The Texans used a 21-3 halftime lead to control the proceedings in the second half. Their defense had difficulty keeping players in the game and gave many defenders their first real baptism under fire. The Titans ended up outgaining the Texans 354 to 332 yards but lost the time of possession battle and ultimately the game.
Matt Schaub — B+
The first half belonged to Schaub with his two touchdowns and 124.7 passer rating. The second half belonged the defense and the just-good-enough rushing attack.
The first score to Lestar Jean out of a five-receiver set spread the field perfectly. Schaub hit Jean just as he came out of his break. The first broken tackle by Jean left no one to stop him on his jaunt to the end zone.
The second showed how throwing out of a running formation leaves the field open to either side of the formation. It also illustrated how the Texans’ QB is more than adept at taking what the defense gives him.
He does not have the arm to throw frozen ropes into tight coverage. But he does have the skill to get the ball where it needs to go.
Arian Foster— C
There was a time, not too long ago, when Arian Foster could claim to be the best running back in the NFL. That is now a fantasy, even though he is the top fantasy player of the football variety.
The offensive line and the problems on its right side were given as the reason why his production has dropped. In the last five games, Justin Forsett has run behind the same horses for a superior average.
Foster has taken to waiting for a gap in the line to make his cut. Too often, the linebackers are there to fill the hole before he can make his move. If he were running behind the same line as last year, maybe the results would be different.
But 14 carries for 38 yards is not just below par, it is beyond belief he has fallen this far. Could it be he is already suffering from being overused? The next few weeks will tell the tale.
Ben Tate — B
After recovering from his hamstring injury, it makes sense to gradually work him back into the rotation. Limiting him to three carries is the best approach to returning him to his status as the No. 2 back.
Justin Forsett — B+
The change-of-pace aspect to the style of Forsett could explain why he has been outperforming Foster over the last four games. For the first time, he had as many attempts as Arian, and gained 64 yards for a 4.6 average.
For the Texans to have three capable runners is a surplus of riches most teams would envy. It is good to see the coaching staff recognizes this and is spreading the workload more evenly.
James Casey— B+
Casey caught just one pass, and for a touchdown to boot. But his impact on the offense goes further than numbers.
Many times, the defense cannot be sure if he will lead block for the runner or make himself a receiving target. The receiver deception worked on his TD reception, and the blocking confusion on the bulk of the running plays. This makes him as versatile as any fullback in the league.
Andre Johnson— B
With only five receptions this week, no one is fooled into thinking Andre has lost his newly found edge.
The Titans still had to have two defenders eyeing him on most every play. In fact, the double coverage he drew on Jean touchdown made the whole thing possible. And you can be sure he was glad to do it.
Consider it some time off to get ready for another showcase game against the Patriots in their next contest.
Kevin Walter— B+
Walter caught four of his five targets, including an 18-yard grab to extend a clock-eating drive in the fourth quarter. Equally impressive was his switch to tight end on the Casey touchdown.
His block on DE Derrick Morgan freed up Casey to the outside and into the end zone for the score. When those in the know say Walter is valued for this ability as much as his hands, this is one of those plays that proves it.
Keshawn Martin— C
He whiffed on his only two targets, one of which was not “catchable.” The passing game was on and off for the Texans today, and mostly off for this rookie wideout.
Lestar Jean— B
It was just one catch, but what a catch it was. That it turned into a score was as much fortune as fortitude. It took a missed tackle by Ryan Mouton to make it so.
Success is often taking what is given you and turning it into something special. For one play in this game, Jean did just that.
Owen Daniels — B+
Everyone know this tight end is actually the second receiver for this team, but most games he does a better job getting the ball in his hands.
Only three catches out of 10 targets is an off day for him. Matt Schaub continued to try and get him involved, but he often draws as much double coverage as Andre Johnson. All part of the job, to be sure, so expect him to be targeted just as often when the Texans travel to New England.
Garrett Graham — Inc.
He went out of the game in the second half with what was described as a head injury. He has been a great addition as the season has transpired, and will hopefully be ready for the Patriots.
Duane Brown — A
A touchdown right over his man and a clean jersey for Matt Schaub moves Brown to the head of the class. He also managed to make Kamerion Wimbley virtually disappear from the game.
You expect this every week from one the best LTs in the game and he always delivers.
Ryan Harris — B+
He filled in for the injured Derek Newton and showed that his time in Denver learning the zone-blocking scheme is invaluable. If there is any deficiency in his technique, he shows more ability blocking to the outside than the inside.
That would make him something off a finesse guy, which is not necessarily a drawback for this scheme.
Chris Myers — B+
On the one hand, the O-line did not give up a sack. On the other, they rushed for a poor average and fill-in MLB Tim Shaw had eight tackles.
So Myers called a good game for the rest of his line mates, but could not handle his man at the second level. The Texans do not always run the ball right behind him, but he is responsible for taking the line in the right direction.
Wade Smith — B
He did receive a holding call, but most of the running plays went to his side. Jurrell Casey did not give him a hard time, but did manage five tackles from his DT position.
Guard play is part of the reason the running game is not flourishing, and Smith draws some of the responsibility for that.
Ben Jones — B
Jones had virtually the same game as Wade Smith. With a holding call of his own and his man Sen’Derrick Marks also getting five tackles, he earns the same mark.
J.J. Watt— A
Five solo tackles (three for losses), a sack and two tipped passes reads like the standard Watt stat line. Which not only makes him great but totally dependable.
If I heard correctly in the postgame coverage, he is the first defensive player to have 15 sacks and 15 passes defensed. If there was any doubt he is one off a kind, that should be dismissed by now.
Antonio Smith— B+
With one sack recorded and another taken away by a penalty he did not commit, Smith should be getting much of the attention that goes to Watt.
