Houston Texans: The 5 Biggest Early Season Storylines for Week 3

Jeffery Roy@Jeff_n_WestburyContributor IIISeptember 19, 2012

Houston Texans: The 5 Biggest Early Season Storylines for Week 3

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    If the Houston Texans believe this is their year, then taking care of business in the first two games of the schedule is essential. 

    They were served up two organizations in rebuilding mode and did everything they could to set them back even further. The defense has given up a single touchdown, which came from the single mistake they have made—a 32-yard pass that is the only gain of any significance given up by the top-ranked squad in the NFL

    Any objections amount to looking for a mole on Beyoncé's gorgeous countenance. But if the Texans were to remove their makeup, so to speak, there might be an imperfection here or there, even if their 2-0 record is unblemished.

Defensive Domination

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    The Texans rank first in so many categories; to save space, just go to their page at Pro Football Reference. So far, they have fattened up their stats on a couple of crews destined for their respective division cellars.

    The defense might continue in this manner depending on which version of Peyton Manning turns up in Denver this Sunday. 

    If Manning has to throw over the outstretched fingertips of J.J. Watt, then we might see even more floaters than Peyton threw against the Falcons. The tipped passes Watt has amassed total five in the box score, with at least two more unaccounted for. 

    All the attention Watt is receiving has overshadowed some excellent work by Antonio Smith on the other side of the line. The line has been so good that it has left the linebackers without a lot to do. When you are limiting the opposition to less than 200 yards per game, who can complain? 

    The pass rush has been so intense that Kareem Jackson ranks ahead of Johnathan Joseph in the cornerback rankings at Pro Football Focus. Going back to his rookie year in 2010, did anyone ever think this day would come? Nothing demonstrates their dominance more than his rise to this status.

    Some other observations about the defense: 

    Connor Barwin has yet to record a sack, but the year is young. He needs to get off the schneid if he wants the big contract or even the franchise tag.

    Whitney Mercilus has yet to show much at OLB, but he's earning his keep on special teams. His learning curve is difficult to judge at this point, but as a No. 1 pick, he'll get the benefit of the doubt.

    Brian Cushing has not been practicing much, and you have to wonder if his aching ribs are still a bit tender. His play on game day has not suffered so far.

Offensive Line Development

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    Going into the Dolphins game, all the talk was about how well the right side of the line would do. Coming out of that win, everyone was asking what is wrong with the whole shebang. 

    When the main thrust of an offense is based on running the ball, 83 yards and a 2.4 average can be unsettling. Their next effort required a correction of those statistics. 

    The Jaguars will admit the Texans pulled it off to the tune of 216 yards and a 4.5 average. Most of the gains were behind the interior of the line, a welcome change over the Miami game. There were no sacks allowed as well, as Matt Schaub kept his passes short and took few shots downfield. 

    The most interesting development in Week 2 was the rotation of Ben Jones and Antoine Caldwell at right guard. Caldwell is now getting the bulk of the snaps, but that could change later on. Derek Newton was up against Jaguars rookie Andre Branch, who was easier to handle than the Miami combo of Randy Starks and Jared Odrick. 

    Rookie RG Brandon Brooks has been inactive so far, an indication he needs more time to adapt to the pros, unless Caldwell or Jones is injured, at which point he will have to learn the game under fire. 

Running Game Gets Going

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    There is not a running back around who can get his yards without some blocking upfront. At least that was the story in the first game versus Miami. 

    Foster looked like the Arian of previous years when the holes started appearing in the Jaguars defense. Sports talk in Houston is rife with the “Get him a pork chop” calls, but it is still too early to judge the impact of his conversion to veganism. A few more outings like his Jacksonville outburst of 110 yards, and that sort of blather should die down. 

    Ben Tate had his own reversal last week with a 5.8 yard-per-carry average, and he looked more elusive than ever. Some room to run can make all the difference. 

    The passing game is where these two really need to start pitching in. Foster is so far off his pace of 11.6 yards per reception that led NFL backs in 2011 that I'll keep the actual figure unrevealed. Tate is not the receiver Foster is supposed to be, but his 6.5 YPR is actually ahead of his well-paid running mate. 

    Justin Forsett looks like good change-of-pace substitute. Would the coaching staff risk him returning kicks if Holliday is relieved of the job? The answer is probably yes.

Passing Game Goes Short

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    If you never fall behind, passing seems like an unnecessary proposition. If there is no choice but to throw, then why gamble on putting the ball in low-completion or high-risk locations? 

    This has been the formula throughout these two 20-point wins. Out of Schaub’s 46 completed passes, only 12 have gone to wide receivers. It's a conservative strategy made possible by a cluster of turnovers in one game and a determined rushing attack in the other. 

    Gary Kubiak has hinted he is limiting Matt Schaub’s exposure to injury by not calling any long, drawn-out pass routes. Coach will have to air it out eventually, but only when circumstances demand it.   

    The pass rush of Denver did not put much heat on Matt Ryan in their 27-21 Monday night loss to Atlanta. The Broncos have lost some of their mile-high mojo the last two years, going just 7-9 at home. 

    The Falcons were held to 67 yards on 28 rushes, so their run defense is no pushover. If the Texans revert to their form against the Dolphins, and the defense is unable to deliver the field position they did that day, then the thin air of Invesco Field will aid the Texans when they need to strike deep.

Special-Teams Anxiety

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    Every kick return by Trindon Holliday is accompanied by the same question: Will he break a long run or will he bobble another one? Through two games he has done both, mostly helping the Texans cause and not hurting it much. 

    His 36-yard punt return set up the first touchdown last Sunday, but he did not communicate with Glover Quin on a later punt that glanced off the safety’s helmet and out of bounds. The mistakes Holliday makes are the kind coaches can only put up with for so long. 

    Jacoby Jones, the previous holder of this position, made one too many of these mistakes and had to change his address to Baltimore. At least he was 6’3” and could grab a pass now and then. 

    With Holliday’s stature, it would be hard for the quarterback to even spot him amidst the traffic on the field. He has the job for the foreseeable future, or until his uncertain hands do more damage than his speed. 

    The coverage teams are just a problematic, allowing one punt return for a TD and ranking 29th at 21.6 yards per return. That is closer to a kickoff-return average. Every game, there is at least one coverage gaffe where the center of the field is wide enough for a Peterbilt 587 semi to charge through. 

    Some do not believe special teams are one-third of the game, an old coaches maxim. But everyone agrees when things go wrong in the kicking game, it can undo all the hard work done by the offense and defense.