their lack of first half scoring, but they did put up 24 points last week in Jacksonville and 27 points in New York Sunday.  It’s hard to ask for more than that, but unfortunately that’s what the team must do.  With the historically bad Houston defense, the team must take every chance they can to score TD’s and stop settling for field goals.  If they don’t score at least 30 points, they lose.  Sad but true.

The Houston front office seems to be taking everything well.  They continue to talk of improvement and trying harder.  Good for them.  It’s nice to see a group of people able to stay positive under such circumstances.  It’s doubtful the Houston fans are as forgiving, however.  Maybe owner Bob McNair won’t be as ready to stay the course after he sees how many fans actually show up at Reliant Stadium this coming Sunday.  On top of being Thanksgiving weekend, the Texans seem out of the playoff race and hometown hero Vince Young will not be playing for the other team, the Tennessee Titans. 

The fans may find better things to do.  The Titans will have rookie Rusty Smith starting at quarterback this week.  The most interesting thing to look for in this game will be to see if Tennessee can score 24 points on the Texans defense.  Look for that streak to finally end.  The Titans have problems of their own and will run the ball hard, but lose.  Texans 27, Titans 21.

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22 November 2010

Historic Loss: Texans lose to the Jaguars 31-24

For the fourth time in NFL history, a team lost on the last play of the game because of a pass play over 50 yards.  Congratulations Houston, you’re in the history books again.  I won’t go over each and every specific time Houston sports teams have been involved in gut wrenching losses, suffice it to say, there have been many.  The Houston Texans defense is also among the worst in NFL history, but let’s reserve comment on that until the end of the year.  They could end up number one!

The game in question happened last Sunday in Jacksonville as this writer traveled to Florida to witness the Texans lose to the Jaguars 31-24.  After trailing 17-3 at halftime, the Houston offense went into high gear to tie up the game in the fourth quarter at 24-24.  If the Texans offense had bothered to show up for the first half, perhaps the game would not been as close.  We’ll never know.  If the Jags reliable kicker, Josh Scobee, had not shanked two field goals, the game probably would not have been in doubt either.  We’ll never know.  What we do know is that very late in the fourth quarter, the Texans were in a tie ball game with the ball in their hands with the clock winding down.  Also, they were in Jacksonville territory.  Through a quick series of miscues, and a last second Hail Mary pass, Houston kept their losing skid intact. 

Houston has now lost three in a row and four out of five games.  The Texans record now stands at 4-5.  A pessimist might say if not for two lucky wins against Kansas City and Washington, Houston would have only won two games instead of four.  Let’s not do that here.  Houston Texans fans have enough on their minds right now, like their below average management.

The Texans won nine games against seven losses in 2009, and management’s off-season strategy was to stay the course.  They drafted some rookies, let a starting cornerback walk, and signed an average offensive lineman.  General Manager Rick Smith should realize now that when you stand still, you fall behind.  Houston’s defense fell behind, then fell off a cliff.  Head Coach Gary Kubiak shares blame for the roster and how the team is playing.  Kubiak has a lot of input on assembling players, and of course, is in charge of the coaching staff.  If these coaches can coach at the NFL level, then they are failing at motivating the players.  Kubiak is on record as saying players know what’s a stake, they can motivate themselves. 

Hopefully, he’s changing his mind on that thinking.  Watch Jets coach Rex Ryan sometime, or film of ex-Steeler coach Bill Cowher, and see if they agree NFL players don’t need much motivating.  (Don’t waste your time looking.  They do.)  Speaking of the Jets, what’s next for Houston?  The New York Jets.

The only thing capable of shaking up Houston’s season is a crazy, unexpected victory over a good team like the New York Jets.  Something like that might get the team jump-started and confident enough to actually still make a run at the playoffs.  This is highly unlikely on the road for the second week in a row at New York.  Projection:  Jets over Texans, 31-27.

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11 November 2010

Another Home Loss

The Houston Texans played in an exciting game last Sunday, although they didn’t really show up for the second half.  Houston scored 20 points in the first half of a 29-23 loss to the San Diego Chargers last Sunday in Houston, but only scored 3 in the second half.  Many fans are blaming the coaching staff, and they do deserve criticism, but the players did their fair share of the damage.

WR Jacoby Jones dropped a TD pass in the end zone after a Charger player tipped it.  QB Matt Schaub had TE James Casey open on an end zone route, but threw the ball wrong.  (Actually Schaub was off target most of the day, but in the fourth quarter this was mostly due to an injury).  RB Arian Foster could have had a TD catch but used the ball to balance himself on the ground and lost possession.  CB Kareem Jackson was beaten badly on two TD passes.  WR Andre Johnson had a pass hit his hands, but kicked it in the air for an interception to seal the defeat.  I’m sure the coaches did not teach the players to do these things.

This is not to say Head Coach Gary Kubiak and his staff are without blame.  They did their share to ensure defeat.  Kubiak ran a hurried quarterback sneak on a fourth down play in the fourth quarter instead of huddling and giving the ball to the league’s #1 running back, Arian Foster.  If the yardage needed was less than half a yard, it might be a good call, but the Texans were a full yard away and running up the middle is hardly the team’s strong suit.  This is just one example of questionable play calling on the day. (and on the year).

