Divorce Court

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September 14, 2007
Divorce Court
by Jimmy Mohr

It’s official, professional football has returned to the city of Houston. Five years removed from their inaugural game and two years after posting a dismal 2-14 record, the Texans may have finally turned the corner towards respectability. An all-around team effort led to a 20-3 drubbing of the Kansas City Chiefs last week that was highlighted by stellar performances from Mario Williams, Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson. How fitting that they travel to Carolina this Sunday to face the Panthers and their former “franchise” quarterback David Carr, who was released by the team last spring after five disappointing seasons.

Gary Kubiak’s team has the opportunity to become the first Texans squad to begin the season 2-0. In fact, a win this week would be the first time they’ve ever won their second game of the season. To establish these firsts in Tobacco Country, the offense is going to have to get the better of one of the top defenses in the NFL. The Panthers have ranked outside the top 10 in total defense only once in the past five seasons and finished 7th overall last year. Last week, they limited a potent Rams offense to 238 total yards and effectively shut down Pro Bowl RB Stephen Jackson.

One of the big questions this week is how much of a factor David Carr’s knowledge of the Texans offense will affect the outcome of the game. Kubiak seems unfazed, as do many of Carr’s former teammates who believe that the game will come down to execution, not who knows what. Regardless of what the former #8 tells his new team, with the new #8 (Schaub) under center, the Texans offense appears more in sync than ever before.

Defensively, the Texans were superb last week in holding the Chiefs to 219 net yards and forcing three turnovers. Individual honors went to Mario Williams, who was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Week after recording a pair of sacks and returning a fumble for a touchdown. This Sunday, the Texans will face a Panthers’ offense that amassed 387 total yards last week behind a strong ground game that accounted for 186 of the yardage. QB Jake Delhomme put forth one of his better games, finishing with his fourth highest QB rating in his nine-year career.

Last season, the Panthers offense took the brunt of the criticism for the teams disappointing 8-8 finish. They finished the season 27th in the league in scoring behind an ineffective running game that averaged just over 100 yards per game (24th in the NFL). If the Texans run defense, led by DeMeco Ryans, can limit the effectiveness of the Panthers running game, their passing game will have to carry the load, which they haven’t been unable to do consistently.

What to Expect

When the Texans have the football…
Kubiak and Mike Sherman will have to try and devise a game plan to combat a Panther defense that ranked in the top ten in nine defensive categories last season. They will do so by using Ahman Green and Ron Dayne to hammer the Panthers defensive front in an attempt to keep the Panthers defense honest. They will face a tough front seven that held Jackson to 3.2 yards per carry last week. MLB Dan Morgan is back after missing most of ’06 with a concussion; he is considered their best tackler against the run.

Schaub will face a relentless pass rush that features Pro-Bowl DEs Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker, who have combined for 91.5 sacks over the past five seasons, which ties them with Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis for the league lead over that span. In order to drive offensive coordinators crazy, Peppers will routinely move from left end to right end and even line up over the guards and center, so it’s extremely difficult to devise a game plan against his 290 pound, lightning quick frame.

Texans Pro Bowl WR Andre Johnson had one of his best outings as a pro last week, registering seven receptions for 142 yards and a score. He will draw plenty of attention from the Panthers secondary, especially CB Chris Gamble who has 16 interceptions in his 3-plus seasons in the league. That should leave Kevin Walter and/or Jacoby Jones room to work. Look for Schaub to pick on CB Ken Lucas who was called for two pass interference penalties last week against the Rams.

When the Panthers have the football…
Carolina loves to run the football and does so by committee utilizing the services of the two De’s: DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams. For ’07, new offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson has implemented a zone blocking scheme to cater more to the duo’s slashing style of running. So far, the change has worked very effectively. The De’s combined for 156 yards on 32 carries and helped Carolina control the clock for over 34 minutes against the Rams.

QB Jake Delhomme enters the 2007 season on the hot seat, so to speak, after a sub-par performance last year. He responded last week with 3 TD’s, no interceptions and a 125.7 QB rating, his highest since ’05. Not surprisingly, his favorite target was standout WR Steve Smith who finished the game with 7 receptions for 118 yards and a touchdown. Smith is a burner who’s a threat to go deep after every snap of the football. SS C.C. Brown will have to stay back and help cover him deep, putting more pressure on the Texans front seven to keep the Panthers running game in check.

Complementing Smith are TE Jeff King (5 receptions last week), #2 WR Keary Colbert and 3rd receiver Drew Carter, who scored a pair of touchdowns on just 3 receptions against the Rams. With the respect that the Texans will have to show Smith, any one of these players could inflict serious damage.

Match-Ups to Watch

Texans Secondary vs. Steve Smith
Steve Smith says that for the first time since 2005, he is healthy enough to turn on the jets and go at full-speed. A scary thought considering he had enough speed to account for 17 passes of 20+ yards and record his second consecutive 1,000 yard season in ’06. CBs Dunta Robinson and DeMarcus Faggins will each have their hands full with Smith and will need to keep him underneath and not let him beat them deep. Tackling will be at a premium, as Delhomme often looks for him near the line of scrimmage, thereby giving him the chance to gain significant yards after catching the ball.

