7 Bold Predictions for Houston Texans' Week 6 Matchup
It is hard to argue that Matt Schaub’s tendency for self-destruction has spelled the difference between winning and losing this season. He started off the first game against the San Diego Chargers with an interception, and did the same versus the San Francisco 49ers in the last.
It was the fourth consecutive game in which Schaub had an interception returned for a touchdown. This dubious record, in addition to their 2-3 win-loss mark, threatens to undermine the confidence of everyone in the organization.
Virtually every other statistical measure up to this point would seem to indicate a winning campaign for the Texans. They have outgained the opposition in every game, and have won the time of possession battle by an average of almost three minutes per contest.
According to Team Rankings, Houston leads the league in opponent yards per game with 260.2 yards allowed. The New York Jets rank second with 299 yards per game, a margin of 38 yards in the Texans’ favor.
None of these advantages have shown up on the scoreboard, largely due to the misplaced generosity of the starting quarterback. Any possibility that T.J. Yates would take over for Schaub were quashed by Gary Kubiak in a post-practice news conference on Wednesday.
So for the time being, it’s do or die with the usual guy. While that display of loyalty by the head coach was expected, here are some other observations that are not quite as predictable.
It Is Not Too Late to Turn This Around
A team finds itself leading the NFL in defense, as in yards allowed, but has an underachieving 2-3 record. Its quarterback played terribly in the last game, throwing three interceptions and leading the offense to just a field goal.
Yeah, yeah, we all know how crappy Schaub played against the 49ers. But we are not talking about Houston at all.
This same scenario refers to the 2008 Baltimore Ravens. In their fifth game that season, the Ravens lost to the Indianapolis Colts 31-3. Three picks were thrown by Joe Flacco, one on the third play of the game, but they did not include any pick-six plays.
The similarities between Houston and Baltimore are limited, to be sure. The quarterback and his head coach, John Harbaugh, were both in their first seasons with the team. The team had only been outscored by nine points, unlike the 46-point gap of the Texans.
But at this juncture you look for any inspiration that can be had. The Ravens went 9-2 the rest of the way, made the playoffs and advanced to the AFC Championship Game. They lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who ended up beating the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.
Is there any possibility for another turnaround of this magnitude? Who knows? But if it happened before, it could happen again.
Schaub Will Not Extend His Pick-Six Record
As of publication, Bovada has posted odds on another pick-six in Week 6 as +400, per Bovada. This means the chances are 4-1 the Master of Disaster does it again.
Any betting action was contingent on Schaub starting the game. We know now there is no doubt who will be behind center for the first series against the Rams.
Perhaps the touts in Las Vegas failed to realize something significant changed on Wednesday. The Houston Texans tweeted Owen Daniels has been placed on injured reserve, depriving Schaub of his second-favorite target.
Daniels happened to be the intended receiver on two of the four interception returns. For all we know, the oddsmakers may have taken this into account and doubled the odds.
Any action on 2-1 would be slow, placing the current money line fairly close to where it started before the Daniels announcement. There is still plenty of time before Sunday, so the number could receive a bump.
It did not seem likely Kubiak would call any turnaround routes in the flat last week. Then the first passing play happened to be exactly that. Is he stubborn enough to keep trying until they make it work? He can't be that pigheaded, right?
Texans Offensive Line Will Reassert Itself
It is easy to beat up on the quarterback when his errors are so obvious, and his senses so oblivious.
Nevertheless, he is part of a team. And on this team, his blockers have been a combination of beat up and just plain beaten.
Left guard Wade Smith has been fighting a knee problem since training camp. Left tackle Duane Brown told CSN Houston that he suffered turf toe in Week 2 after Smith accidentally mashed it. Right guard Brandon Brooks has a toe issue of his own and is questionable for the Rams game after missing the 49ers debacle.
Then we have Derek Newton, who continues to be a liability regardless of health. Pro Football Focus (subscription required for Premium Stats) ranks him as the worst pass-blocker at his position in the entire league. His availability is listed as probable despite his bothersome knee.
St. Louis is a good team to face if you want to put up some healthy offensive numbers. They are not very good defending the pass and even worse at stopping the run. After looking like a defense on the rise in 2012, their rankings in every area are now near the bottom of the league.