The big picture is San Diego had not won on the road this year.  They won in Houston.  San Diego had not won back to back games this year.  They finally did it against Houston.  The Texans did not score after kicking a field goal with about 9 minutes to go in the third quarter.  At home, this is inexcusable.  Giving up 29 points at home also is an embarrassment.  The coaches seem to have no idea how to fix the defense.  When they do call a blitz, the other team picks it up with relative ease.  If they don’t blitz, they rarely get a quarterback pressure.  They’re in a pickle, alright.  It doesn’t get any easier this week as they travel to Jacksonville.

Division games are very important for the Texans, now with a record of 4-4.  Luckily the team seems to play a bit better on the road.  Less distractions on the road?  Less night-life on the road?  Less partying?  Who’s to say?  Whatever the reason, Houston is better on the road this year.  They can hardly be worse.  Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard is having a good year in 2010, and this is bad news for Houston’s secondary.  In a shootout, Houston loses this week, 31-27.

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3 November 2010

Monday Night Blues

The Houston Texans lost to the Indianapolis Colts last Monday night by the score of 30-17.  The Texans rarely get a chance to play on national television and their performance hardly warrants an encore.  It was an entire team effort, or lack thereof.  The offense executed poorly, the defense could not produce a turnover, and the coaches had a bad game plan and stuck with it.  On the road at Indy?  This spells l-o-s-s.

Head Coach Gary Kubiak should know that the key to defeating the Colts at Indy is to run the ball and keep Peyton Manning off the field with long drives.  Surely he knows this, doesn’t everyone?  The Texans have only had two victories against the Colts, and in both games they successfully used this strategy.  On Monday night, Houston started the game with four straight passes as Kubiak tried to keep his offense “balanced”.  Against the Colts, a balanced offense should go out the window.  On top of keeping Manning off the field, it’s just plain harder to throw the ball against Indy than it is to run.  DE’s Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney rush the passer much better than they play the run.  Just a few weeks earlier, Houston had put up record rushing numbers against Indianapolis, but this game, the Texans coaches thought they knew better.  They were wrong.

Even with the questionable game strategy by the Texans’ coaches, the contest never became a route, and if the offense had executed the plays better, we all may have seen a great match.  QB Matt Schaub was getting hit much too quickly on most passing plays.  When he did have time to throw, he was not on target.  The only thing that worked well was the running game, (shocking!), with Arian Foster gaining 102 yards at 6.8 yards per carry.  Houston ran the ball 18 times and threw it 38 times.

The defense did not play much better than they did before their off week.  They allowed little used RB Mike Hart to have a career day with 84 yards with 7 yards per carry.  Manning was sharp, going for 268 yards and 2 TD’s.  The defense only notched one sack and did not dominate the Colts like they did in Houston a few weeks back.  Second and third string TE’s seemed to get open at will against the Texans defense.  San Diego’s Antonio Gates must be thrilled to see Houston on the schedule this week.

The San Diego game is coming up fast as the Texans get a short week.  At least the game is in Houston at Reliant Stadium.  The 3-5 Chargers know they can hardly afford their sixth loss in the AFC if they are to make the playoffs and will come to Houston fired up.  The Texans better shake off the effects of the Monday night loss quickly if they are to have any chance to win.  Houston is hardly unbeatable at home the last two years, and their defense is just too weak against both the run and the pass.  The Texans will fall again; 31-24.

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24 October 2010

Texans at the Bye Week

The Houston Texans won last Sunday by the score of 35-31 over the Kansas City Chiefs.  It was an ugly, ugly victory, but it counted.  They now have a 4-2 record for the first time in their history, and with the worst defense in the NFL, this is quite an accomplishment.  The Texans are last out of 32 teams in giving up points and next to last in yardage yielded.  This adds up to the worst defense in the NFL.  Now the team gets a week off to think things over.  The bye week could not have come at a better time as Houston needs to come up with a whole new defensive philosophy and execution.  The solution will come from the players on the squad and street free agents as the Texans let the trading deadline come and go without making a move.

The Texans front office chose not to make any bold moves in the offseason even though there is no salary cap this year.  They chose to stand pat on defense except for the draft and letting CB Dunta Robinson leave via free agency.  Even after losing key players like DL Tim Bulman, DE Connor Barwin and Pro Bowl LB Demeco Ryans, GM Rick Smith and staff did not trade for defensive help during the season.  It’s a choice they will have to live with.  Houston fans will surely remember.

A pessimist would say the Texans have been very lucky while notching four victories in six games.  They might say they are closer to a 2-4 team than 4-2, and that the offense barely pulled the defense out of the fire in two key games.  An optimist might counter that four wins out of six games in the NFL is a good thing no matter how you do it.  The optimist would say with a few tweaks, the defense will be good enough to get the team to the playoffs.  Time will tell.  What is clear is that the schedule does not get any easier after the break.

The Texans defense needs to play smarter and re-commit to the fundamentals as there are no easy marks left on the schedule.  The offense cannot be expected to just outscore every opponent.  Houston’s offense, while usually very good, has had issues against physical defenses, and the Ravens, Jets and Titans are still left to play.  After the bye week, the Texans offense should be healthy and good to go.  When running right, they are one of the top units in the NFL behind QB Matt Schaub, WR Andre Johnson, and RB Arian Foster.  If the Texans are to make the playoffs this year, the defense will have to at least play average from this point on. 

