Hurty Birds Limp to Reliant

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November 25, 2003
Hurty Birds Limp to Reliant
by Keith Weiland

The Texans will make their second attempt at a franchise best fifth win at home on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. After taking a twice-beaten Patriots team to a fifth quarter last week, the Texans will find a twice-victorious Falcon squad minus their starting quarterback and running back.

Warrick Dunn, Atlanta’s leading rusher this season, is the latest to find himself on the shelf. Dunn suffered a mid-foot strain late last week against the Titans, and results on Tuesday indicated he has torn a ligament in his left foot. His placement on the Injured Reserve gives the starting nod to second-year running back, T.J. Duckett.

Quarterback Michael Vick is also doubtful for Sunday’s game. After targeting this game for his return from a broken leg he suffered during preseason, Vick sprained his right ankle in practice last week further postponing his return to the field. Atlanta is expected to give the start on Sunday to Doug Johnson, the former Florida Gator who resumed starter’s duties last week and threw for a pair of touchdowns.

The injury situation on the Houston sideline is only slightly better. Quarterback David Carr has been upgraded to questionable, but it is still not known whether his shoulder has healed enough to regain the starting status. Tony Banks will reprise his role as the backup starter once again if Carr is unable to play.

Pro Bowl cornerback Aaron Glenn’s status is less certain. Glenn re-injured his groin last Sunday against the Patriots, an injury that has already casued him to miss significant time this season. If he is not ready by gametime, nickleback Kenny Wright will take Glenn’s spot.

In addition to a fifth win, there are some other franchise milestones that can be achieved this week. With 19 points this Sunday, the team will have scored more through twelve games in 2003 than they scored in all of 2002. If the team manages 263 total yards of offense, they will have surpassed last year’s total of 3,572 yards. Also, wide receiver Andre Johnson just needs two more receptions to set a new franchise record, eclipsing the mark of 51 set by tight end Billy Miller last year.

What to Expect When the Texans have the ball…
Believe it or not, the Falcons employ a far more porous defense than the injury-ravaged one from Houston. Using a 3-4 scheme masterminded by coordinator Wade Phillips, the Falcons are ranked dead last in the league in total defense. Things got so bleak for Atlanta that the entire Falcon secondary was benched midseason. It has not been enough to disguise the fact that the Falcons are susceptible to the pass, particularly in the middle of the field. The Texan quarterback must find a way to involve Jabar Gaffney from the slot, find Andre Johnson on slants and posts, and remember Domanick Davis for the dumpoffs underneath. Cutback runners have been a problem for Atlanta linebackers, so Davis must keep his eyes open and his hips on a swivel.

When the Falcons have the ball…
The Falcons employ a zone blocking scheme that has been penetrable up the middle. Without Dunn, the Falcons are likely to try, try again, giving Duckett a steady dose of inside runs. Last week, the Texans front three, particularly nose tackle Steve Martin, was up to the challenge. Inside linebacker Jamie Sharper has been an effective pass rusher of late, and this may be his best, most complete game of the season. Look for him to shoot through the A-gaps and wreak havoc in the backfield. Through the air, Doug Johnson has often been off-target, but with the probable loss of Glenn, nothing should come easy for the Texan secondary.

Match-Ups to Watch Chris Palmer vs. Wade Phillips
This is a week for Palmer to re-establish his status as an offensive guru against a considerably weaker opponent. The Falcons will often use eight man fronts to slow the running game, but rarely have they been able to make plays behind the line of scrimmage. Phillips’ schemes have exposed weaknesses in the secondary, so Palmer should be able to call anything in his playboook to exploit this defense and look like a genius.

Domanick Davis vs. Keith Brooking
Brooking is the Falcons’ leader in tackles, and he is on pace for another season with more than 200 to his credit. Problem is, many of those tackles are made downfield. Thought by many to be overrated, teams are running his direction, helping Brooking pad those bloated tackle numbers. Davis figures to make some serious gains on the ground against the Falcons, following his blocks to get through the line and using his ability to shed would-be tacklers like Brooking with his free hand.

