Texans vs Saints: 5 Things We Learned About Houston in 40-33 Loss
I'm by no means a "homer" or even close to what someone would refer to as blindingly optimistic. I fancy myself as a realist above all else. That doesn't mean that I'm sanctimonious or that I think I'm always right; not by a long shot. But I can think with my head and not with my heart when covering an NFL team.
Bottom line for me is that I'm not upset about this loss. Sure, you always want to get the win and many will argue that Houston could have, and maybe even should have, won this game. But any time you go into one of the toughest places in the entire league to play and push a legitimate Super Bowl contender to the brink, I'm taking more positive than negative away from that.
In the end, I'm more of a believer in this team now than I was before noon today. Warts and all, I think this team finally has what it takes to get over that hump. Yes, they're still young and I'm not ready to call them a Super Bowl contender, or anything that far-fetched yet. But there are a handful of things that we learned about this team today, and we're going to take a look at them now.
The Offense Is as Good as Advertised
When you ask the casual fan about the best offensive teams in the league, you are starting to hear the Texans mentioned with the likes of New Orleans, New England and San Diego. Today, the Texans proved that they are deserving of that reputation.
Right now, on local radio, the fanbase is blaming Matt Schaub for losing the game. I've been accused of being a "Schaub apologist" in the past and I guess that's going to continue today. Yes, he looked bad on the final couple of series for Houston, but I don't remember Schaub letting the other side hang 40 points on them; 373 yards, three touchdowns and a pick is hardly anything I'm going to gripe about.
By the same token though, Schaub does need to learn how to make that big throw in the clutch for to finally be able knock off some of the elite teams in the NFL.
Still, a team without Arian Foster playing a single snap put up 473 yards of offense and rung up 33 points on the road. I'd say that formula is going to win you the game in the upper ninety percentage range. Unfortunately, the Saints offense was just a fraction better.
The biggest positive Texans fans can take out of the loss was that the team played four quarters of offense in Week 3, something they've struggled with dating back to the end of 2009.
The Offense Does Not Miss Vonta Leach...at All
I have gone on record elsewhere stating that I was wrong about James Casey being able to fill in at fullback for the departed Vonta Leach. I felt that Lawrence Vickers was a better fit for this offense and Casey was a tight end.
But, again today, Casey made me admit that crow never tasted so sweet. He was so good receiving the ball that he even drew double coverage in the end zone on a long pass; 126 yards on five receptions and a huge touchdown made some fantasy owner quite happy today.
And I didn't even mention how good his blocking has been yet. With Casey as another dangerous weapon out of the backfield for Matt Schaub, I think we still have yet to see the best this Houston offense has to offer.
Andre Johnson Is Still the Best WR in the League
I wouldn't necessarily say that this is something we learned just today. But after Larry Fitzgerald got his ridiculous contract a month ago, it led many to begin thinking the balance had shifted the Cardinal's way. But no one wide receiver is as capable of taking over a game as Andre Johnson.
With eight minutes left in the second quarter, Dre already had eclipsed the 100-yard mark and didn't appear to be slowing down. However, a blown call by the official cost him a touchdown and seemed to get him and Schaub out of rhythm.
Totaling 128 yards on seven catches (and one KO of Malcolm Jenkins), it was just another day at the office for Andre Johnson, who earned his 38th career 100-yard game.
This Team Misses Arian Foster in the Red Zone
It's no big secret that if you lose the NFL's leading rusher from the previous season, you're going to lose a little something. Today, it cost Texans fans some hair as they watched the offense move the ball at will until they found themselves in an "and-goal" situation.
Ben Tate has filled in admirably, no question, and he has one hell of a future in this league. But he just doesn't have the vision that Arian Foster has and it showed many times today.
Foster was so good in the red zone last year that we tend to forget the struggles the Texans had punching the ball in prior to that. With a team like the Saints, you aren't going to win by kicking four field goals in five trips into the red zone.
The play-calling was certainly questionable, but I think it is something they easily figure out once Foster is inserted back into the starting lineup.
The Defense Is Still a Work in Progress
Just as I thought, this defense still has a long, long way to go.
I think most people have been pleasantly surprised at how fast the defense has picked up Wade Phillips' scheme, but only the biggest Texans homer thought that they were going to shut down the Saints offense.
They did a good job of bending but not breaking through three quarters, but it's near impossible to hold Drew Brees down that long; especially when the pass rush was pretty much non-existent for most of the game. Giving up 23 points in the fourth quarter is never going to get it done against a team like New Orleans.
There were plenty of good things, like their two big free-agent acquisitions Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning, both getting picks. But there was lots of ugly such as Kareem Jackson picking up where he left off last year.
Any time you give up 40 points in a ball game, you're likely going to lose. But looking at the positives, Brian Cushing and DeMeco Ryans looked back to their 2009 form, and Antonio Smith might be one of the most underrated defensive players in the game.
I look for Wade Phillips to make the necessary adjustments and the defense will look much better next week against the Steelers. But, just remember, this is a work in progress. They'll have weeks where they look dominant and weeks where they're just going to be gashed. Unfortunately, this week turned out to be the latter.