Isn’t that the dream of every fan?  “I wish my team could have an average defense.”  Such are the hopes of Houston football fans.  Sad but true.  The Houston coaches have their work cut out for them.

First up after the break are the Indianapolis Colts at Indy.  The Colts have had their share of injuries too, and recently lost TE Dallas Clark for the year.  Peyton Manning still has quite a few weapons to work with and Indy wants revenge for a first week loss in Houston.  Expect the Colts to win on Monday Night Football somewhere in the neighbor hood of 31-24.

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11 October 2010

Another Home Loss

Out-played and out-coached.  That’s what happened to the Houston Texans last Sunday in Reliant Stadium in Houston.  The New York Giants visited Space City and beat the hometown team by the score of 34-10.  The Texans could not match the effort of the opposing team and paid the price.  The Giants wanted it more, got out to a fast start and never slowed down.  New York had the Texans well scouted and took advantage of every weakness.  The big debate for Houston fans after the game must have been; who played worse, the offense or the defense?

The Houston pass defense is last in the NFL in yardage given up.  This is due to inexperience in the secondary and lack of a pass rush.  This will be hard to correct after five games into the season, but if Houston has any hopes of a playoff run something must be done quickly.  Either some players roles must change, the scheme must change or the coaches must.  The Texans are lucky to have a 3-2 record at this point with such a horrible pass defense and they know it.  If Head Coach Gary Kubiak chooses to keep all his coaches in place, then another possibility would be to trade for a pass rusher or experienced corner before the trading deadline.

The Texans offense has imploded now twice in the last three weeks.  Both times on the home field.  Maybe the young Texans enjoy their Friday and Saturday nights too much while they are in Houston.  If that is the case, the team leaders need to stand up and school the younger players on curtailing their nighttime activities when close to a game.

Some around the league just think Houston is a “soft” team.  I’m sure the Houston players hate to be called soft, but the Giants pushed the Texans around with ease.  If they don’t like the label “soft”, then they should do something about it.  Defending their home turf would be a start.

The Texans get another home start this week against the Kansas City Chiefs.  Look for Chiefs QB Matt Cassell to have his best passing day of the year.  Fortunately for Houston, the Chiefs strength is the running game, and the Texans do play the run well.  Texans will win; 24-23.

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4 October 2010

Houston Raids Oakland

The Oakland Raiders probably had a hard time recognizing the Houston Texans team that beat them last Sunday.  Houston won the game 31-24 with quite a few of their star players sitting out.  All Pro WR Andre Johnson was inactive to rest a sore ankle.  Pro Bowl LB Brian Cushing and LT Duane Brown were out serving suspensions, and star RB Arian Foster did not play until late in the second quarter.  With Pro Bowl TE Owen Daniels still slowed by his knee injury, Joel Dreesen caught most of the balls from the tight end spot.

Who were those guys?  Just a solid bunch of reserves, that’s who.

Along with the other missing Texans, FS Eugene Wilson sat out with a bad hamstring, opening the door for young safeties Dominique Barber and Troy Nolan.  Nolan grabbed the opportunity along with two interceptions to make his claim for starters minutes.  The defense was very active, creating three turnovers and four sacks to none for the Raiders.  LB Demeco Ryans and  SS Bernard Pollard had the most tackles and timely hits.  The Texans still have a lot of trouble covering tight ends and running backs, but they are taking away the deep throws.  Houston’s defense makes their opponents work hard for their yardage.  Against the Raiders, Houston’s defensive coaches seemed to blitz more often, and this helped out the young secondary.  With next week’s return of LB Brian Cushing, maybe Houston fans will see the coaches taking even more chances.

On offense, the Houston running game started well and ended well.  A young running back gashed the Oakland line for some nice gains and an early touchdown.  The only thing was, it was not the young running back Texans’ fans have been used to seeing.  It was Derrick Ward, whom the Texans recently signed, not Arian Foster.  Foster sat out most of the first half for disciplinary reasons, and while Ward filled in nicely, he is not the running back Foster is.  When young Arian did enter the game, the momentum immediately shifted to Houston, who then scored 17 unanswered points, then coasted to victory.  The offensive line kept QB Matt Schaub from being sacked and opened some wide holes for the backs.  The wide receivers and tight ends filled in as best they could for the missing Andre Johnson, getting key first downs when needed. 

This could have been the game that WR Jacoby Jones showed he is ready for starting duties, but after dropping a sure first down pass and not getting open regularly enough, he will stay in the 3rd or 4th receiver spot.  Matt Schaub had a very good day, playing smartly, and knowing when to throw the ball away.  The throw-aways hurt his completion percentage, but they do help the team.

Next Sunday the New York Giants visit Houston and bring a fierce pass rush.  The Giants are coming off a Sunday night game in which they notched nine sacks against the Bears…..in the first half!  Houston will counter by establishing their running game to set up play action passes.  WR Andre Johnson will be back to catch those passes.  The Houston defense will be sky high with the return of LB Brian Cushing, and should play their best ball of the season.  It’s the first time in awhile that Cushing, Ryans, Pollard and DE Mario Williams will all be on the field at the same time.  The Giants got well against the Bears, but the Texans are better than the Bears.  Houston wins: 27-20.

