Mo’ Better Steel Blues

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August 21, 2006
Mo’ Better Steel Blues

by Charles Spooner

After disposing of the Kansas City Chiefs in the preseason opener, the Houston Texans visited Missouri’s other NFL franchise, the St. Louis Rams, in their second exhibition match-up. While the Rams starting defense looked sharp for the second week in a row, the Texans offense finally got on track to set a preseason scoring high in a 27-20 win. With Academy Award winning actor Denzel Washington in attendance (watching his son, Ram free agent running back John David Washington), it is certain that football fans in the "Show Me State" will remember the Texans this preseason.

The Texans’ first quarter possessions felt like déjà vu, circa 2005. Quarterback David Carr was hit on two of the initial three plays, and the Texans did not convert a single third down in the quarter. A couple of offensive holding penalties and a Kris Brown missed field goal made fans pinch themselves to ensure they had not fallen into a Dom Capers’ induced nightmare.

Led by a very active Mario Williams, the starting defense looked much improved from the prior week’s performance. The rookie defensive end was often in the Ram backfield causing havoc and freeing up his teammates. The Rams though caught a break on their second possession when their rookie tight end, Joe Klopfenstein, recovered a Torry Holt fumble in Texans territory. The Texans defense stiffened, and the Rams settled for a 32-yard Remy Hamilton field goal and a 3-0 lead.

Defensive end Antwan Peek made big plays to kill the Rams’ next two possessions. Peek sacked the quarterback Marc Bulger on the final play of the first quarter, forcing the Rams to punt. Peek then ended the Rams’ next series with a leaping deflection of a third-down Gus Frerotte pass.

Following a 33-yard punt return by Phillip Buchanon, the Texans offense line imposed their will on the Rams defense to open rushing lanes for second-year running back Vernand Morency. Criticized early in training camp for too much dancing, Morency ran furiously on 4 carries for 23 yards in the drive. With center Mike Flanagan opening up a large hole up the middle, Morency met Rams defenseman Dewaine Carpenter at the 2-yard line and carried the safety into the end zone. Kris Brown’s extra point gave the Texans their first lead at 7-3.

With the the Rams threatening late in the half, Peek came up huge, again. Sacking Frerotte with a 7-yard loss, he forced the Rams to attempt a long, 51-yard field goal. Former Ram Dexter McCleon blocked the attempt, giving the Texans the ball back.

With 25 seconds remaining, rather than just head into the locker room with a 7-3 lead, head coach Gary Kubiak instructed the offense to keep pressing downfield. Two short Carr completions set the Texans up inside the Rams 40-yard line. With only 11 seconds left, Kubiak surprised the rams defense with a Morency run up the middle for 9 yards, a drive finished by Brown’s 48-yard field goal to send the Texans into the halftime tunnel with a 10-3 lead.

Peek began the second half as he finished the first, forcing a fumble on the Rams’ initial offensive play. Buchanon scooped up the loose ball, and the Texans converted the turnover into points, thanks to 27-yard chip shot off the foot of Brown.

The Rams answered with a seven play, 71-yard drive. Buchanon’s pass interference inside the Texans 10-yard line was the big play in the drive, capped off by a short 4-yard touchdown catch by Rams slot receiver Shaun McDonald, cutting the Texans lead to 13-10.

Morency quickly put the Texans back up by 10, burst ing right up the gut of the Rams defense for a 43-yard touchdown run. Reserve center Drew Hodgden gave a textbook example of zone blocking on the play, doubling a defensive tackle prior to picking up the free safety on the second level.

Former Texans quarterback Dave Ragone led the Rams on a 64-yard scoring drive against his ex-teammates. Another interference call against Buchanon setup a one-yard touchdown run by rookie Fred Russell, slicing the Texans lead to 20-17.

Reserve quarterback Sage Rosenfels followed with a quick scoring drive of his own. Rosenfels put his team into Ram territory with a 26-yard completion to tight end Bennie Joppru. Next, Rosenfels rolled left after play action, finding wide receiver Derrick Lewis in single coverage with a 44-yard touchdown pass. The bootleg is fast becoming the Texans signature play, and it extended the Texans lead, 27-17.

Down by seven, fourth-string Ram quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick marched his offense to a first-and-goal with only two minutes left in the game. Eerily reminiscent of Fitzpatrick’s come from behind, overtime victory against the Texans in 2005, this year’s Texans put a halt to any notion of a Ram comeback. Two runs were stuffed, Fitzpatrick misfired twice, and the Texans walked out of the Edward Jones Dome with a 27-20 win and the unofficial crown of Missouri State champs.

What Went Right?

Plug n’ Play Running Backs Last week, rookie 6th round pick Wali Lundy ran to daylight against a Kansas City defense. This week, it was Vernand Morency’s turn to run roughshod over a St. Louis defense. Does it really matter who the running back is in Gary Kubiak’s zone-blocking offense? Kubiak was acclaimed upon arrival as a quarterback guru of sorts, but it may be his coaching of running backs that is most deserving of praise.

Fixing a Hole After a poor showing last week against the power running Chiefs offense, the Texans run defense bounced back in a big way. With a new front four alignment including Anthony Weaver at defensive end and Seth Payne and Travis Johnson at defensive tackle, the Texans held the Rams to only 17 yards rushing in the opening half. It should be noted that Mario Williams made a big impact, including a drop Tony Fisher for a 3-yard loss in the second quarter.

Winning Tradition Maybe back-to-back preseason wins should not mean much to an average NFL team. But the Texans do not yet qualify as an average team, and consecutive victories in the preseason are a franchise first. Kubiak plays to win, but not to the point of endangering his preseason goals of evaluating players. And is winning better than losing for the psyche of a 2-14 team? You bet it is.

What Went Wrong?

Third Down Woes One of the biggest problems the Texans have faced as a franchise is keeping drives alive on third down. The Carr-led offense went zero-for-five on third downs in the first half, often not picking up the blitz and finding the open receivers. That has to change if the Texans want to become a respectable offense unit.

Carr to AJ This combination has looked dynamite in training camp, but it has fizzled in the preseason games. David Carr completed only four of his nine attempts to Andre Johnson, not a winning ratio. This may be the biggest puzzle Kubiak needs to solve before the regular season opener against the Eagles.

Key Play Of The Game

Another week, another bootleg for this part of the GameDay Review. Also again, it was QB Sage Rosenfels on a bootleg left.

After a play action fake right, Rosenfels rolled left and lofted a perfect touch pass over the outstretched arm of safety Deandre Eiland to free agent wide out Derrick Lewis. This is the play that teams will have to defend to stop this Texan offense.

Preseason Game 2 Recap RB Vernand Morency celebrates his first touchdown with TE Owen Daniels. Final Score Houston Texans 27 St. Louis Rams 20 Lookin’ Good

Phillip Buchanon
Buchanon giveth with big punt returns, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery…

Oh, my eyes!

Phillip Buchanon
…and he taketh away with two costly pass interference infractions. "Showtime", indeed.

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