One Small Step

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August 13, 2006
One Small Step

by Charles Spooner

The Houston Texans opened the 2006 preseason schedule with a salute to our country’s space program. While new Texan head coach Gary Kubiak’s task is not as overwhelming as landing on the moon, his team took a small step towards building a contending team with a 24-14 victory over the visiting Kansas City Chiefs. However, the Texans took a giant leap in credibility with their fans, as they no longer come across as an “expansion team”.

The Texans starting offense was able to move the ball on the Chiefs in the opening quarter by exploiting the defense’s edges. Quarterback David Carr effectively ran the bootleg on four plays. These plays helped stretch the Kansas City defense laterally, and allowed rookie running back Wali Lundy to find ample running room. A Lundy 25-yard run, keyed by an outstanding kickout block by right tackle Zach Wiegert, put the Texans inside the red zone. Three plays later, Lundy followed a wipeout block by the former Green Bay packer center Mike Flanagan, and waltzed into the end zone. The scoring drive was made possible by Kubiak’s decision to go for a 4th down conversion near midfield (what the heck, it’s preseason).

The Texans starting defense got a quick three-and-out to start the game, but in the next series, the Chiefs offense was able to move the ball capably with short passes and inside runs. Kansas City’s star running back Larry Johnson picked up 35-yards of offense in the opening 16 minutes. And quarterback Trent Green took the underneath routes, going 5 of 6 passing for 34-yards. Reserve back Dee Brown scampered untouched for a 12-yard score, knotting the game at 7-7 early in the second quarter.

Texans backup quarterback Sage Rosenfels took the controls in the second and third quarters, and the offense continued to use the bootleg smartly. Rosenfels rolled outside three times in a late second quarter drive, completing two passes and leaping over the goal line for a 5-yard touchdown run.

Undrafted rookie free agent defensive end John Chick sacked Chiefs reserve quarterback Casey Printers in the third quarter, forcing a fumble, which the Texans recovered inside Kansas City territory. Game officials called back a touchdown-scoring reverse by rookie wide receiver David Anderson due to a holding penalty on Derrick Lewis, and the Texans settled for a 22-yard Kris brown field goal.

Another undrafted rookie, quarterback Quinton Porter, led the Texans on a fourth quarter scoring drive. The drive was highlighted by a third down completion to tight end Bennie Joppru, playing his first NFL game after injuries had kept him off the field his first three seasons in the league. Damien Rhodes (yes, another undrafted free agent) sprinted the final five yards for the last Texans touchdown, upping the score to 24-7.

Anderson’s muff on a Kansas City punt put the Chiefs inside the Texans 10-yard line. A short touchdown run by Houston-native Quentin Griffin finished off the scoring.

The 24 points scored by the Texans was a preseason all-time high. Hard to believe, unless you have actually watched all 17 of the Texans’ previous preseason games. The Texans can conquer all of Missouri football with a win next Saturday in St. Louis in a game that will feature a Mario Williams versus Rams All-Pro tackle Orlando Pace match-up, plus more Wali Lundy, more Owen Daniels, and even a possible Dave Ragone sighting. What more could a Texan fan ask for in preseason? Maybe, another small step.

What Went Right?

Gulf Coast Offense Sure it looked similar the West Coast Offenses of the past and the Denver Broncos offense in particular. Okay, it looked exactly like the Denver Broncos offense. Is that such a bad thing? The combination of zone blocking and bootlegs are the keys to this offenses’ success. The defense is forced to make decisions. Do we keep an end or linebacker on the weakside to contain the bootleg, or do we pursue to protect against the cut back run? Do we stay in the underneath zone, or do we come up and force the quarterback? The defense has to think, rather than react. The bootleg sets up the inside run, and the inside run sets up the bootleg. Congratulations, Texan fans (and thank you, Gary Kubiak). You finally have a real NFL offense to call your own.

Line No Longer Offensive Zero sacks allowed. Nada. None. Zilch. That alone is reason enough for celebration. But wait, there’s more! How about leading the way to 172 yards rushing? And no penalties? Offensive line coaches Mike Sherman and John Benton have done wonders with essentially the same group of players that were considered the worst unit in pro football just a year ago. Plus, the reserves looked as polished as the first unit. Credit the scheme that makes the quarterback a moving target, and forces the running back to make one quick decision. But, also credit guys like Seth Wand, Zach Wiegert, and Chester Pitts who no longer wish to be known as NFL laughingstocks.