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28 September 2010

A Troubling Loss

In case you have not heard, the Houston Texans lost to the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday by the score of 27-13.  Houston scored a late touchdown that made the game seem closer than it really was.  The Texans offense seemed thrown off by the intensity of the Dallas defense, especially when they were in the red zone.  Houston’s young defense was out-smarted by the older Cowboy vets.  While it’s doubtful anyone thought the Texans would go undefeated this season, many, if not all Houston fans hoped one of the losses would not be to Dallas.  The loss itself was not shocking, but the thoroughness of the defeat was.

The Houston home crowd was in good voice for the game, but the Texans team could not match their fans intensity.  After a huge opening day win against the Colts, then a tough overtime victory at Washington, the Texans just could not get the needed emotion up for a third week in a row.  The Cowboys had no such trouble.  Dallas needed a victory badly, and it showed.  They did not want to start the year 0-3, and played their most complete game so far in 2010.  Dallas executed, Houston did not, especially the Houston defense.

The Texans pass defense has been atrocious all season.  The combination of a lack of pass rush combined with the inexperience of the cornerbacks has hurt the team for three straight games.  The below average play of safety Eugene Wilson in 2010 has not helped matters either.  (Time for FS Troy Nolan to play, maybe?)  The Texans need to find a way to force some turnovers as they lost that battle too.  Even though there is no salary cap this year, Houston’s owner and General Manager decided not to bring in any experienced defensive starters in the off-season.  The early returns on this decision don’t look good, and people won’t forget.  There is still time for a trade, but all indications from Texans’ camp are that they will ride with the team they have.

On offense, the running game worked well, but was abandoned early.  The only time in the game when the Texans seemed like they didn’t know how to run block was when they were in the red zone.  The team came away with field goals on their first two trips in the red zone, but with their defense giving up touchdowns, it wasn’t an even trade.  At least next week’s opponent is easily the weakest of the teams Houston has played so far this season.

The Texans travel to Oakland this Sunday to take on the Raiders.  Oakland is 1-2 and they have not played the tough schedule that Houston has.  The Raiders defense gives up just as many points as Houston, but their offense struggles to score against anyone.  While Oakland will probably score their most points of the year against Houston, it won’t be enough.  Houston gets lucky and plays an inferior team at the right time.  The Texans should win; 27-20.

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21 September 2010

Escape from Washington

The Houston Texans took a quick working vacation to the nation’s capital last Sunday but almost forgot the “working” part.  The first half of the contest must have reminded people of the early Texans days with all the miscues and mistakes.  But in the second half, Houston played much better and was rewarded with the victory, 30-27 in overtime.  The Washington Redskins defense offered more of a test than did the Indianapolis Colts the week before.  The Texans did not run the ball nearly as effectively as they did against the Colts, but threw the ball all over the place.  QB Matt Schaub, WR Andre Johnson and DE Mario Williams put the team on their backs in the second half and got a very nice road win.

The Texans first half was so mistake-filled that it’s just easier to say they were lucky to only be down 13 points after two quarters.  Houston trailed at the end of the first half by the score of 20 to 7 and at one point in the third quarter, they were behind by 17 points.  But these things matter not to the 2010 Texans.  (Actually they do, but I just liked that line.)  Houston kept fighting and the coaching staff made the right calls down the stretch.  Schaub compiled most of his 497 passing yards in the second half.  Most of the yardage went to WR Kevin Walter and an injured Andre Johnson.  The Pro Bowl WR had to leave the game to the taunts of Redskin fans, but returned to score the tying TD late in the fourth quarter.  Johnson finished with 158 yards receiving and that one, big score.  You have to hand it to the Texan’s offense.  It was tough to get anything done against a motivated Washington D.  They just love to send extra bodies after the quarterback.

Houston’s offensive line was a little flustered by the Skins constant blitzing, but came together when they really needed to protect their QB.  Because Houston played from behind most of the day, RB Arian Foster could only gain 69 rushing yards, but pitched in 69 receiving yards.  This puts Foster on a pace for 3,008 combined yards on the year.  (The thinking here is the Texans would probably settle for 2,000 total yards.)  The offense surely did their share, but the defense and special teams had quite a hand in the victory too.

The Redskins put up 20 points in the first half, but only 7 in the second half.  In both contests this year it seems Houston’s Head Coach Gary Kubiak and his staff have made some nice half-time adjustments.  Washington surely would have put up 3 more points if not for a stellar effort by SS Bernard Pollard blocking a short field goal in the second half.  In a day where the ‘Skins special teams outplayed Houston’s, this one play was the exception.  The Texan defensive line had a great game stuffing the run, or was it that it was so easy to throw on Houston, the Redskins just decided to pass all day?

The Texan’s pass defense is definitely a team weakness.  Houston has inexperienced corners, average coverage safeties and linebackers that can’t cover running backs or tight ends.  Besides that, they’re okay.  Oh, and besides Mario Williams, who notched three more sacks, no real pass rush.  While Mario was the only Texan to get a sack, he also wreaked havoc against the run.  If this is what a healthy Williams can do, it will be fun to watch him all season. 

LB Zach Diles once again led the team in tackles along with CB Glover Quin.  When LB Brian Cushing returns from suspension, the linebacking trio of Cushing, Diles and Pro Bowler Demeco Ryans will be one of the best in the league.  The Houston D got it done in the second half, making enough stops to give the offense a chance to win.  Kicker Neil Rackers then knocked through the game winning 35 yard field goal in a competitive overtime to seal the victory.  They say any win on the road is a good one, and this game was a great example of that phrase being true.

