The Houston Texans have held on to defeat the Denver Broncos 31-25. After building the lead to the same twenty points they beat Miami and Jacksonville, a fumble by Ben Tate at midfield shifted the momentum to the home team.
Peyton Manning was in comeback form as he threw two fourth quarter touchdowns to get the Broncos within striking distance with three minutes to go. The Texans got a crucial first down on their final drive to run the clock to just 33 seconds remaining in the game. Not enough time for even the Manning magic to bring Denver all the way back.
The ranks of the Matt Schaub doubters took a big hit today. Almost as big as the one Joe Mays put on the Houston QB in the third quarter.
If the intention of Mays was to put No. 8 out of the game, it worked. Except the duration of its effect was just one play and the cost was a fifteen-yard penalty on Von Miller, the wrong perpetrator.
The laceration on his forehead and the chunk out his earlobe were not wounds, but badges of honor. The defenders of Schaub have always seemed outnumbered. The three touchdowns before the blow were impossible to discount, but two were over the outmatched CB Tracy Porter.
If any doubts lingered, the score by Owen Daniels to account for the Texans final points should have silenced them. The terms “toughness” and “leadership” have rarely been associated with the name of Houston’s most important offensive component.
To recap his stat line for the game, he was 17 of 30 for 290 yards, 4 TDs, and a 115.3 rating. Today constitutes his best performance as a member of this organization to date.
Running Backs: B
Somehow, when Arian Foster looks like the player who led the league in rushing two years ago, I feel better about the entire position. That is, unless he starts to slip back into mediocrity.
During the first quarter, Foster strung together a series of runs that helped put the Texans up 14-5. Early on, he had 41 yards on just three attempts. Then he ends up with 105 yards on 25 carries.
All-World Arian is averaging 3.5 yards per carry for the season. Too many “twos and fews” is the way Richard Pryor once put it.
Ben Tate followed up the 12 rushes for 74 yards he put up against the Jaguars with 8 for 26 and a fumble. A case of dropsy that shifted the momentum towards the home team and nearly derailed the Texans train to a 3-0 record.
It took a 21-yard end-around by Keshawn Martin to bring the average for the group up to 4.5 yards. I was looking forward to a game where offense would loosen up and go deep a bit. That wish was answered.
Now how about a game where both the backs and the receivers have something to brag about?
Offensive Line: B
Start out giving up a safety on the first play of the game. Have the substitute refs call three false starts on you. Then give up a sack that almost decapitates your QB. Futility, thy jersey bears the name “Newton.”
Joe Mays got the roughing the passer call penalty, but DT Mitch Unrein stunted around Derek Newton to setup Schaub for the blow. OL Coach John Benton deserves most of the blame for having no strong side help and the right tackle moving DT Derek Wolfe to the left.
But the Bronco’s defense had to know what was in Newton’s head by the third quarter. Gary Kubiak clearly understood that when he subbed Ryan Harris late in the game for starting RT. Just why he waited so long could be answered at Monday’s press conference.
That was the only sack given up the entire day, the team gained over 400 yards, and the Texans won for the first time in Denver. So what’s the problem?
The one player this team cannot do without is taking a huge amount of abuse when he goes back to pass. Stephanie Stradley, one of the more astute bloggers covering the team, noticed this going into the game. From her Houston Chronicle posting of 9/20/12: “What I noticed during the last game and upon further review is Matt Schaub wasn’t getting sacked, but was getting hit after most his throws.”
Check your DVR of the game and you will see her observations apply to this game as well.
The overall blocking, other than Newton and his string of foibles, was very good in the first half. The long scores to Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter gave Schaub the time to show his arm is not the limp noodle many accuse it of being.
The second half was not nearly as stellar. The only touchdown of depended on a leaping catch by a Lestar Jean. When it came time to run the clock down, they could have done a better job controlling the line of scrimmage. Schaub was 7 of 13 and under the gun much of the time.
Coming off the first two weeks, my biggest concern was about the Texans involved the long ball. Could they air it out if they had to, or even if they wanted to?
Then came a 60-yarder to the incomparable Andre Johnson, and a 52-yarder to the underestimated Kevin Walter. A fingertip grab caught by the underused Lestar Jean that lead to the Daniels TD. There were just 17 completions for the game, but they averaged 17.1 yards. Four total passing scores averaging 30 yards each.
Not much more to say but, “Answer received loud and clear.” And keep it up.
Good to see Keshawn Martin and Garrett Graham get some targets. The same holds for James Casey, even if they only amounted to 11 yards. Thor’s day will come if they just get him the ball.
Few worth noting, and all are debatable. Johnson had a touchdown slip through his fingers, but few receivers could have even gotten to the ball. Arian Foster had one reception for three yards. It just shows how loaded this team is that his missing catches have gone unnoticed.
Defensive Line: A+
If I ever get bored leading off with J.J. Watt and his eye-popping stats, then I should start covering polo or badminton.