Reggie Who? Rookie running back Wali Lundy will never be mistaken for the Saints’ new superstar, Reggie Bush. He doesn’t have Reggie’s blazing speed, or his jaw-dropping moves. But Lundy doesn’t have to be like Bush in order to succeed in the Texans offense. What Wali needs to do is find the hole quickly, and hit it with extreme prejudice. And Lundy did just that against the Chiefs, to the tune of 9 carries for 59 yards and a touchdown run. It seems as if Kubiak and running backs coach Chick Harris have found another diamond in the rough. Just in time, as the timetable for veteran Domanick Davis’ return to the field is still an unknown.

What Went Wrong?

Mario Looked Like a Rookie Standing on the sideline prior to the game, Mario Williams looked like the first pick in the NFL draft that he is. A 6’7”, 290-pound defensive end, he seemingly could toss offensive linemen over his shoulder and stuff quarterbacks over the goalpost. But on the field Saturday night, Mario spent more time on his knees than on his feet. Williams was given a valuable lesson in leverage by the Chiefs offensive line, including former Pro Bowl tackle Kyle Turley. Kansas City’s linemen beat Mario with quick hand punches and cut blocks. Even Williams’ excellent speed was used against him, as he would at times run past the play. Once he learns to stay on his feet and play with leverage, Mario will become a disruptive force. On this night, Williams was reminded that he is still a rookie.

Who Will Stop the Run? One of the many reasons the 2005 Texans were the worst team in the NFL was their defense against the run. The Vic Fangio-led unit was 30th in rushing yards per carry and dead last in rushing yards allowed. New Texan defensive coordinator Richard Smith has made major changes to the defense, including a switch from the 3-4 alignment to a penetrating 4-3 defensive front. Still, Kansas City was able to run up the middle at will against the starting defensive unit. Chiefs’ running backs were able to gain 40 yards between the tackles on their first half touchdown drive. A little more Seth Payne on early downs might help, as will more experience for the rookie middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans.

J.J. Moses, Where Are You? With All-Pro return man Jerome Mathis out until possibly midseason, the Texans need to fill capable replacements at both the kick and punt return positions. Rookies Wali Lundy, Chris Taylor, and David Anderson were given auditions against the Chiefs, but none were not awe-inspiring. Phillip Buchanon (sitting out with an injury) may at least be the answer at punt returner. It remains to be seen if someone on the roster will step up, or if the Texans will need to go outside the team for a returner.

Key Play Of The Game

Pick a bootleg, any bootleg. How about the Sage Rosenfels’ naked boot left with 3:51 left in the second quarter. Rosenfels gave a fake handoff on second-and-six at the Chiefs 38-yard line so deceptive, the television cameraman completely lost sight of the ball. He (or she) should not feel badly, as most of the Kansas City defense went for the sham. Rolling left, Sage might have picked up the first down running, but linebacker Keyaron Fox began to close the gap. No problem, as Rosenfels lofted a pass over the linebacker’s outstretched arms to the rookie tight end Owen Daniels (he’s a keeper) for a nifty 15-yard gain. Get a good look at these bootlegs. Because this will be the signature play of the 2006 Texans.

Preseason Game 1 Recap RB Wali Lundy battles for yards. Final Score Houston Texans 24 Kansas City Chiefs 14 Lookin’ Good

Bennie Joppru
Nice to finally see you. You are an inspiration to this team.

Oh, my eyes!

Instant Replay
One blown review. One unnecessary review. This system gets weaker (and longer) every season.

2006 Schedule Date Opponent Result 08.12 Kansas City 24-14 08.19 St. Louis 27-20 08.27 at Denver 14-17 08.31 Tampa Bay 16-13 Regular Season 09.10 Philadelphia 10-24 09.17 at Indianapolis 24-43 09.24 Washington 15-31 10.01 Miami 17-15 10.08 Bye 10.15 at Dallas 6-34 10.22 Jacksonville 27-7 10.29 at Tennessee 22-28 11.05 at NY Giants 10-14 11.12 at Jacksonville 13-10 11.19 Buffalo 21-24 11.26 at NY Jets 11-26 12.03 at Oakland 23-14 12.10 Tennessee 20-26 12.17 at New England 7-40 12.24 Indianapolis 27-24 12.31 Cleveland 14-6   Overall Record 6-10