Next up: The 0-2 Dallas Cowboys visit Houston this coming Sunday.  Dallas needs a victory badly, but Houston has momentum and confidence on their side.  Watch for the Cowboys to come out throwing as they know their running game has little chance against the Texan defense.  Houston will come out with a balanced offense, then go with what’s working after halftime.  The loud Houston crowd is worth at least 3 or 4 points.  Stein says Houston rolls at home; 31-21.

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15 September 2010

Texans Prevail over the Colts

The Houston Texans ran wild over the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday at Reliant Stadium in Houston.  The Texans running game was as good as it’s ever been, and their defense came to work looking to smack someone around, which they did.  The final score was Houston 34, Indianapolis 24, but the Colts added on a late TD to make it look a little more respectable.  Houston Head Coach Gary Kubiak had his team fired up and ready to go for the home opener this year.  The Texans never trailed, and when they appeared from the halftime break, they almost abandoned the pass to run the ball to record yardage.

On offense, there was no doubt second year running back Arian Foster was the star of the show.  He scored three TD’s and set a new Texans rushing record for one game at 231 yards.  Over his last three games, Foster is now averaging a tidy 149 yards per game.  (Actually, he’s only had three games as the featured back, but why quibble?)  Quarterback Matt Schaub was not as sharp as he’s been in the past, but hit some nice throws when he had to.  Schaub was noticeably short on two bombs and misread the Colts safeties to throw one pick on the day. He did finish one nice drive with a perfect strike to WR Kevin Walter for a score in the second quarter.  Houston receivers didn’t have many balls to catch as Schaub only attempted 17 passes, but they did some nice blocking for Houston’s running backs.  Speaking of nice blocking, Houston’s O-line had a mighty fine day pushing people around.  While Foster hit the holes hard, some of the gaps were just too big to miss.  Houston fans have never seen their offensive line and running back in perfect rhythm like they did last Sunday.  Houston’s defense, however, had a rhythm all their own.

From the Colts first series, the Houston defense let their division rival know it was going to be a long day.  If DE Mario Williams wasn’t sacking Colt’s quarterback Peyton Manning, he was pressuring or hitting the All Pro.  The rest of the defensive line got in on the act by consistently chasing Manning out of his comfort zone.  Yes, Mr. Manning had plenty of yardage passing, but he also had plenty of throws.  Except for just a few passes, most were of the short variety.  When Peyton did complete a pass, the Houston secondary was waiting.  Veteran safety Bernard Pollard has brought a passion and intensity to Houston’s secondary that has not been seen before.  The intensity has caught on as Indy’s receivers paid for each catch with a good hit by the Texans.  Pollard was one of the top tacklers on the day along with LB’s Demeco Ryans and Zach Diles.  The worst thing that happened to Houston’s defense was second year DE Connor Barwin suffering a season ending ankle injury.  Barwin will be missed, but how much?  Time will tell.

Next Up: Redskins

The question now is; was this game a rare event or the way things are going to be this year?  It’s easy for a team to get pumped up for a home opener, but can they repeat this performance on the road?  It won’t take long to find out as the team flies to the nation’s capital to take on the Washington Redskins this coming Sunday.  The ‘Skins offense is not nearly as polished as the Colts, but their defense is a different animal.  They are good.  Both teams are coming off emotional first week wins against division rivals, but the edge for this game comes from the longevity of the Texans coaching staff and roster.  Washington has a new quarterback learning his receivers.  They have new coaches and many new players.  Houston’s players know each other well, and have most of their coaches back.  This gives Houston the edge they need, and they will pull away late in the game to take down the Skins 21-14.

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8 September 2010

Ready to Roll

The Houston Texans are rapidly approaching the first game of the 2010 season with more confidence than ever before.  No, they’re not crowing and posturing like the New York Jets, but they know they have the best, deepest roster they’ve ever assembled.  Head Coach Gary Kubiak has steadily made over the roster since he first arrived in Houston, directed the Texans to their first winning season last year, and is now aiming for a playoff run.  It won’t be easy, as several obstacles are in the Texans’ way.

First up is a very stern test against the Indianapolis Colts.  If the Texans do make it to the playoffs this year, they need to at least split with Indy.  Winning at home seems more likely than on the road later in the year.  The last time the Texans beat the Colts was in December of ’06.  To hear the media tell it, you’d think it never happened.  It did happen, with Kubiak as coach and David Carr at quarterback.  With Matt Schaub at the helm and coming off a fine year, Houston fans should feel much better about doing it again.  The Texans very nearly won both games against the Colts last year, but need to learn how to finish them off.  The Colts defense looked very suspect in the preseason, but we all know the offense can put up points.  Expect a high scoring matchup this week at Reliant Stadium in Houston.

In preparing for the Colts, the Texans have also been busy with player transactions.  Houston has fine tuned their roster in the last week by signing seven players to the practice squad, waiving some players, and picking up free agents.  Quarterback Matt Leinart was one of the free agents that was signed.  While Leinart has had a disappointing career, he is at least better than QB John David Booty, who was waived, and should provide competition for Dan Orlovsky as the second team quarterback.  One of the players that was waived was the last original Texan on the roster, kicker Kris Brown.  Brown had a good camp, but new kicker Neil Rackers was just as good, and had a better 2009 than Brown.

