Toppling the Texans: A Blueprint to Beat the NFL's Best Team
Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRE
The Houston Texans are not unbeatable.
I mean it.
For all the dominance they've displayed by carpet-bombing their first four games, the Texans are not a team without flaws. They have had the early good fortune of playing three of the worst teams in football and by annihilating the Jaguars, Dolphins and Titans, they've proved they are elite.
But they are not invincible.
So can it be done?
Absolutely it can, and here's how a good team will pull it off.
Be a Complete Team
Houston has played three team teams with serious deficiencies early in the season. Miami has a suspect offense. The Jaguars do too. The Titans field the worst defense in football.
None of them stood a chance.
The Texans have a very good offense to complement a defense that is playing as well as anyone in football. They've reached the point where they are nearly "upset proof," because they can always dominate in two ways. Lesser teams like, say, all their division rivals, need not apply.
Stopping Andre Johnson Is Job One
The Titans had to know this going into the game in Week 4, but still gave up two huge plays to him on the first two plays from scrimmage.
How did they screw this up? On the first play, the officials missed an offensive pass interference call on Kevin Walter.
On the second play, the linebacker bit on a play-action fake, giving Matt Schaub a perfect lane to toss to Johnson.
Once the Titans locked Johnson down in the middle of the game, the Houston offense stalled.
For all the talk about Houston being a run-first team, all teams are ultimately driven by the pass. It doesn't matter if Houston goes on long, run-heavy drives. That only serves to slow down the rate with which they score.
Even going so far as to ignore the run to make sure Johnson doesn't make big plays will keep a defense close.
Don't Make Stupid Mistakes
Denver, unlike the other three cupcakes on the Houston slate, is a good team, and the Texans still whipped them silly.
The Texans are too good and too smart to be beaten by a sloppy team. To beat a team this efficient requires a sharp, disciplined performance.
Run up the Middle
Houston has been soft on the run up the middle and to the right all year, and the Titans exploited that weakness to a degree.
The problem was that they started out in a 14-0 hole, then lost their starting quarterback, which makes it difficult to win.
Of all the weaknesses a team could have, being bad against the run is by far the least important or troubling. It's far more important to be a dominant pass-rushing team, which the Texans are.
Still, if a team is good enough to hang with the Texans, they ought to be able to exploit this vulnerability.
Burn the Blitz
The one major advantage the Texans have played with this year is a slate of quarterbacks who were unable to throw deep on them. With Peyton Manning's trick arm acting up for most of the Denver game, he was unable to exploit single coverage down field.
Likewise, the injury to Jake Locker killed the Titans' deep passing game. As for Ryan Tannehill and Blaine Gabbert, neither of them were a threat.
Houston loves to bring extra men, and it's going to take a healthy, smart quarterback to beat them on it.
To date, they have yet to play anyone who meets both of those standards.
The Texans are an outstanding team off to a strong start. They've been helped by a Charmin-soft schedule, but did what elite teams do and obliterated their opponents. Their margin of victory should silence any doubts as to their legitimacy.
While their opponents' obvious flaws don't detract from what the Texans have accomplished, they also don't serve as evidence that Houston is unbeatable.
Houston will play its fair share of tight close games in 2012, and it will probably lose a few of them because every team eventually does.
The way they are playing now, however, it's going to take someone's best effort to knock them off.
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