Houston Texans Report Card: Grading Key Players in Texans' 23-13 Win
Going into 2011, the Texans were among the league's biggest question marks. The team was loaded with talent, yet somehow played its way to a forgettable 6-10 record in 2010.
With the exception of perhaps Arian Foster and Andre Johnson, the entire team and its coaches were all under heavy scrutiny.
Though Houston handily defeated Indianapolis in Week 1 34-7, the Texans' potential still remained in question after a disappointing 2010 and a win over a team that didn't present much of a challenge in their first game of 2011.
After putting up a far better fight than expected in Week 1 against the Patriots, the Miami Dolphins looked like a tougher opponent than the Texans had bargained for going into Week 2. But the Texans showed why they're one of the most compelling teams to watch this season, beating Miami 23-13 in a game that wasn't quite as close as the score indicated.
While Miami isn't the toughest team out there, the dominance of Houston's offense and their surprisingly good defensive performance against the Dolphins left room for hope that this might indeed be their year.
It's early yet, but Houston's performance against Miami seemed pretty convincing. Following are grades for key Texans' players in Sunday's victory.
1. QB Matt Schaub
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For all the Matt Schaub doubters out there, this might be a good time to, well, shut up. Week 1 was a bit of a rough go for Schaub, whose performance was far shakier than the score indicated.
While his completion and yardage totals were relatively comparable from the first game to the second (Week 1: 17 of 24, 220 yards, Week 2: 21 of 29, 230 yards), Schaub looked like a completely different caliber of quarterback in the second game as compared to the first.
Schaub threw two interceptions in Week 1 (and honestly, he's lucky that total wasn't worse), but threw no picks in Week 2. And it wasn't just his +2 TD/INT ratio that made his performance look dominating either.
Rather, it was the stuff that doesn't show up in the numbers. Schaub looked every bit the field general against Miami on Sunday, turning in a solid technical performance made even better by displaying a commanding presence of calm, focused leadership.
Texans' coaches voted Schaub the team's offensive player of the week after the victory on Sunday, which was well-deserved. Schaub also gets bonus points because the blocking he got from his line, especially in the third quarter, was downright horrendous. Schaub was sacked three times, yet still managed to persevere.
As further proof that Schaub's performance was well above-par, he logged a rating of 118.5 in the victory. Sometimes quarterback ratings are misleading. This one isn't.
It was really tempting to give Schaub an "A" here. There were no true mistakes, and Schaub's play may have been the single biggest contributing factor to the win on Sunday. Still, there has to be room to grow. If Schaub can turn in a similar performance with slightly higher yardage totals, he'll have me completely sold.
2. RB Ben Tate
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For Texans fans hoping their team would improve upon its 6-10 2010 record this season, the preseason injury to Arian Foster seemed like an excellent reason to panic.
To me, Ben Tate didn't really look like much prior to the 2011 season. He spent all of 2010 on the IR and looked to some like a player comparable to the Browns' Montario Hardesty; drafted too early and destined to spend too much time on the IR to be of much use. Suffice it to say that when Foster pulled up lame, it looked like the Texans' ground game would go kaput until he returned.
But, unlike Hardesty, Tate came out swinging in 2011, and rushed for over 100 yards in both of his first two games. What's more impressive? He didn't get the start in either.
On Sunday, after Foster still proved to be too banged up to play the majority of the game, Tate took over and rushed for 103 yards on 23 carries.
After Tate went over 100 yards in his first two NFL games, what once looked like a disastrous situation for the Texans at running back until Foster was back to 100 percent suddenly, looked like a potential embarrassment of riches at the position. If Tate can keep this up, the biggest problem the Texans will have once Foster returns to full strength is how to maximize what they can get out of both RBs.
The grade feels a little high for a running back who failed to log a touchdown in the game, but for a guy who is essentially a rookie, didn't get the starting nod, and probably wasn't expecting to shoulder the bulk of the load, Tate came through tremendously well.
Tate also gets bonus points for not uttering a peep of complaint when he didn't get the starting nod in Week 2 after a killer performance in Week 1.
3. WR Andre Johnson
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What can you say about Andre Johnson on Sunday except that, well, he looked like Andre Johnson?
Johnson had seven catches for 93 yards, including a TD that was essentially the game winner. Granted, the coverage by the Dolphins secondary on the play was poor—Johnson said after the game that he "knew it was six"—but it isn't as though your garden variety WR would have the luxury of assuming that and knowing he could deliver on it.
The lone flub for Johnson in this one was a dropped pass in the third quarter, the timing of which was unfortunate considering that Schaub's line was caving in on him and he needed all the help he could get.
But, Johnson made up for it with the touchdown that secured the victory for Houston and showed why he's still the best wide receiver in the league.
Johnson wasn't perfect, but he was close, and his performance looks even better when considering the fact that the rest of the Texans' receiving corps is so iffy that there isn't much there to draw coverage away from him.