Chad Stanley and Ramon Walker vs. Allen Rossum
Walker had a scrapbook game against the Patroits last week, blocking both a punt and a field goal and making four tackles on special teams. He’ll have his work cut out for him this Sunday, as Rossum is one of the most effective returners in the league. After returning a punt for a touchdown last week, Rossum is second only to the Chiefs’ Dante Hall in average punt return yards (14.9). Seventeen of his 30 punt returns have been for more than 10 yards, which is more than double than that of Hall. Stanley, however, has been kicking few returnable punts. He is on pace to break the NFL record for most punts buried inside the 20-yard line.

Three Keys to Victory 1. Force Third Downs
The Falcons are 30th in the league, converting less than 25% of their attempts on third down. The combination of Atlanta’s ineffective passing game and depleted running game will help the Texans win the time of possession and help their defense stay fresher into the fourth quarter.

2. Exploit the middles On offense, the Falcons have a weak threesome at center and guard. Opponents have been able to blitz and penetrate the interior gaps to slow down their offense. On defense, the Falcons have been soft up the middle, from the defensive line through to the safeties. The more the Texans utilize interior weapons like Gaffney and Miller, the better they will be at racking up some serious yardage.

3. Go for the kill early
The Falcons are having a miserable season, plain and simple. Without Vick, the team’s confidence has been shaken. The Texans should go for the jugular from the start, rattle them early, and get them frustrated. Same holds true for starting the third quarter. The Falcons have been a poor second half team, and letting them hang around by employing a conservative offense will only help Atlanta erase some doubts and believe they can win on the road.

Views on the Game Saints   Bob says: Without Vick, the Falcons are Dunn. Oh, Duckett! Texans 31, Falcons 29 Saints   Dave says: Even Vick couldn’t help those scrubs. Texans 24 Falcons 20 Saints   Keith says: Dan Reeves oughtta be crapping out the Zocor by halftime. Texans 31, Falcons 10 Saints   Ric says: In year 2, these are the kind of games the Texans need to win. Texans 31, Falcons 28 Saints   Warren says: Carr or Banks? Vick or Johnson? Texans 27, Falcons 17

2003 Regular Season Records
Bob 8-3; Dave 6-5; Keith 5-6;
Ric 5-6; Warren 6-5

If you’d like to volunteer to write an upcoming GameDay Preview, let us know

Week 12 Preview Atlanta Falcons
2003 Record: (2-9)
11.30.03 | 12pm
Houston, TX Texan Leaders David Carr
135/233, 1,641 yds., 8/9 Domanick Davis
164/724, 4.4 YPC, 3 TD Andre Johnson
50/748, 15.0 YPC, 4 TD Falcon Leaders Doug Johnson
121/210, 1,520 yds, 8/11 Warrick Dunn
125/672, 5.4 YPC, 3 TD

Peerless Price
47/573, 12.2 YPC, 2 TD

2003 Schedule Date Opponent Result 08.09 Denver 12-20 08.15 at Dallas 6-34 08.23 San Diego 17-19 08.28 at Tampa Bay 3-34 Regular Season 09.07 at Miami 21-20 09.14 at New Orleans 10-31 09.21 Kansas City 14-42 09.28 Jacksonville 24-20 10.05 Bye 10.12 at Tennessee 17-38 10.19 New York Jets 14-19 10.26 at Indianapolis 21-30 11.02 Carolina 14-10 11.09 at Cincinnati 27-34 11.16 at Buffalo 12-10 11.23 New England 20-23 11.30 Atlanta 17-13 12.07 at Jacksonville 0-27 12.14 at Tampa Bay 3-16 12.21 Tennessee 24-27 12.28 Indianapolis 17-20   Overall Record 5-11