September 2, 2005
Déjà Vu All Over Again
by Charles Spooner
Pardon me for being confused, but didn’t the Houston Texans play this game already? Looking like the same lethargic and mistaken prone team that was embarrassed in Irving last week, the Texans dropped their preseason record to 1-3 with a 38-14 humiliation at the hands of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As the sage philosopher Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over”. Thankfully, the preseason is now over.
The idea was to go with the Texans’ starting offense for about ten plays in the first quarter and call it a night. The starters got their ten plays, it just took four possessions to get them in. The three-play opening drive by the Texans ended with a David Carr interception, when Corey Bradford zigged when Carr thought he would zag. Bucs nickel corner Juran Bolden’s pick setup a 52-yard field goal by former Cowboy and Baylor Bear kicker Matt Bryant.
Following an exchange of punts and a combined five penalties, the Texans decided to pass on first down for a change. Carr threw a 4-yard pass to TE Matt Murphy into double coverage, resulting in a Ronde Barber interception. Sure, throwing into double coverage is bad. But who double covers the TE on a 4-yard route? Tampa Bay converted this miscue into a 1-yard TD run by Mike (How am I still in the league?) Alstott.
After four futile possessions, Dom Capers sent the first unit back in to open the second quarter. The last “drive” by the Texans’ #1 offense epitomized the their effort during the final two preseason games. Back-to-back false starts on third-and-long forcing third and longer. After the second false start, Carr spiked the ball into the chunky, yet highly rated, turf at Raymond James Stadium. After achieving his first completion to a teammate, a 4-yard pass to rookie RB Vernand Morency on third and 17, Carr had concluded his worst performance as a pro.
On the opposite side, former Longhorn southpaw Chris Simms was having the game of his life. Simms was nearly flawless in the first half after taking over for Bucs starting QB Brian Griese, completing 80 percent of his passes and leading Tampa on a couple of long scoring drives. Simms second quarter touchdown to rookie wideout J.R. Russell left the Texans defense talking to themselves and put the game out of reach.
The second half began much like the first, with Simms hitting another rookie receiver, Paris Warren, for six. A Tony Hollings fumble (his last as a Texan?) was turned into Tampa Bay’s final score and 38 point lead on a touchdown pass by third teamer Luke McCown.
Texan third string QB Dave Ragone rewarded Texan fans who had continued to watch this train wreck. Ragone scrapped the Texans short passing game and found receivers down the field, including a 74-yard TD bomb to Sloan Thomas, who is fighting for a roster spot. A similar 46-yard fly pattern completion to the rookie Jerome Mathis led to an 18-yard strike by Ragone to the forgotten WR Derick Armstrong. While the short passing game is still a mystery to the Texans, Ragone and the backup receivers showed the Texans can still go deep.
Next, the Texans head north to Buffalo as the real games begin. The Bills defense finished #2 in the league and should provide the Texans offense with their toughest test (You mean it can get tougher?). The Texans braintrust must decide on whether they stick with the new short passing “attack” or revert to throwing the ball downfield and getting their QB hit. It’s a tough choice, but as Yogi once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it”.
The Return of Jabar Gaffney With this being Jabar’s first preseason action, one would think he would show some rust. Yet, Gaffney shined as most of his teammates showed deterioration. Four of Jabar’s five receptions went for 1st downs. Included was a Sportscenter highlight – a one-handed grab of a Tony Banks 34-yard pass down the right sideline. If there is anyone capable of being successful in the Texans short passing game, it’s Gaffney.
Deep Passing Game The Texans hit on three passes of 30+ yards, all down the right sideline, and all against a Buccaneer cover-2 defense designed to stop the deep pass. Backup QBs Banks and Ragone looked their best when throwing long. In fact, the only pass that David Carr threw well was on a deep route over the middle, which WR Andre Johnson dropped. The most important aspect of the plays was that the offensive line gave the QBs time to look downfield.
