As the Eagles prepare for a Thursday Night matchup with the Houston Texans, I was able to speak with some of the guys over at TexansBullBlog.com. We discussed the fight between Andre Johnson and Cortland Finnegan, the recent struggles of the Texans and where both teams will have an advantage on Thursday. As always, we end the interview with a prediction on the final outcome of the game.
I’d like to think Garrett over at Texans Bull Blog for providing such detailed responses to my questions.
BirdsFan: The biggest national headline involving the Texans right now is the fight involving Andre Johnson and Cortland Finnegan. Can you give us your reaction to what happened?
TexansBullBlog: As has been reported, neither Johnson nor Finnegan were suspended following the brawl. Both received hefty fines of $25,000 each, but both will be eligible to play in their respective teams games this week.
While much debate has sparked about how this should be handled by the league, the majority of the people around the Texans with knowledge of the two players' history feel like Johnson was right to get a “pass” based on his track record as a model player.
Finnegan, who was warned by the league of a potential suspension earlier in the year, is fined regularly for his behavior and was even quoted as saying he want’s to be known as the dirtiest player in the league.
His fine being of equal value, considering that he threw zero punches from his fetal position in the fight suggests that the league somewhat sides with Johnson on the subject. If nothing else, admitting that being a punk leprechaun is an equally fineable transgression.
Finnegan and Johnson have a history that mirrors that of the teams themselves. They don’t like each other. Last year in a brawl against the Titans, the Texans managed to come out on top 34-31, but not before a brawl took place on the Texans sideline. The brawl occurred in the fourth quarter, and eventually led to Titans tackle Jason Jones being ejected and the Texans' David Anderson being penalized.
There is much animosity surrounding the two teams. The Titans (formerly the Houston Oilers) move to Tennessee, leaving Houston teamless for five seasons, as well as Titans owner Bud Adams' handling of the departure. In the Texans' short history, the Titans/Texans games have developed into a legitimate rivalry often leading to scrums and scuffles.
The brawl last year was started after Andre Johnson was seen dragging Finnegan down by the face mask at the end of the play. Johnson, who is a very quiet person and is considered leaguewide to be one of the more respected and classy players to play the game, was pushed to his limits and reacted much like he did in this week's fight.
Johnson, not considered to be a dirty player in any way, is not typically a “trash talker” either. In an interview with CB Nnamdi Asomugha, the Raider corner talked about Johnson’s rattle-proof demeanor as well. Asomugha said that whenever he would try to get Johnson riled up, the quiet WR would rarely say anything at all. Johnson typically speaks with his play.
Historically, Johnson has had some of his best games against the Titans and Finnegan specifically. While the Titans were able to keep Johnson in front of them Sunday, he was still able to manage nine catches and a TD.
Whether or not Johnson was right or wrong to finally say, “I’ve had enough” and throw punches is eternally debatable. Depending on your stance on violence and honor, inevitably which team you root for you could see it either way.
Texans Bull Blog feels that Johnson’s standing as a model player and good citizen is reason enough to validate the league’s suspension-less punishment. The fact that Cortland Finnegan has a history as a dirty player, and considering that he’s already been warned by the league should only help to further admonish Johnson of any scrutiny.
The Texans travel to Nashville in three weeks to play for positioning in an AFC South division that has all four teams separated by only one game. All eyes will be on these two to see how they handle things.
BF: The Texans were 4-2 going into the bye week and are 1-4 after it. What has been the biggest difference? Is it all just the level of competition?
TBB: Trying to explain what it’s like to be a Texans fan is nearly impossible. While it’s likely not as sad as being a Bills fan, as lonely as being a Lions fan or as morbid as being a Raiders fan, it’s as heartbreaking as any fanbase in the history of the NFL.
A friend of mine called me up after we had mounted one of our many 21-point comebacks only to lose in the final seconds. He said to me, “Watching the Texans is so bizarre!” Bizarre to say the least Joey.
The Texans lost to the Colts coming out of their bye to begin a four-game skid after Gary Kubiak and his coaching staff inexplicably went away from a gameplan that proved perfect in a Week 1 victory against Indy.
The following week the Chargers came to Houston banged up beyond belief and lit the Texans up as their terrible defense began to worsen to what would eventually become historically bad over the next three weeks. The Chargers played lights out with backups starting at multiple skill positions, despite Houston out-performing them in most offensive categories.
The next week, the Texans' porous defense continued to bleed uncontrollably, allowing the Jaguars to gain 491 yards of offense while the Texans offense failed to put up enough points to out score their opponent. In the final seconds of the game, a Hail Mary pass was batted away by a Texans defender into the arms of a Jacksonville receiver standing at the end zone.