Seven tackles, 2.5 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, 3 QB hits, made a nightmare of the day for Manny Ramirez of the Broncos. Over four decades of watching pro football, and another defensive lineman that has come so far so fast escapes me. When I can finally put him in some historical perspective, he will get an article of his own.
No tipped passes this week for Watt, as that honor was passed to Earl Mitchell. Only 59 rushing yards and a ton of pressure on Manning until the game turned a whiter shade of pale after the Tate fumble.
Then, all of a sudden the only interior pass rush came from Watt. Manning had enough time during the drive to their last TD to throw eleven passes and complete six. By that time, the altitude and the length of the game were starting to slow the DL down.
The switch to a dime defense during that drive is also explains part of the slowdown, as they used as few as three pass rushers at times.
Manning getting sacked by Watt on 2nd down during the final TD drive that forced the Broncos to go for it on fourth down. Antonio Smith missed out on any sack numbers, but he and J.J are devastating bookend partners. Earl Mitchell did more than just bat down balls. He was solid in the middle and is making it hard to see re-signing Shaun Cody as a necessity.
Being asked to compel one of the most pocket-aware quarterbacks of all time to lose his cool and make some sort of mistake with just three guys. That is not really on their shoulders, but is one of the more curious calls defensive coordinators tend to make. A trap even an old sage like Wade Phillips can fall into.
Three games into the season, three wins on the ledger, and the linebackers are just not lighting it up like 2011.
Brian Cushing is all over the field, stopping the run, rushing the passer, racking up the usual tackles. But the big plays are not happening for him or the rest of his associates.
Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed have a combined seven tackles and one sack to their names. That is for the season, mind you. Believe it not, Bradie James is a bit better with a whopping five tackles. He had one today for a loss, if that lights your fire.
The line and the secondary are logging most of the hits, and the linebackers just seem left out for some reason. If anyone out there had any insights, the comment section is awaiting your input.
If there were any high/lowlights, I would happily provide them. But nothing much stands out. It is worth noting that when some outside pass rush was needed during the Broncos comeback, Reed and Barwin could get close, but not enough to close the deal.
Defensive Backs: B+
If Derek Newton had an opposite number on the defense, that would be Brice McCain. Two holding calls, one TD given up to Brandon Stokely and one TD to Demaryius Thomas that was called out. He did have a tackle, though.
Johnathan Joseph and Glover Quin were there to save the day with five passes defended. Quintin Demps chipped in seven tackles to give the secondary almost half of the sixty total tackles for the day. When the QB you are facing puts up 52 passes, a busy day is what you get.
Joseph did the job on D. Thomas, the supposed big threat for Denver, holding him to three catches for 34 yards and no scores. Glover Quin and Danieal Manning were picked on somewhat, but Jacob Tamme got only three catches out of ten targets. Joel Dreesen did put a TD on the board on just two receptions. Not exactly a big game against your former team.
Outside of McCain’s indiscretions, Kareem Jackson had an interference call in the end zone that should have been called further up the field. Kareem was one of the main reasons why Eric Decker grabbed 8 balls for 136 yards. Jackson’s eight tackles do not balance out his account for the afternoon.
Special Teams: B+
During the game, I kept on trying to find something to talk about regarding special teams. That turned out to be a good thing compared to the previous weeks.
The kick coverage was finally up to the task as neither kickoffs nor punts amounted to any damage. Trindon Holliday watched most of the kickoffs sail over his head in the thin air. The lower density of the atmosphere assisted Donnie Jones and his 54-yard punting average.
An area of the game which provided no thrills or chills to speak of.
Gary Kubiak and the rest of the staff were on their way to an A++ grade, as if they had the same rating as AIG before the 2008 financial meltdown.
The Tate fumble flipped a switch the coaches could not turn off. The reception by Andre Johnson that sustained the drive in the last three minutes was huge. It may have saved the game and the hides of the men who call the plays.
The offense had lost its direction and the defense was backpedaling on every down. In particular, the trouble really started when Wade Phillips went dime during the Broncos final scoring drive. Too many DBs and not enough pass rushers gave Manning just enough time to run his progressions.
Sure, the coaches should not take the heat for holding and interference calls. The tipped pass Joel Dreesen caught for the touchdown was a fluke. How many games have been lost over the years by giving too much cushion to the receivers just to stop the deep threat?
The secondary cannot cover their responsibilities for more than about four seconds, after which anything goes. The difference between this defense and the one in 2010 is the pass rush. No one, especially the coaches, should ever forget that.
The deep throws to Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter were a breath of fresh air. Even better, they were fun to watch live and on replay.
The end-around to Keshawn Martin and the pass to Andre Johnson on third down on the last possession were unexpected wrinkles.
Getting too close to the edge of blowing this one. Did the clock run out or were the Texans granted some dispensation because they were the better team today? Who cares! Look out Titans, the Texans are coming back home to remind who took you place in the hearts of Houstonians.