Week One:  The Texans will score plenty of points at home this year, especially against the banged up Colts.  Peyton Manning knows this and will come out throwing.  Look for the game to be in doubt in the fourth quarter, but the Texans win; 31-27.

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1 September 2010

Texans Shut Down Cowboys

Texans 23, Cowboys 7:  Okay, Houston fans, settle down a bit.  The Texans probably aren’t as dominant as they seemed against Dallas last Saturday night.  But….they also aren’t as bad as they seemed the week before against New Orleans either.  However it worked out, it was nice to see the Texans’ defense shut down Dallas for more than three quarters.  The Texans finally got a chance to play in front of the home crowd, and it paid off with a needed win.

On offense, second year running back Arian Foster became the first running back in Texans history to go over 100 yards in a preseason game.  It also needs to be noted that Foster had a fat 6.1 yards per carry average against a good Dallas defense.  QB Matt Schaub was very effective and found his favorite target, WR Andre Johnson, early and often.  Schaub racked up 183 yards and one TD in three quarters of work, while Johnson caught seven balls for 79 yards.  WR Jacoby Jones also had a very good night with a TD as looks ready to take over the number two wide receiver spot.  Even if Jones does not overtake Kevin Walter for number two, he will get on the field a lot this year and make things happen.  The offensive line blocked well for the run and the pass as they round into regular season shape.

In the hotly contested kicking contest, both kickers Kris Brown and Neil Rackers handled their duties cleanly.  Brown is currently battling a right foot injury that can’t be helping his cause.  The thing the Texans brass need to think about is if they choose to keep Kris Brown over Rackers and then Brown misses a key kick against the Colts in game one, it would be a public relations nightmare.  Rackers has a better career percentage than Brown, was better last season than Brown, and has been perfect in preseason.  That is hard to beat.

On defense, the Texans could have hardly done any better.  Even though the Cowboy offensive line is suspect this year, holding the Dallas starters scoreless for most of the game was impressive.  The defensive line sacked QB Tony Romo twice with DE Mario Williams nearly getting him a third time.  The linebackers were much sharper than they were against the Saints.  Rookie LB Darryl Sharpton looked good once again.  The secondary also played well as this year’s additions of CB Kareem Jackson and FS Troy Nolan have helped immensely.  Nolan is a second year player but sat out last season with an injury.  Barring any other injuries, Houston’s secondary looks to be deeper and better in 2010.

This week’s game is on Thursday night versus the Tampa Bay Bucs.  This yearly event will signal the end of the preseason.  Look for key starting Texans players to take the night off and for fringe players to get their last chance to impress.  Young players like Jackson, Sharpton and Nolan have already made the team.  For others, this may be their last game in a Texans uniform.  It’s worth watching.

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24 August 2010

Texans Get Run Over

The Houston Texans lost to the New Orleans Saints last Saturday night by the score of 35-20.  It was not that close.  The Saints ran wild all night against a Houston defense that did not seem ready to play.  It was the Saints first game in the Super Dome since winning last season’s Super Bowl and the Saints and their fans were fired up.  The Texans were not.

The Texans’ defense was the story of the game in that they have not looked that out of synch in years.  Houston’s defensive line rarely made a tackle and had no sacks.  The top three tacklers in the game play in the secondary.  This shows the ineffectiveness of the linebacking corps and the line.  The Texans had to blitz a safety and a linebacker just to record their only sack of the game.  They gave up 198 yards rushing and 409 total yards.  Perhaps playing back to back road games and living out of a New Orleans hotel all week took its toll.  It’s as good an excuse as any for a bad game.

On offense, the quarterbacks looked good as both Matt Schaub and Dan Orlovsky led touchdown drives.  RB Arian Foster ran well and scored a touchdown but had a costly fumble.  The receivers and tight ends were solid, but the offense did not get much of a chance to shine as the defense gave up long drives and could not get the Saints offense off the field.  The offense was far from perfect as two drives shorted out and ended with long field goals.  Foster’s fumble plus a dropped kick by KR Trindon Holliday added to the bad field position Houston suffered much of the night.  Houston started flat and stayed flat most of the night.

Next on the schedule is the annual preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys.  Houston fans are looking for a much more focused Texan team to take the field on Saturday.  Most of these fans know that wins and losses are not the main thing in the preseason, but they do know a lack of preparation when they see it.  They saw it last Saturday night.

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18 August 2010

Preseason Game One

Cardinals 19, Texans 16:  When is a loss a win?  Last Saturday, that’s when.  The Houston Texans dominated the Arizona Cardinals for more than three quarters in Glendale Arizona, then decided to let the home town fans have a thrill by letting the Cards come back and win the game.  The Texans didn’t really let the Cardinals win, it just worked out that way.  It didn’t make much difference as Houston fans had already seen their first and second team totally shut down Arizona’s offense when it counted.

