Houston Texans WR Andre Johnson will not be suspended for his on-field brawl with Cortland Finnegan that took place this past Sunday. Many were expecting Roger Goodell to come down hard and suspend Johnson, but semi-surprisingly the Commish handed out fines instead.
That means the Texans will have their star receiver available for Thursday's game against Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles. Houston is currently nine-point underdogs mainly because of its porous defense.
All is not hopeless for the Texans. They still have the NFL's top back this season and a talented offense that can hang with the Eagles. The Texans defense posted a shutout against Tennessee, but do not overreact because Rusty Smith was leading the opposing offense.
Nevertheless it is going to take an inspired performance from the defense to slow down Vick and the Eagles.
With that being said, here are some ways the Texans can pull off the upset and climb back into the playoff picture.
Arian Foster is a beast and now leads the NFL in rushing by over 100 yards. Philadelphia gives up a little over 100 yards on the ground this season, something the Texans will need to eclipse if they hope to come away winners.
Houston has the offense to compete in a shootout, although it would be better off chewing up as much clock as possible with Foster running the ball to keep the Eagles offense off the field. He's going to need to approach 30-35 touches if Houston's going to win.
Against the Titans, Foster finished with 30 attempts on the ground and caught nine balls, giving him a grand total of 39 touches. Getting the ball to him will be vital whether it be on the ground or through the air.
Vick is having his best season as a passer and if Houston doesn't come with blitzes throughout the night, he will carve up the Texans secondary. When Vick was with Atlanta, teams tried to keep him from running and forced him to beat them through the air. Now teams would rather have Vick running around as opposed to sitting back in the pocket.
While he's still a threat to do amazing things with his legs, he exposes himself to vicious hits when he takes off. The Texans are going to need to land some solid ones on Vick early and often when he takes off running.
Knocking him out of the game may not be the ultimate goal, but making him uncomfortable is. That's why when the opportunity presents itself, Houston needs to land quality shots on No. 7.
When they aren't running Foster, Gary Kubiak needs to be taking shots down the field with Matt Schaub. Schaub has had a semi-underwhelming season thus far and needs to bust out against Philadelphia. Working off play-action passing, the Texans are going to have to come up with big plays through the air, especially if Asante Samuel is unable to go.
Johnson has had a solid season, but much like Schaub he hasn't lived up to expectations. Although Johnson has been battling nagging injuries all season long, so are a number of other players at this time of year.
Schaub to Johnson will need to be a dynamic connection Thursday.
Houston ranks 28th overall in the takeaway category with just 13. On the other hand, the Eagles are tied for the league lead with 26. Whether it be Vick throwing interceptions or other offensive players putting the ball on the ground, the Texans are going to need to force turnovers.
Forcing Vick to throw an interception this season has been near impossible, as he threw his first in the Eagles' last game played against Chicago.
When you don't have a good defense, creating turnovers is the great equalizer, something the New Orleans Saints were terrific at last year. They may have gave up a lot of yards, but when it mattered most the defense game up with a big takeaway to shift momentum.
There's no way that the Texans can win this game if they don't force turnovers. The Philadelphia offense is too talented for an overmatched defense.
DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin both have touchdown longs of 80+ yards. They combine to form the fastest wide receiver tandem in the league and will eat you alive if you let them get by you. Houston's corners aren't exactly known for their physical play, but in order to keep Jackson and Maclin from tearing them up, they'll need to be physical at the line of scrimmage.
As was mentioned in an earlier slide, the Texans defense is going to need to blitz Vick to try and force him to make quick decisions. The bad news is he can scramble out of the pocket, allowing the two speedy more time to get down field.
Keeping Maclin and Jackson at bay will be a tough task, and that's why Houston needs Foster to have a big game to chew up the clock.
If Foster and Co. find themselves on the bench more often than not, like in the picture above, they will get blown out. Winning the time of possession battle is going to be crucial for the Texans in this game. Schaub is going to need to engineer long drives that eat up as much time as possible.
Quick scores are always nice, but they aren't as devastating to an opponent as a seven or eight minute drive, which wears a defense down physically and emotionally. Long drives also will keep Vick off the field, and if he's on the sidelines for long periods of time, his timing and rhythm will be tested.
Once again, the key to a Texans win is keeping its defense off the field as much as possible. Obviously, Houston won't be able to score on every drive, but moving the chains a couple of times and avoiding three and outs are important.
Losing your temper in a game and getting ejected isn't acceptable, especially when you are the face of the franchise. Johnson deserves a pass for his actions against the Titans because he has a good track record as long as he makes sure it doesn't happen again. If frustration starts to set in against the Eagles, the Texans as a whole need to be disciplined and avoid committing lazy penalties.
You would think that playing in the NFL would mean everybody gives full effort all of the time. If only that were the case. Houston is going up against a better team on the road and it is going to take a combined effort as a whole to leave all they have on the field. Making hustle plays, finishing blocks and getting hands up to bat down balls at the line of scrimmage are just some effort plays that need to be made.
If Houston ever wants to change people's perception of them as a soft team that always comes up short, they need a statement win. Besting a tough Eagles squad on the road could be what propels them to go on a late season run.
As always it's a lot easier said than done.