The Houston Texans have a 4-0 mark as each week sets a new standard for this well-balanced team.
The offense helped the Texans take a 14-7 lead into halftime, and the defense joined in and returned two interceptions for touchdowns in the second half. Every time it looked as if the Titans might mount a drive, J.J. Watt, Danieal Manning or Kareem Jackson would bring Tennessee's momentum to a halt.
In 2011, Houston lost to the Titans in Reliant as they sat the starters to prepare for the playoffs. Instead of handing them a victory this time, they were handed a loss that was not as close as the final score.
Matt Schaub — A
The doubts about Mr. Schaub drift further away with each passing game. To take it a step further, even his passing is starting to become secondary to his leadership.
This leadership can manifest itself in various ways, some as spectacular as his return to the game just one play after taking a devastating hit. This week, it was more along the lines of the role he plays as the centerpiece of the offense.
The Texans are advertised as taking a run-first approach, which has worked in only two out of the four games this season. This inconsistency has been compensated for by the steady production of the Texans’ QB.
Back-to-back passes to Andre Johnson for 53 yards in the first series demonstrated there was no fear about what the Titans might do to stop them. That led directly to their first touchdown, and he did the same thing with James Casey for their second score.
Some Texans fans would sort of hold their nose if forced to admit that Schaub was the most indispensable offensive player. Their ranks are quickly dwindling into insignificance with every tally in the win column.
If they need any convincing, on the season he is now 63-of-96 for 751 yards, a 65.6 completion percentage, five touchdowns, one interception and a 102.4 rating.
Arian Foster — B
His 24 carries are too close to the 25 he had against Denver, and added up to a mere 86 yards. Another sub-4.0 average for a player that should have an average closer to 4.5 per carry.
The line is not to blame for this situation. The holes are there, but his cutback ability seems to have vanished. Too often, he runs into the defenders waiting for him instead of the opposite direction. What it will take to fix this is a mystery.
Ben Tate — C+
Foster's backup, Ben Tate is just as unpredictable as the starter. Up one game, then down the next as reflected in his five rushes for a measly 12 yards. The remedy for this flaw afflicting both players will have the lights burning late in the coaches’ offices this week.
James Casey — B+
Five receptions for 36 yards and a TD should be worth an A. But until the backs he is blocking for break loose, some of the rap falls on Thor.
Andre Johnson — B+
Johnson made his bones in the first three plays of the game, then only snatched one more ball out of four targets for three yards. It will take a closer look at the DVR to see if this grade is completely justified, but the numbers support it for now.
Kevin Walter — B
What could Walter do for an encore after the 52-yard TD in Denver that was the second-longest reception of his career? Fall back into obscurity seems to be the answer.
He did lay out some DBs with his stellar blocking skills, but receivers need to catch passes to look the part. One reception for eight yards is not a good look after his showing against the Broncos.
Keshawn Martin — B+
Martin made a great catch that kept the drive alive for the score that put the game clearly out of reach. With Lestar Jean out for a while longer, his contributions will be essential going forward.
DeVier Posey — Inc.
I kept waiting for his first time on the active roster to turn into a preview of his capabilities. If he made it into the game, his presence went undetected.
Owen Daniels — A
O.D. has been Schaub’s favorite pass catcher prior to today with 17 targets. He had six more targets that all turned into receptions and added his second TD of the season.
It’s a sign of the times that a tight end is the primary receiver on a winning team. The matchup problems against LBs and DBs are just too tempting to ignore.
Duane Brown — A
Backup DE Pannel Egboh had a couple of tackles, but Kamerion Wimberley went into the Witness Protection Program for the afternoon. Duane Brown can do that to you.
As a unit, the line gave up not a single sack on the day. Most of the line, particularly Brown, gets to share the glory.
Wade Smith — B+
Smith had his best game of the season, but the running backs failed to use his blocking to their benefit. The Texans could run to the left more often, but they risk becoming a little too predictable. Owen Daniels did position himself on that side of the line, though, to help confuse the coverage.
Chris Myers — B+
If their was another snafu similar to the blocking blunder that cost the Texans’ QB a chunk of his ear, it was not apparent this afternoon.
Starting MLB Colin McCarthy missed the game, so former teammate Zac Diles was on the other side of the line today. There was no time to reminisce as Myers kept Diles at bay for the majority of the game.
Ben Jones and Antoine Caldwell — B
This tandem adds up to one decent RG. Jones continued presence means not just depth for the position but a potential replacement if Caldwell does not get a new contact. The only mark against Jones was a declined holding call.
Caldwell was injured in the first half and did not return. His status was unknown prior to the posting of these grades.
Derek Newton — Inc.
Sorry, but I am going to have to wait for a snap count from Football Outsiders to see how much PT Newton had. As far as I can tell, it was next to nothing.
Ryan Harris — B+
The right side of the OL is heading towards a rotation system that is good for depth but limits the stability of the unit. Harris was once the best RT on the Broncos until injuries made him expendable. He has been a savvy pickup by GM Rick Smith and could supplant Newton as the season progresses.
J.J. Watt — A+
Every week Watt adds to his growing legend, if a second-year phenom can be said to have one. The Titans’ Michael Roos is a pretty good LT, and Steve Hutchinson played his best game of the year at LG. Locker had not been sacked in the last two games, but all that changed today as he went down four times.