That also goes for what was a formidable pass rush that led the NFL in sacks last season. Defensive end Robert Quinn has managed to maintain his edge in 2013 while the rest of the unit has fallen into mediocrity. Quinn will be matched against Duane Brown, who needs to regain his All-Pro form from 2012.
If the Texans cannot turn the yards into points this week, they might want to consider how to slot themselves for the best quarterback draft of the new millennium.
Houston Will Continue as No. 1 NFL Defense
It is hard to imagine how a defense can allow just 134 passing yards per game in this day and age, but that is what the Texans have been able to pull off after five weeks.
Bradford’s efforts are just about all the offense his team can generate. St. Louis is averaging just 66 rushing yards per game and yet to record a touchdown on the ground.
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is still trying to figure out something more than 6.8 yards per reception out of No. 1 draft pick Tavon Austin. Tight end Jared Cook along with wide receivers Austin Pettis and Chris Givens have been the main beneficiaries of the upgrade in the passing attack.
While Bradford has not fulfilled his promise as the first overall pick in 2010, he has managed to keep his interception percentage low while playing for some pretty bad teams. Houston needs to work over an offensive line that has already given up 13 sacks and have that translate into some picks of their own.
No one gets very far in this league with a negative turnover differential, even if they win the yardage battle every week.
The Garrett Graham Era Begins
Now that Owen Daniels is sidelined, his successor can start to be groomed for his future role.
As a pure receiver, Daniels is one of the best tight ends in the business. But he is also expensive, with a salary cap hit of $5.75 million this year and $6.25 million in 2014, according to Spotrac.com.
General manager Rick Smith is going to need some wiggle room to re-sign J.J. Watt and continue to pay Johnathan Joseph his eight-figure compensation through 2015. Daniels will turn 32 before the end of his present deal, and he may have to be sacrificed to retain the best players on the defense.
Graham is, in many ways, a carbon copy of his fellow Wisconsin alumnus. He is a good route runner, a slightly better blocker and a sure thing in the red zone. His three touchdowns on just 15 receptions demonstrates his value in the short end of the field.
For Graham to ascend to the top of the depth chart, someone has to fill his spot as the No. 2 man. The Texans love to run two-tight end sets, so rookie Ryan Griffin now has his shot at more playing time and targets.
Daniels will be back for the stretch run, which will hopefully include a shot at the postseason. But he could find himself in a competition to get his old spot back.
Lestar Jean Is Approaching His Last Stand
If there is an NFL equivalent of the Witness Protection Program, then Jean must be in it. After being a fixture during the preseason, he has effectively disappeared.
His three touchdowns led the team in the exhibition games, but he did bobble some passes on occasion. And he seemed unable to follow the ball into his hands. And he would often take off before securing the rock.
Yes, there were some glaring holes in his game. The same can be said for Keshawn Martin, who has had nine targets and six catches during the regular season. Jean has just one target to show for his 28 snaps.
Whenever any wide receiver other than Andre Johnson is the subject, the matter of “trust” always arises. Why should Matt Schaub fool around trying to get the ball in the hands of anyone else?
Everyone knows the answer to that question now. Tramaine Brock of the San Francisco 49ers knew when Martin was paired with Johnson, the pass had to be going to No. 80. Maybe Martin did a poor job of selling his route, but the reliance on Johnson proved fatal.
Now the game plan should be how to get more receivers down field to stretch the defense, to open up the seams a little more. Martin will continue to be the third receiver behind Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins, with DeVier Posey continuing to work his way back from the torn Achilles tendon.
This means Jean will remain inactive most of the time, barring injury. That tantalizing glimpse of hits and misses in the preseason was just an illusion, and we are not likely to see his loping gait on the field anytime soon.
Mr. Johnson Will Play Nice with Mr. Finnegan
The Houston Texans have their share of run-ins with the league’s dirtiest players. But none was more famous than the Johnson-Finnegan slugfest in 2010.
Finnegan may well deserve his place among the top five dirtiest players, but both teams are at a precarious point in the season. Each is trying to get their record to .500 and cannot afford any ejections or suspensions.
The Texans were headed nowhere that season and Johnson took out his frustrations by whaling on Finnegan’s noggin. This is an entirely different situation and there can be no allowance for any personal quarrels.
Then again, if any two players could be mic’d up this Sunday, this would be the peoples’ choice.