On defense, the Texans were primed and ready for the 2010 debut.  DE Mario Williams lead the attack with two sacks, but he had plenty of help.  LB’s Demeco Ryans and Brian Cushing were flying around with high energy.  Safety Bernard Pollard has instilled a toughness in Houston’s secondary that made Cardinals receivers pay for each catch.  Rookie LB Darryl Sharpton had a fine game including seven tackles and a pickoff of a Cardinal pass.  That must have got him noticed by the coaches and fans.  Second year safety Troy Nolan finally got a chance to contribute, grabbing an interception and making some nice hits.  Young LB Darnell Bing also was in on a lot of action.

The offense started off with a bang as QB Matt Schaub threw a nice deep ball to All Pro WR Andre Johnson for the first TD of the game.  After that, they cooled off a bit, but even though they failed to score a touchdown in four tries in the red zone, they did hit three field goals for a nice 16-0 lead.  Houston controlled the game when it counted, but Head Coach Gary Kubiak knows they need to finish drives better.  Scoring TD’s in the red zone is a priority this year, but since it’s game one of the preseason and the Texans obviously were trying things they would not do in the regular season, Texans’ fans shouldn’t be too worried.

Starting RB Arian Foster looked in tune with the offense, snapping off some nice runs.  Second year running back Jeremiah Johnson also had a nice per carry average and earned some more time.  RB Steve Slaton did not impress.  He struggled finding holes to run through, then fumbled at the goal line as Houston was prepared to finish a drive.  WR’s Andre Johnson and Jacoby Jones were the bright spots on the receiving corps.  The offensive line did a fine job pass blocking and their run blocking seemed just as good as long as Foster and Johnson were carrying the ball.  (Funny how a good running back makes the line look better.)  Rookie WR Dorin Dickerson caught the ball well but could learn to run straight up field to maximize each catch.  In the kicking competition, neither kicker missed a field goal and their kickoffs were about equal distance.

Overall, the first preseason game has to be considered a success.  The score says Arizona won, but the Texans starters have no doubt who really won the game.  The worst part of the visit to the desert was the loss of rookie RB Ben Tate from Auburn.  The young man reportedly has a broken ankle that will shelve him for the season.  (Let’s hope he doesn’t have Charles Spencer’s doctors on the case.)  Hopefully Tate will come back at full speed next season to join the Texans on their second run to the playoffs.

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28 July 2010

Risky Off Season

Houston Texans’ training camp starts soon, and many Houston fans are hoping for a playoff appearance in the 2010-11 season.  Much of this hope comes from a young nucleus of good players all reaching their prime.  Some of it comes from the thinking that the city is just due to win this year.  It is not from all the wheeling and dealing the Texans leadership has been up to, that’s for sure.  Texans owner Bob McNair and General Manager Rick Smith seemed to take no risks in the off season.  They signed no free agents of note, and made no splashy trades.  At first glance, one might think the Texans spent the off season taking no risks, but this is not true.  They are risking a lot.

In the off season of 2010, there was no salary cap, so NFL teams could sign proven, starting free agents if the team was willing to go for it.  The Texans were not.  NFL teams could make trades like never before if they chose to be bold.  The Texans did not.  By not going out on the market to find a speedy free safety, the Texans’ brass is saying; “We are good enough at safety.”  Most do not believe this.  Bernard Pollard is a very good run stuffing strong safety, but does not cover well.  Eugene Wilson is an average free safety, but injury prone.  Through trade or free agency, a fast free safety was needed.

In the 2009 season, the Texans ran the ball poorly.  The team could have traded for an established offensive lineman or signed a talented free agent, but they did not.  Instead, they drafted young running back Ben Tate and declared the running game would now be better.  Most observers and fans thought the team might do more to wake up the dormant running attack.  They were told all is just fine.  The same can be said of staying with Dan Orlovsky as backup quarterback.  “We’ll be just fine”, Rick Smith says.  The Texans are taking a risk by not taking risks.

Houston did have an above average draft at first look, but so much more could have been done this off season.  So much more was expected from the leadership of a team on the cusp of the playoffs.  Instead, Houston saved their money and proceeded to tell their fans they didn’t need to do anything fancy.  They are telling the fans they know what they are doing and the team did not need impact free agents to make the playoffs.  But by taking no risks on the player market, they are risking their reputations as judges of talent.  They are risking the faith of the fans.  After eight seasons of football with no playoffs, that’s risky.

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8 June 2010

Houston Texans have An Eventful May

Once upon a time there was a professional football team in South Texas that dreamed of being mentioned by the national media once and awhile.  In May of 2010, the team got their wish, just not exactly the way they wanted to.  The Houston Texans finally got some air time on some national shows by one player holding out for a better deal, and another getting suspended for a banned substance.

All Pro WR Andre Johnson held out a couple days of organized team activities, (OTA’s), to get a point across to team management that he would like to talk about a new contract extension.  I would like to take this moment to make a point; “Hey Andre, maybe you should have had a real agent negotiating your last deal!”  (Andre had his uncle representing him and they signed a deal that was too long.)  Johnson did not stay away from practice for very long, and in the end he did hire a professional agent who was not related to him.

Last year’s defensive rookie of the year, LB Brian Cushing was revealed to have been tested positive for a banned substance by the NFL.  Cushing will miss the first four regular season games of the 2010 season.  This story got significant airplay by the media as they just love to rant on and on about steroids and such.  Too bad for the other 31 teams in the league that also have stories to tell.  The media just loves to lead off and spend much of their air time on either steroid related stories or Brett Favre.