The next week against the Jets, the Texans made history as the only team in the history of the NFL to lose on the final play from scrimmage in consecutive weeks. The Jets needed to go 80-plus yards in less than a minute to win. They did. Both last second losses were not only a low point for the season, but low points for the regime and sadly, low points for the adolescent franchise’s history as well.
It’s a winded response because it’s near impossible to explain what has gone wrong and why. Most fans and pundits are pointing their fingers at Kubiak despite the fact that he continues to get his team to show up and fight week after heartbreaking week. And there is plenty of blame to got around.
The Texans fanbase has pretty much given up on Kubiak after his third consecutive season with a minimum four-game losing streak. In 2009 it was four consecutive losses to division opponents in late November and early December crippling a promising season. In 2008 it was five straight losses out of the gate. Should the Texans not recover from this slide and get into the playoffs, Kubiak will be as good as gone to the fans.
Kubiak is an offensive genius and much like Andre Johnson, a humble, loyal and quiet guy. Some would argue that Johnson’s quiet loyalty to the Texans has cost him championships. By the same token, Kubiak’s loyalty to his defensive coordinator may eventually cost him his job.
The Texans are an underachieving team to say the least. But it’s pretty clear that had the defense been anything less that historically bad this season, they would be in much better shape than they are. Until the shutout of the Titans on Sunday, the Texans have lost every game this year when they have failed to score a minimum of 30 points. Quite simply, the defense is killing this team.
At Texans Bull Blog we tend to focus on the individual performances that can have a profound effect on the out come of a team sport. The defense is failing on a team level that can’t be easily defined. Second year defensive coordinator Frank Bush managed to get the defense playing very sound football last season. This season, players who were performing at a high level haven’t shown up. It’s hard to understand what exactly has happened to them.
I’ve speculated that the Texans defensive woes might lessen as they head into the final third of the season. They face no elite level passers for the remainder of the season. Michael Vick is their only major hurdle at the QB position for the remainder of the season. The problem is, Vick is the highest hurdle in the league right now.
BF: Arian Foster has been an absolute monster this year. What will the Eagles defense need to do in order to slow him down?
TBB: The Texans run the purest form of the zone scheme in the NFL. Gary Kubiak and Mike Shanahan designed the scheme and many believe that Kubiak is the true mastermind behind the system. The run game struggled last year under zone guru, Alex Gibbs. Gibbs was free to go and Kubiak hired Rick Dennison to run the ground game. Dennison has implemented a blend of power and misdirection into the run game that has caused the Texans run game and Arian Foster to take off.
While Foster is a virtually unknown player to most, it’s a combination of the system being well coached and Foster’s excellent comprehension of the system itself as well as physical gifts that suit the system perfectly. When you watch Foster run you’ll find one trait to be very similar to another great running back in the NFL, Chris Johnson. Both are extremely patient runners.
When you watch them as they approach the line of scrimmage, it looks as if it’s happening in slow motion. Foster is the truest form of a “one cut” runner. He doesn’t have elite speed like Johnson has but in the zone system that may actually be an asset. His moderate speed allows for the gaps to develop. The great unknown with him for most defenses is his open field elusiveness. A-typical attributes combining to make him very difficult to tackle.
One of the problems that the Eagles defense will face when trying to stop the Texans run game is its flexibility. If the down linemen attack the zone and shoot the gaps to collapse the cutback lanes, the Texans will be able to counter with power plays that expose the defenses aggressive approach.
A pulling guard heading against the flow of a defense shooting the gaps can leave the Eagles defense out of position and scrambling to adjust. Should the Eagles choose to read and react they are vulnerable to the zone system, and the interior linemen getting to the second level, matching up on the Philly linebackers. This would allow Foster to have a field day picking his cutback lanes and running to daylight.
As best I can tell, the only system proven to stop Arian Foster and the Texans run game has been the one they’ve got down here in Texas.
Gary Kubiak’s unwillingness to let Foster run the ball at times has been the only real reason he has been contained. In Week 4 against Oakland, Foster was benched to start the game. After entering the game halfway through the second quarter he still managed to rush for 133 yards on only 17 carries.
If the Eagles can get out in front by a few scores, history shows that Kubiak has a tendency to abandon the run game for a more "up tempo" offense that most of the league calls "passing."
BF: Heading into Thursday’s game, the Texans defense ranks second to last against the pass. What will they do to try to contain Michael Vick and his explosive receivers?
TBB: This is the scariest question I can imagine. I’d be lying if I said I thought it was going to end well for the Texans. While the Texans D managed to shut out the Titans on Sunday, Mike Vick is no Rusty Smith.
