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Texans Face Tough Test in Saints

37-34 Houston in OT

By Barrett Walton, 12:48PM, Fri. Sep. 23, 2011

Texans Face Tough Test in Saints

Houston's win over Miami should have come as no surprise. The Texans defeated Miami 23-13 on Sunday bringing their record to 2-0 for the third time under Gary Kubiak's leadership.

While 2-0 is technically nothing new for this team, it certainly feels different. Much like 1-0 felt, 2-0 feels like a good football team who has played well against two inferior opponents.

There aren't many great football teams in the NFL. That's what makes the league so great. All the teams are good to above average. There are several average teams and a few terrible teams – Kansas City and Cleveland come to mind – but there are really only a few elite teams. One of them plays in Wisconsin. Some could argue that one of them plays just to the east of us in Louisiana. Houston will face its first true test of the 2011 season this Sunday when our beloved heroes travel to New Orleans to take on Drew Brees, Darren Sproles, Gregg Williams, and the Saints.

Should the Texans come out on top in this game, I think you can officially start believing, if you don't already. Brees is one of the top two or three quarterbacks in the game today. The only two players I think you can make an argument against him being the best are Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. Brees is certainly to be included in that trio. Brees is possibly the most accurate passer in the league and his decision making combined with that accuracy makes him a very difficult matchup for any defense.

Brees will face Wade Phillips' No. 1-ranked defense. (Yes, we all know Collins and Henne aren't exactly Brady and Rodgers.) Nonetheless, you're talking about two masterminds going head-to-head on Sunday with Phillips and Brees. Throw into the equation that Gregg Williams and Gary Kubiak will be dueling it out on the other side of the ball, and Sunday's tilt makes for one hell of a football game.

Houston has never been 3-0. This is exactly the kind of game the Texans lose. Even the good Texans that we've seen glimpses of over the past three years. Which Texans will show up on Sunday?

Houston is banged up offensively. Arian Foster is struggling to come back from a hamstring injury that he suffered in training camp. Jacoby Jones hurt his knee celebrating a touchdown with Andre Johnson last week in Miami. It's unclear if he will play Sunday. Kevin Walter is trying to return from a severely bruised shoulder. He'll probably be a go, but he'll be less effective with the bum shoulder.

Thursday in practice the Texans lost their most important depth player for the year to a ruptured triceps. Swing tackle Rashad Butler will be placed on injured reserve this week. Houston has absolutely zero depth at the tackle position. Re-signing Butler was the No. 1 priority for GM Rick Smith in the offseason. Now we'll have to wait and see if the Texans make a move to bring in a veteran. The only other tackle currently on the active roster is rookie seventh-round pick Derrick Newton who looked terrible in the preseason. I was shocked when he remained on the active roster. Newton is not a viable option to protect Matt Schaub's blind side and should either Eric Winston or Duane Brown go down, expect to see the offensive line begin to shuffle. Guards Wade Smith and Mike Brisiel would probably be the first options to play tackle with Antoine Caldwell sliding in at guard. This would cause the least disturbance on an offensive line that relies heavily on cohesiveness.

Despite the bumps and bruises, the offense shouldn't be too effected by the current issues because of solid depth at RB with Ben Tate leading the way. Wide receiver can be compensated for with the depth at TE. But should one of the tackles go down, things will get interesting.

Defensively, the only issue is All-Pro inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans who looked awful last week against Miami. You can see our Isolated Review Series here where we show some of the uglier moments for Ryans. He is suffering from some kind of elbow injury that is severely limiting his ability to tackle, a pretty important skill for an NFL linebacker.

The biggest thing the defense has to overcome is Brees and I can't honestly say how this will play out. Expect Wade to play a lot of deep cover two or the inverted look he's been using where the safeties play the short middle and the corners cover deep quarters.

It's really going to be all about the front seven's ability to get pressure on Brees. In the preseason game, neither team schemed much at all and Houston was all over Brees the entire time he was in the game. If the results are the same this weekend, Houston has a good chance of winning.

Unfortunately, the same game plan will be effective for the Saints defense as well. Schaub can struggle when under consistent pressure and it's going to be up to the running game to keep the defense on their heels.

If Houston can't run the ball effectively against the Saints bigger defensive front, it could spell trouble for Houston.

I think both teams are evenly matched and this game could come down to the difference of a play or two. I'm taking Houston 37-34 in overtime.

[Barrett Walton is the managing editor for Texans Bull Blog. Visit www.texansbullblog.com for news, analysis, and commentary on the Houston Texans. Follow TBB on Twitter @TexansBullBlog.]

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