Texans Clash With Titans
Fight for first
By Barrett Walton, 11:36AM, Sat. Oct. 22, 2011
I'd like to say we've been down this road before. Out of the gates, full of promise, our beloved hero's have faltered yet again … but wait! As I've been telling you all season long, this is not the Same Ol' Texans. These Texans are winners. So what if they haven't won anything in a few weeks. They lost two marquee players in the course of three quarters.
When Andre Johnson went down in week four we knew there were going to be issues with the offense, but it wasn't until the Texans lost their secret weapon the following week against Oakland that I knew it was going to be a rough couple of weeks.
And no, this is not about Mario Williams being out for the season. The Texans lost TE/FB/ H-Back James Casey with a pectoral injury around the same time that Williams went down in the week five matchup with the Oakland Raiders.
I hate to point out that I know exactly what I'm talking about when it comes to the Houston Texans, but I do. I told you back in September that Casey would be the key to the offense's success. Gary Kubiak was quoted on Wednesday after practice, “We built our offense around what [Casey's] capabilities are this offseason, when we knew that was the direction that we were going to go at fullback. He’s doing a lot of good things and making a lot of plays for us. All of a sudden, you lose Andre and then you lose him and his versatility. It’s been tough.”
Kubiak isn't making excuses either. Well, okay, so he is, but can you blame him for pointing out that his football team has lost the two guys who make the offense go? And it's shown on the field. As the games have worn on the past two weeks, the offense has tightened up and sputtered out.
While the Texans have lost three of their last four, I could bore you for hours with why they are a very good football team. I challenge you to find another team in the NFL who lost three players that they designed their offense and defense around and tell me if those teams might not take a couple of lumps.
You won't find one. While Arian Foster is a very special running back, he, just like Matt Schaub, feeds off of having the best wide receiver in the NFL running routes on Sundays. With Foster, Johnson, and Casey on the field at the same time there's really little that you can do to defend this offense. When you subtract Johnson and Casey, opposing defenses are able to key on Foster and load up eight men in the box to stop him. In the secondary, you can now double Owen Daniels and you have basically eliminated the big-play threats.
The defense has stood up magnificently during this time. Specifically, Brian Cushing has returned to All-Pro form at linebacker. While the offense has struggled with injuries, the defense has continued to feast on opposing quarterbacks. Roethlisberger, Jason Campbell and most recently Joe Flacco all were under constant pressure. Last week against Baltimore, Houston brought their most aggressive defensive game plan of the season. The loss of Mario Williams has really had little effect on this defense. It could work out in the long run in Houston's favor as Williams will not demand as much money coming off of a season-ending injury and at the same time, I think Wade Phillips will realize that the defense doesn't lose much without him. When it comes time to sign the checks next year, Houston may not have to sink the ship on Williams' contract.
Expect a similar football approach from Phillips as Houston travels to Tennessee to face off against their rivals. Andre Johnson won't be available to beat the living crap out of Cortland Finnegan again like he did last year, but the Titans/Texans games have turned into a nice little rivalry. There seems to be genuine animosity between these two franchises. They always play each other hard and the games are usually close.
The Titans are a bit different franchise with Matt Hasselbeck at quarterback, who they acquired in the offseason. The veteran passer is really the first quality quarterback this team has had since Steve McNair was under center. Hasselbeck has fallen off in recent years as his health has suffered, but he's throwing behind a better offensive line in Tennessee than he's had in years. The Titans also have Chris Johnson who will get better every week after sitting out the entire offseason in a contract dispute.
I would expect Phillips to approach this game similarly to the game last week in Baltimore. Harass Hasselbeck and stop the run.
Offensively, Kubiak and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison will not have Johnson and most likely Casey again this week. Wide receiver Derrick Mason was acquired in a trade just before the game last week and he'll be more up to speed this week as he gives Houston another threat offensively. I expect the Texans to deliver more of the same on this side of the ball as well. Tennessee isn't nearly as sharp defensively as the Ravens and I think a similar game plan should provide positive results.
My prediction is that Houston wins and wins ugly. The Texans will be physical and take the win in a low-scoring affair, 20-16.
[Barrett Walton is the managing editor for Texans Bull Blog. Visit www.texansbullblog.com for news, analysis and commentary.]