The Texans biggest issues against the pass are:
1. Lack of Pressure: Make no mistake about it, Antonio Smith is the Texans best pass rusher, not Mario Williams. While Mario can be dominant at times, he has been hobbled by a groin issue this season and his own motor at times as well. Antonio Smith is a relentless nuisance. But there isn’t enough talent across the front to apply consistent pressure on any QB, much less, one of Vick’s mobility.
2. Lack of Athleticism: The LB’s (other than Brian Cushing) aren’t athletic enough to be a threat as blitzers and Frank Bush’s system is notoriously telegraphed.
3. Inexperience: The CB’s are young and inexperienced. Don’t expect them to be asked to do much of anything other than “don’t give up the big one.” At times, it’s that conservative mentality that has caused them problems.
They are playing too far off the receivers or using bad technique when playing up. It’s baffling to watch. In Philly, you’ve probably noticed similar issues. On a 3rd-and-5 the Texans will dial up a blitz and the secondary will be playing 8-10 yards off. It’s an easy read for any QB other than Rusty Smith.
Michael Vick should have a field day against this secondary. It’s possible that the Texans may attempt to “force” Vick to run where they will feel they have a better chance against him. Crazy. I think we all know how that will turn out. Expect a conservative approach from the Texans as they try to outscore the Eagles.
BF: At 5-6, the Texans are still in the race to win their division. Do you see them making a run at the division title and the playoffs?
TBB: Well, that’s probably up to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Texans are only one game out of first place in the AFC South. Much like last season, the Texans will probably need to win out in order to have a chance. They will need to compete for a division title. A Wild Card does not appear to be a realistic option for the AFC South. The Texans have two hard matchups ahead with games against Philly and Baltimore in back-to-back weeks. They’ll likely need to split those at the very least and win out to have a chance.
In that scenario they will likely be looking for Indianapolis to slip up with a cushy remaining schedule.
It’s not likely that all the factors play out in the Texans' favor. Last year it was even more unlikely and they were still in it until the final game of the regular season when the Bengals laid down against the Jets to prepare for a playoff game.
All things considered, the Texans making it into the playoffs does not seem likely.
BF: On Thursday, where will the Texans have an advantage on offense? On defense?
TBB: On offense the Texans have an elite run game and passing game. With Andre Johnson being granted clemency, they will have all their ammunition to attack a suspect Eagle secondary. The Philly secondary reminds me of the Texans secondary. I don’t mean that as an insult but it is what it is. They appear to have similar technical issues with positioning and decision making. The Texans should be able to exploit the secondary should they decide not to run for some reason. But will it be enough?
Defensively, it would appear that the Texans do not match up well. They are banged up at LB with starting MLB Demeco Ryans out for the year with an Achilles injury. Should Mario Williams show up to play, an effective pass rush will be the Texans' only chance to stop the Eagles and give the woeful secondary a chance to survive.
The secondary is not very athletic despite repeated attempts to get better at that position. While the Texans are decent against the run, if things go badly in the passing game, it can implode on all levels for this shell-shocked D. Williams, Smith and Cushing are all above average to great run defenders who at times have underperformed. McCoy, my new favorite non-Texan, could make things messy.
BF: Where will the Eagles have an advantage on offense? On defense?
TBB: Vick should have a field day against the Texans' weakest link, the entire defense. Specifically, the Texans are suspect with their LB’s in coverage over the middle and in the deep cover 2 zones. Terrible safety play combined with bad CB technique should be enough for Vick to sit comfortably all night. Give the wheels the night off.
The Texans can succeed on offense when they have time. If the Eagles can get pressure on Schaub with creative blitzes, they should be able to rattle the rhythm-based Texans offense.
Historically the Texans have not played well against 3-4 schemes, but that seems to be shifting. Specifically, LT Duane Brown and RT Eric Winston both can have mental lapses at in opportune times as pass protection can break down on the edges. C Chris Meyers can be man handled inside by big 3-4 DT’s due to his smaller quicker frame.
BF: What player could be a potential x-factor for the Texans on Thursday?
TBB: In a unique twist, I’d like to say that Gary Kubiak is the true x-factor. If he can make the correct schematic decisions, he has enough talent on both sides of the ball to succeed on Thursday night. But will he? History suggests that he wont.
BF: Give me a score prediction.
TBB: The magic of the Texans responding with their backs against the wall runs out on Thursday night.
A sloppy, lazy first half puts them in a hole early, rendering Foster paralyzed. A valiant effort late makes it look better on paper, but it’s never even close.
Philadelphia 34, Houston 24