No Serious Injuries Despite cramping up several times during the muggy conditions in Tampa, the Texans incurred no serious injuries in the game (except to their pride). Holding out key players such as Dunta Robinson, Domanick Davis, and Jason Babin was the best decision the coaching staff made this week. Forget the 1-3 record, getting out of preseason without a key injury is a victory in of itself.
Short Passing Game The remedy for what ailed the Texans’ passing offense was to go with shorter, timed routes. That would take pressure off of an embattled offensive line and get their physical and agile WR corps the ball on the run. Or so said the experts at Reliant Park. Yet after an offseason of QB camps, rookie camps, mini camps, training camp, preseason games, this passing game looks worse than what was offered in the expansion season. Carr can’t see where or when to throw, the receivers run the wrong way or drop the pass, multiple receivers try to occupy the same area. Whether it’s the QB, the receivers, the play design, it does not matter. It’s sick and in need of intensive care.
Penalties, Penalties, Penalties Although the boxscore only credits the Texans with seven penalties, they were actually flagged eleven times. Sure they were playing guys who won’t be with the team in Buffalo. However, players who will be on the roster made most of the blunders. Penalties are killing whatever little momentum the offense can build, penalties are keeping opponents offenses on the field, and penalties are stifling what may be an explosive return game. And this problem has persisted throughout the preseason. Where’s the discipline?
Intensity It’s no mistake that the Texans franchise carries a 3-14 preseason record. The coaching staff admittedly does not gameplan and limits the playbook on offense and defense. This organization is trying to get something out of the preseason games that cannot be determined by the scoreboard. That’s fine and dandy. But eventually, the players realize that winning is not the goal. And while they should be playing for pride and roster spots, intensity is lost when winning is not the goal. Without intensity, you get busted assignments, poor reads, blown coverages, and missed tackles. You get stomped 38-14 in a game you don’t really want to play in. If the organization does not care about winning in the preseason, if the players don’t care as well, why should we fans feel any differently?
Up 17-0, the Bucs are mounting a balanced drive, led by ex-Horn fall guy Chris Simms. At least that’s who the announcers say he is. Because other than throwing with his left arm, he looks little like the choke artist that wore burnt orange. With a 1st and 10 at the Texans 21-yard line, Simms takes a quick 3 step drop and throws left to a wide open J.R. Russell at the 12. Texan CB Lewis Sanders (playing four yards off the receiver) and FS Jason Simmons converged on Russell. A quick move up the field leaves Sanders and Simmons in a head-on collision worthy of a breaking news traffic report. J.R. strolls into the endzone unscathed. Ballgame. Thanks for playing, and we hope you enjoyed your stay in beautiful Tampa- St. Pete.
Preseason Week 4 Recap Tampa Bay fullback Mike Alstott runs for a touchdown in the first quarter. Final Score Houston Texans 14 Tampa Bay Bucs 38 Lookin’ Good
Has there ever been a lefty that threw a better deep ball than this NFLE MVP?
Oh, my eyes!
Earned the Senator John Blutarsky Award for the lowest passer rating in the preseason. Zero Point Zero.
2005 Schedule Date Opponent Result 08.13 Denver 14-20 08.20 Oakland 19-17 08.26 at Dallas 9-21 09.01 at Tampa Bay 14-38 Regular Season 09.11 at Buffalo 7-22 09.18 Pittsburgh 7-27 09.25 Bye 10.02 at Cincinnati 10-16 10.09 Tennessee 20-34 10.16 at Seattle 10-42 10.23 Indianapolis 20-38 10.30 Cleveland 19-16 11.06 at Jacksonville 14-21 11.13 at Indianapolis 17-31 11.20 Kansas City 17-45 11.27 St. Louis 27-33 12.04 at Baltimore 15-16 12.11 at Tennessee 10-13 12.18 Arizona 30-19 12.24 Jacksonville 20-38 01.01 at San Francisco 17-20 Overall Record 2-14