4. WR Jacoby Jones
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I'm sure getting a lot of throws to come your way isn't easy when you're lined up with Andre Johnson every week, but Jacoby Jones really seems to be struggling to make much of an impact for his team this season.
Texans fans and Jones' fantasy football owners were, to say the least, miffed at him after Week 1. I didn't think Jones played poorly at all, but he did strike me as sort of a non-factor in the game. And he came off much the same way in Week 2.
To be fair, Jones was only targeted four times against the Dolphins. Some of that is certainly the product of the fact that if Johnson is open, he'll be the one getting the throw, but I also saw Jones struggle to get open when he should have several times.
Jones caught three of the four passes that came his way for 48 yards. He essentially got his job done, but I saw very little effort on his part to make himself a contributor rather than just passively waiting for the ball to come his way.
Jones wasn't terrible by any means, he just wasn't particularly impressive either. While there were no major mistakes, there were also no standout plays. I think Jones will improve and become more involved in the offense in the coming weeks, but, thus far his performance is best described as inoffensive but forgettable.
5. TE Owen Daniels
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Last week, Texans' writer Brandon C. Williams was a guest on our weekly fantasy football radio show, and he urged listeners to expect good things from TE Owen Daniels this week.
The advice paid off for fantasy owners as well as the Texans themselves, as Daniels had three receptions for 25 yards and caught a crucial four-yard touchdown pass from Schaub in the second quarter.
It made sense that Daniels would likely be becoming more involved due to the lackluster performances by the Houston receiving corps in Week 1 (Johnson excepted, of course). Daniels still wasn't a big contributor in terms of yardage or receptions, but his touchdown was hugely important.
Perhaps a B+ is a bit generous for a guy who had just three receptions, but his touchdown was critical to the game, and he did all he was asked to do and more, even if it was in some ways minimal.
6. LB Brian Cushing
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Well that about settles it—Brian Cushing is a machine.
ILB Cushing, always dependable, was an absolute beast against the Dolphins on Sunday, delivering 10 punishing tackles (7 of those solo) and a QB hit on Chad Henne.
But, if you look beyond the box score, it wasn't just the team-leading 10 tackles that made Cushing stand out. What I saw in Cushing was an emerging leader among the Texans' front seven, a guy who was all over the field and seemingly involved in every play.
The Texans, somewhat surprisingly, currently have the No. 1 ranked defense in the NFL, and Cushing is perhaps their biggest contributor in receiving that distinction.
Aside from Schaub, Cushing may have been the team's best performer on Sunday. Future opponents' offenses would do well to be absolutely terrified of him.
7. CB Johnathan Joseph
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Given how much flack the Texans' secondary caught last season, being a part of what is now the league's number one defense has to be a tremendous coup for them.
The Texans' secondary did a nice job against the Dolphins as a group, and CB Johnathan Joseph was among the standouts.
Joseph had four tackles and an interception that came at a hugely critical point in the game. After Joseph picked off Chad Henne (thanks in part to a hard hit to Henne by Mario Williams), Schaub threw the four-yard TD pass to Daniels for the game's first six-pointer.
While Williams probably deserves as much credit as Joseph for the defensive play that set up the TD, the interception did serve as an excellent indicator of how far Houston's secondary has come.
Because the interception floated right into Joseph's waiting arms, I had to resist the temptation to give him a higher grade based on making a pick alone.
There wasn't a lot of flashy play from Joseph or the rest of the secondary on Sunday, but it was a very solid performance on the whole.
8. Coach Gary Kubiak
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Woe was coach Gary Kubiak in 2010, under heavy scrutiny after the Texans posted a disappointing 6-10 mark on the season. How could a team with so much talent be so, well, mediocre? The answer, as it so often is in such cases, seemed to be to blame the coach.
But it appears Kubiak heard the criticism loud and clear, as he has responded by coaching his team to a solid 2-0 start in 2011.
Specific to this game, it's important to talk about what Kubiak has done with his defense. This is a team that went from an appalling ranking of the third-worst defense in the league in 2010 to the best defense in the league thus far in 2011.
The players certainly get their fair share of the credit for that, but so does Coach Kubiak. What we saw in the win over the Dolphins wasn't dramatic, flashy defense. It was unglamorous on the whole, but it was also the kind of defense that quietly gets the job done.
Kubiak did a nice job managing his offense as well, playing it safe when that was the wise move and taking a chance when necessary. He balanced the running and passing games well, and used Owen Daniels and Ben Tate particularly effectively.
Perhaps best of all, when things started to unravel a bit in the third quarter, there was no panic from the coaching staff. They simply adjusted and hunkered down for the fourth and allowed Schaub, Johnson and the defense to do what they do best.
Kubiak will have to prove his team can hold up for longer than two games against weak opponents if he wants to prove he's got what it takes, but so far, very, very good.