In the end, J.J. could line up against Gene Upshaw and Art Shell and it might not matter. Look up his stat line from last week and it will closely resemble this week’s figures. No one is taking his excellence for granted, but is there a bad game in his future? Someday?
Because he is on a trajectory that only Lawrence Taylor and Reggie White have achieved in the last three decades.
Antonio Smith — B
Somebody has to take some of the heat for revitalizing Chris Johnson, and Smith is one of the guilty parties. He was battling a rather nasty RT in David Stewart, who was penalized three times. But without the interception returns, this could have been an unnecessarily tight game.
Shaun Cody — C+
Cody belongs in the same lineup as Smith because he got pushed around by one of the worst center/guard combos around. Fernando Velasco and Leroy Harris should not make an experienced vet like the starting NT for the Texans look like a rookie.
Earl Mitchell — B+
The backup NT has been playing better than Cody most of the season and today was just a repeat of previous games. Mitchell shows sideline-to-sideline ability that Cody lacks.
Connor Barwin — C
Here was Barwin’s shot at getting his inaugural sack of 2012, and he whiffed again. The chance to tee off on a one-dimensional offense and put a takedown in his stat column took another backwards step.
The coaches say he is playing well, but when you stake your reputation on sacks you need to deliver by the quarter mark of the schedule.
Brooks Reed — B
The opposite OLB is also in the hunt for some plays to hang his hat on. He had three tackles and a defended pass, but Peter King’s pick as Defensive MVP looks worse than premature. It looks like some prediction by a palm reader.
Bryan Braman — B+
Braman filled in for Mister Alexander and did not embarrass himself. The fans would like to see more of this madman ply his trade on the field.
Brian Cushing — B+
He gets the plus for the 10 tackles, but he is being graded on a curve due to Chris Johnson’s 141 yards for a 5.6 average. Cushing was bringing him down from behind too often as the Titans used his tendency to over-pursue at times.
Bradie James and Tim Dobbins — B
They share the same grade for the same reason. Good execution of their responsibilities, but too often being caught out of position and having to run down the aforementioned Mr. Johnson.
They also got jobbed by the Titans’ tight ends Craig Stevens and Jared Cook for half a dozen catches and a TD.
Johnathan Joseph — A
Joseph was going to draw either Nate Washington or Kendall Wright depending on the call, but both of their big catches were against Jackson or McCain. It was just another shutdown week for the defensive counterpart to Matt Schaub.
Kareem Jackson — B+
Peyton Manning can dish out more abuse than Jake Locker, and Kareem did not surrender eight receptions again like he did to Eric Decker of the Broncos.
He did give up a couple to Wright, but he read the interception returned for the TD by following Matt Hasselbeck’s eyes and body language—one of the biggest plays of Jackson’s controversial Texans’ career.
Brice McCain — B-
Could it get much worse than last week’s count of two holding calls and two touchdowns given up? OK, one TD was called out but it did not make the Texans nickel back look or feel any better.
He still had his problems this week, like the 25-yarder Washington caught over him. Could he be replacing Kareem as the secondary’s weakest link?
Danieal Manning — A
Manning's No.1 one mission is to keep the play in front of him. This time it put him in the perfect position to take a pass intended for TE Taylor Thompson to the end zone.
Add two defended passes and five tackles and it was a good day for the Texans’ free safety.
Glover Quin — A
Game after game, Quin is expected to range from drop-back safety to fill-the-gap run-stopper to situational pass-rusher. This week he was exceptional.
Six tackles backing up the run defense, a sack, a tackle for loss and a big QB hit. All in a day’s work completed by the most versatile member of the best unit in the league.
Trindon Holliday — B+
Fans are still awaiting a return along the line of his preseason feats; he is at least holding on to the ball and creating positive yardage and good field position.
Donnie Jones — B
The heavier air of Reliant Stadium had some effect on Jones’ distance, down from a 54-yard average to 43 yards. But four of his six punts were inside the 20 and forced the Titans offense to gamble its way into multiple turnovers.
Shayne Graham — B
At this rate, any clutch ability Graham may possess will not be displayed to the fans or coaches. If this were Randy Bulloch kicking instead of Graham, this question would be much more pressing.
Keep winning by 20 or more points, and the question may never come up.
Coaching — A
If the judgment is restricted to game-day strategy, then this grade is a true reflection of the final score. Dig a little deeper and only one issue seems to leap out: Why is this team unable to run the ball the way it has in the prior two seasons?
The obvious answer is the unsettled offensive line, a situation made more problematic by the injury suffered by Antoine Caldwell. The holes were there today, but Foster could not seem to make it through a lot of them. Ben Tate was only permitted five carries, a move that will do little to bolster his confidence.
The run defense showed some holes of its own, but to defeat the Texans this afternoon would have taken 250 or more yards to beat them into submission. That is not the typical formula for success in the NFL of the new millennium.
So both Kubiak and Phillips have something to think about as they prepare to face the New York Jets on Monday Night Football. The Jets lost 34-0 to the 49ers and cannot be looking forward to facing a team of similar quality next week. That should put Houston’s minor problems in a more favorable light.