Meanwhile over near Reliant Stadium in Houston, the Texans OTA’s are almost over and some players have shown very well for Head Coach Gary Kubiak.  The coach has gone out of his way to praise fourth year wide receiver Jacoby Jones.  Kubiak says Jones is doing better now than ever before and should push WR’s Kevin Walter and David Anderson for playing time.  Also on the offensive end, running back Arian Foster has been running with the first team.  Foster is said to be doing everything well and he has the size the coaches like.  Third year back Steve Slaton also has had some fine practices and is looking just as good as his rookie year, maybe better.  Rookie RB Ben Tate missed the first 10 OTA practices and has much time to make up.

Second year TE James Casey and rookie TE Garrett Graham have impressed Coach Kubiak by splitting all the snaps at their position while the other TE’s nurse injuries.  The coaches plan on using Casey exclusively at tight end for now.

On the defensive side of the ball, the team has been impressed with their first round pick, cornerback Kareem Jackson and the third round pick Earl Mitchell, a defensive tackle.  Kubiak has said these two rookies have the best chance to contribute this year.  Also impressing the coach is third year corner Antwaun Molden.  Molden has always had the tools to play in the league, but needs to stay healthy if he is to stick around.  Safety Troy Nolan, a second year player is doing very well in the OTA’s and he is pushing hard to be the backup to either Brian Pollard or Eugene Wilson, the projected opening day starters at safety.

Overall, it was an eventful May, and the Houston Texans finally got some big time news coverage.  Not the most positive of stories, but it is air time, right?  At least Houston fans got to see the national media talk about their team.  Now if the media would only get a chance to mention the Texans and the playoffs in the same sentence.  That’s the dream.

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10 May 2010

The 8th Round

After the NFL Draft is over, General Managers get very busy signing undrafted free agent rookies.  While it’s rare an undrafted player sticks with a team and makes an impact in the NFL, it does happen.  For the teams that pick them up, these players provide depth during training camp and could make the practice squad.  Best case scenario, the player really surprises and makes the 53 man roster.  For the players, it’s a chance to show all the teams in the NFL what they missed out on and if they don’t make the cut this year, they gain valuable experience in an NFL camp to try to make another run at it next year.  Reportedly, here’s the rookie free agents the Houston Texans made agreements with after the draft:

QB Tyler Sheehan, Bowling Green; 6’4”, 225 lbs – 3rd Team All MAC.  Two year starter.  Passed for just over 4,000 yards last season.  Familiar with the West Coast offense.

FB Jack Corcoran, Rutgers; 6’1”, 230  lbs.  – Started 21 games for Rutgers in his career.  Strictly a blocking fullback.

FB/LB Isaiah Greenhouse, Northwestern State; 6’2”, 240 lbs – A special teams star in college, Greenhouse will not be outworked.  Played linebacker in college.

WR London Crawford, Arkansas; 6’2”, 205 lbs – Good speed, but a raw player.  Not used very much at Arkansas.  17 career starts.  Injuries held him back in college.

WR Trey Stross, Iowa, 6’2”, 200 lbs – Very good leaping ability, with average speed.  High jumped in college for track team.  Injuries hampered his career.  Won Iowa hustle award for special teams.

TE/OT Steve Maneri, Temple; 6’6”, 270 lbs. – Good blocking TE.  If he can gain weight, could be tried at tackle.  3rd team All MAC.  With all the TE’s in camp, he better gain weight!

OT Cole Pemberton, Colorado State; 6’7”, 315 lbs. – Three year starter in college.  Played in East-West Shrine game.  More than a few services had him going in sixth or seventh rounds.

OT Adam Ulatoski, Texas; 6’5”, 310 lbs – 2nd team Sporting News All American.  First team all Big 12.  Starter for most of his career at Texas.  Good strength.  Could be moved to guard.

OG Kristian Matte, Concordia; 6’4”, 300 lbs – Played in Canada.  Probably will be tried inside instead of tackle.

LB Will Patterson, Indiana; 6’1”, 235 lbs – Three year starter.  Team captain his final two years.  Smart, if not talented player.

DT Malcom Sheppard, Arkansas, 6’2” 285 lbs; Plays hard all the time.  Undersized for defensive tackle, but very productive.  Suffered shoulder injury in Liberty Bowl that still bothers him.

DE Mitch Unrein, Wyoming, 6’4”, 270 lbs. – All Mountain West Honorable Mention.  Had a good pro day that caught some scouts eyes.  Good, but not great speed.

CB Pierre Singfield, Arizona State, 5’11”, 195 lbs. – Good size.  Plays physical.  Average speed.

FS Torri Williams, Purdue, 6’0”, 205 lbs – Hampered by injuries most of his college career.  Tackles well.  Played both corner and safety in college.

FS Nick Polk, Indiana, 5’11”, 210 lbs – Four year starter at Indiana.  Does not time well in the 40, but plays faster than he tests.  Supports against the run well.

SS Aaron Webster, Cincinnati, 6’1”, 210 lbs – Good strength.  Has been times under 4.5 forty recently.  Led Cincy in interceptions his senior year, and was third in tackles.

While it seems all of these players have some potential, they cannot all make the team.  As deep as the Texans are these days, don’t expect more than a few of these players to even make the practice squad.  There must have been some reason why they all went undrafted.

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