Texans Cage Jags, Face Familiar Foe in Manning
Houston (2-0) faces first real test of the season
By Barrett Walton, 5:41PM, Thu. Sep. 20, 2012
Following the wallop the Texans put on Miami in week one, our beloved heroes looked exactly as they should have last Sunday as they annihilated the Jacksonville Jaguars, 27-7.
Houston set team records for time of possession (43:17), number of offensive plays (83), as well as yards allowed (117).
Last week we talked about how they would look to improve on their week one ground game performance. They did so to the tune of 216 yards and three touchdowns. What is most impressive about that performance is that there is still plenty of room to improve. The offensive line dominated the Jaguars. It wasn't a bunch of huge runs either. The Texans were methodical at every snap. That is exactly how they wanted to play this kind of game.
Houston prides itself on being able to beat any team by whatever matchups benefit them. Jacksonville was determined to protect against the deep throw, or any big plays for that matter, by keeping two safeties high almost the entire game.
In turn, there was lots of underneath plays to be had. Many teams will grow impatient with 3- and 5-yard gains, but Houston is content with whatever the defense gives them. Jacksonville chose to take away Andre Johnson so Matt Schaub simply threw the ball to his backs and tight ends.
In an effort to help set up the run, Coach Gary Kubiak called for a good dose of misdirection plays early to keep the Jaguars from attacking downhill against the zone run. This worked to perfection and once Houston started running they were unstoppable.
On the other side of the ball, the Bulls on Parade played a quarter of a game. Typically when we talk about the Texans not playing for four quarters, it means they came out flat or couldn't finish the game. This particular partial performance, however, has more to do with a dominating performance by the No. 1 defense in the National Football League.
The offense's complete control of the ball meant that Jacksonville didn't have many opportunities to possess the ball. Thirty-eight total offensive plays, to be exact. When they were lucky enough to possess it, they were unlucky enough to have Blaine Gabbert taking the snaps. The defense smothered the run quickly and just as I predicted, once Houston was up by a few scores in the third quarter, Gabbert's eyes began to drop in the pocket and he was no longer looking for receivers. Once that happened, I knew the game was over.
After he was sacked a few times his accuracy went out the window. It could have been worse, but he got injured and was rescued by the medical staff.
J.J. Watt had another incredible performance with two more batted balls, a sack and a half, and a fumble recovery. Watt is establishing himself in only his second year as the best 3-4 defensive end in football. The only other player you could argue is as disruptive as Watt is San Francisco's Justin Smith. Both are relentless but Watt will only get better. It's scary how good this player could be.
Schaub continues to make exceptional decisions with the football. His command of the offense combined with the overall efficiency of the entire unit makes his new contract extension look like a bargain. If he can stay healthy, he can lead this team to New Orleans.
Rookie back up center Ben Jones should overtake Antoine Caldwell as the starting right guard by season's end. Jones was rotating with Caldwell at right guard every third series during the game Sunday. I was really impressed with how comfortable he looked. I tweeted during the game that he looked like he had been playing right guard in a zone scheme for years. In fact, it was his first time playing that position since high school. Clearly, Kubiak and offensive line coach John Benton see Jones as more than a capable backup center.
The rookie out of Georgia looked athletic and comfortable with his assignments throughout the game. He's not as powerful as Caldwell, but he makes up for it with being in the right spot consistently. His potential to improve should move him ahead of Caldwell who has never been able to take full control of the starting RG position during his time in Houston.
Second year right tackle Derrick Newton's improvement from week to week is exceptional. In Newton's first preseason game as a rookie last year, I thought he looked terrible. By the season's end, Kubiak couldn't stop talking about how much he improved. That rate of improvement seems to be increasing. Newton looks like twice the player he did in the first preseason game. He improves from week to week and at this rate will be an asset to this team going forward. Kudos to general manager Rick Smith and John Benton for finding this diamond in the rough.
Wade Phillips tried to hide how bad linebacker Bradie James has looked. Phillips had James attacking the line of scrimmage during the Jacksonville game, much like he used Brian Cushing last year. The results were atrocious. James has no explosiveness. He can't blow up blocks and doesn't play with enough intuition to compensate for his lack of physicality. The only points that the Texans gave up on Sunday were on Bradie James' watch. Darryl Sharpton can't come back from the PUP list soon enough.
Connor Barwin hasn't shown up in the stats column, but fear not, he has faced off against two very good left tackles over the past two weeks in the overrated, but still very good Jake Long from Miami and the underrated, but also very good Eugene Monroe in Jacksonville.
Week 3 Preview
This coming Sunday, the Houston Texans will begin their special, 14-game regular season. While all the other teams in the NFL will have played four preseason games, Houston has been gifted two additional scrimmages.
Denver is kind of difficult to figure out as a team. Despite what you probably saw in the debacle on Monday night, Peyton Manning is not in the business of throwing three interceptions in as many series. They have one of the best QBs of all time under center, they can run the ball and play defense. But are they on the same level as the Houston Texans?
This will be the first real test for the Texans, but they have benefited from two extra scrimmages and so I think they know what weaknesses they have. Specifically, Bradie James and occasional breakdowns in coverage on perfectly thrown deep balls. That's not enough to cost them a “W."
Sunday will be a good test for Houston, but if they are for real then they should be able to overcome a few good decisions by Manning. Houston has too many weapons on both sides of the ball to be beaten by anyone other than themselves. As I predicted, consistency will define this team in 2012. They should look like the better team on Sunday as the go “1-0” for the third straight week.
Prediction - Houston 27 Denver 17
[Barrett Walton is the managing editor for Texans Bull Blog. Click here for news, analysis, and commentary on the Texans.]