The two DEs for the Texans flip-flop sides so much, the offensive line cannot be sure who is coming from what direction. Which makes the presence of one essential for the other. They are bookends that feed off each other.
Jared Crick— B
When the nose tackle is pulled on passing downs, or Watt/Smith needs a rest, in comes Crick. The quickness he brings makes up for his lack of brute strength.
He did manage to push C Fernando Velasco and RG Leroy Harris back into QB Jake Locker on a couple of occasions. In the end, it does not matter where his skills lie as long as he gets into the backfield.
Shaun Cody/Earl Mitchell— B+
It is good to have Cody back so that Mitchell can get a more reasonable number of snaps. The NT is a sacrificial lamb for this defense, which is too much for a single player to handle.
Cody tipped the pass that turned into the Tim Dobbins interception, which gets the position its “plus.”
Connor Barwin— C
Barwin was forced to switch to the strong-side ILB position to replace Brooks Reed. It did not benefit his negotiating position when his contract is up after the season.
There is more traffic on this side of the formation, and he found it almost impossible to get back to the middle if the play took him outside. His pass rushing chances are also reduced in all that chaos.
Whitney Mercilus— A-
Mercilus was just that, with pair each of sacks and tackles for loss. His performance also makes Barwin look expendable.
If he is able to maintain this level, fans will be asking how he lasted until the 26th pick. A Watt-like question, but one that should have an interesting answer.
Barrett Ruud— B
Ruud looked unable to handle his primary duty early in the game, which is to stop the inside run. After the Texans were gashed by Chris Johnson early in the game, he was sent to the sidelines.
He came back to help hold Johnson to 25 yards after that point. Throw in a sack and it looks as if he is ready to fill in whenever the need arises.
Tim Dobbins— B+
Dobbins was in and out of the lineup, probably to protect his ailing shoulder. When he was in, his impact was evident.
He closed off the middle of the field to the running game, recovered a fumble, and kept Jake Locker from using TE Jared Cook as his go-to receiver. He was also in just the right position to grab an INT that put Houston in point-blank range for their third TD.
Darryl Sharpton — B
Sharpton did not start the game due to unknown causes. That did not prevent him from being a factor when he hit the field.
He traded playing time with Ruud and Dobbins, but proved a liability in coverage. Locker picked on him enough that he grabbed an interception, but it was taken away by offsetting penalties. It looks as if he will need some more time to get back into proper game shape.
Kareem Jackson— C
It is hard to know which Kareem you will get each week. Will it be the one that shut down Calvin Johnson or the one that got burned by Kenny Britt for a touchdown?
Without Johnathan Joseph around, he draws the toughest receiver. For the Titans, that happens to be a healthy Britt. Next week, he will have to face Wes Welker or Brandon Lloyd depending on the health of Joseph.
Houston will need the Jackson from Thanksgiving Day to win in Foxboro.
Brice McCain— Inc.
He was playing his best game of the season before an injury sent him to the sidelines. His rapid return to the lineup is questionable now that he is getting around on crutches.
Brandon Harris— C-
Harris may have led the Texans with six tackles, but that was because Jake Locker decided he was the weakest link in the secondary.
He was targeted six times for 84 yards and three penalties in the process. His introduction to covering NFL receivers was rougher than a bachelor party in Tijuana. If he has to face Tom Brady next week, look out.
Roc Carmichael— C+
Carmichael looked like an easy touch, but he was only targeted five times for 28 yards. He expertly defended a couple of passes, but he could have had just as tough a game as Harris under similar conditions.
Cornerback is one the toughest jobs in football, mostly because of the pass-crazed times in which we live. Hopefully, Roc and Brandon will survive to fight another day.
Danieal Manning— B+
Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains loved putting the 6’4” Jared Cook up against the 5’11” Manning. Cook took full advantage of the height difference as he caught three of his four passes on the Texans’ free safety.
But Cook was targeted 12 times, so Manning and Glover Quin foiled most of his efforts. Looking ahead to the Patriots game, they will not have to contend with Rob Gronkowski. But a trio of other New England tight ends await them.
Glover Quin— B+
Quin shares his grade with Manning because they trade coverage responsibilities depending on the situation. As a strong safety, Quin has to back up the run in the box while Manning plays back as insurance against the deep pass.
Keshawn Martin— B+
Martin is proving to be the low-risk punt returner Houston thought they had found in Trindon Holliday. No matter how Holliday pans out with the Denver Broncos, the Texans have to be pleased with the 16.8 yard average Martin gained on his four returns.
Donnie Jones— A
Due to the lack of offensive yardage in the second half, Jones had to punt a total of 10 times. His 48.8 average was first-rate, and he managed to place five of those kicks inside the twenty-yard line.
There are punters that have a higher net average than Jones’ 40.2, but he excels at pinning the opponent deep in their own territory.
Shayne Graham— B
The Houston placekicker made his second field goal over 50 yards or over for the season. Now he is 2-5 from that range. He did mange to put three of his five kickoffs in the end zone.
Gary Kubiak— B
The moment you want to credit Gary Kubiak as a top-notch strategist, his offense lays an egg. They gained just over 100 yards in the second half, and had to rely on the defense to put his one away.
Much of that is due to execution, along with a lead big enough to make his play calling risk-averse. For an offensive system that relies on running the ball, the lack of reliability in this critical area makes you wonder how they will fare when the stakes rise in the postseason.
The defense made as many mistakes as they did big plays. On a long-term basis, it is not possible for one to completely offset the other. If the numerous injuries are considered, Wade Phillips and his players did an exceptional job. When the quality of the opposition is accounted for, their accomplishments in this game look less impressive.
How this team prepares for the New England Patriots will depend as much on the injury report as anything else. How they respond based on their victory over the Tennessee Titans is still a question mark.