Ahman & Ron vs. The De’s
The ever-popular running back by committee will be in full force this weekend at Bank of America Stadium and this is likely where the game will be won or lost. Both teams are going to run the ball come hell or high water in order to control the clock and open up the passing game. The Texans run defense has improved after ranking last in the NFL in ’05. They were a much improved 20th last year and held Larry Johnson in check last week. Conversely, the Panthers run defense slipped to 11th last year after finishing fourth the year before, but injuries severely hampered their performance. The Texans and Panthers run defense rank 6th and 8th respectively after last week, this week will prove which defensive unit is superior.

Andre Johnson vs. Steve Smith
The similarities between these two is striking. They both had nearly identical numbers last week and are shoo-ins for 1,000 yard seasons in ’07, barring injury. Neither has a proven #2 receiver to take the heat off of them so they take what they can get and make the most of it. Most scouting reports give the edge to Smith this week with AJ facing a tougher pass defense, but they shouldn’t underestimate the chemistry between him and Schaub. Johnson finally has a quality QB to get him the football and his game could now elevate to another level. If it happens this week, the Texans may very well fly home victorious.

Three Keys to Victory

1. The Elephant Leg
Never underestimate the impact that a punter can have on a football game. Matt “Elephant Leg” Turk single-handedly tipped the field position scale in the Texans favor last week by booming the ball 165 yards on three attempts, a 55 yard average. His 48.7 net average bettered the franchise record by three yards and erased the name of Chad Stanley from Texans fans memories. The Panthers have a weak return game that ranked last in both punt and kick returns last season. They have enlisted rookie Ryne Robinson to handle return duties this year and he did little to impress his coaches last week. If the Elephant Leg can work his magic again this week, he gives a huge edge to the Texans.

2. Take More than you Give
The Texans turned the ball over twice last week, one of which was a Carr-esque interception pass from the arm of Matt Schaub. It’s tough enough to win on the road in the NFL, even tougher when you make mistakes. The Texans are 10-30 all-time on the road and have won only two of their last 16 contests away from Reliant Stadium. If they are to win this week in Charlotte, they will need to finish the game with a positive turnover ratio.

3. Third Down Efficiency
A major factor in the Texans victory last week was their ability to convert on third down. They succeeded on 9 of their 14 attempts (64%) including 5 out of 6 in the second half. The key to their high success rate was keeping third down yardage manageable. Aside from their 3rd and 35 near the end of the first half, on their 13 other third down attempts, they needed an average of 2.4 yards for a first down. Against an excellent pass rush this week, they will need to stay out of obvious passing situations and keep the Panthers defense guessing.

Views on the Game

Blake says: Ahman’s our salt to their Peppers. Texans 24, Panthers 10

Bob says: No Carr. No Excuses. Panthers 23, Texans 10

Jimmy says: David Carr gets to see first hand what he was never able to accomplish, a 2-0 start. Texans 17, Panthers 16

Keith says: Having soaked up the Carolina NASCAR fever, the Texans take too many left turns in this one. Panthers 17, Texans 16

Mike Says: The Houston secondary can’t catch up to Steve Smith. Panthers 23 Texans 14

Ric says: I’m tempted… very, very tempted. But I can’t do it until the Texans do it. Panthers 27, Texans 17

Roy says: Mario outshines Peppers, but too much Steve Smith. Panthers 17, Texans 10

Warren says: Mario has a big game in his home state, but so does Peppers. Panthers 17, Texans 13

2007 Regular Season Records
Blake 1-0; Bob 1-0; Jimmy 1-0;
Keith 1-0; Mike 1-0; Ric 1-0; Roy 1-0; Warren 1-0
Week 2 Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images at Carolina Panthers
2007 Record: (1-0)
09.16.07 | 12pm
Charlotte, NC Texans Leaders Matt Schaub
16/25, 225 yds; 1/1 Ahman Green
16/73 yds; 4.6 YPC; 0 TD Andre Johnson
7/142 yds; 20.3 YPC; 1 TD Panthers Leaders Jake Delhomme
18/27, 201 yds, 3/0 DeShaun Foster
17/94, 5.5 YPC, 0 TD

Steve Smith
7/118, 16.9 YPC, 1 TD

2007 Schedule Date Opponent Result 08.11 Chicago 19-20 08.18 at Arizona 33-20 08.25 Dallas 28-16 08.30 at Tampa Bay 24-31 Regular Season 09.09 Kansas City 20-3 09.16 at Carolina 34-21 09.23 Indianapolis 24-30  09.30 at Atlanta 16-26 10.07 Miami 22-19 10.14 at Jacksonville 17-37 10.21 Tennessee 36-38 10.28 at San Diego   11.04 at Oakland   11.11 BYE  — 11.18 New Orleans   11.25 at Cleveland   12.02 at Tennessee   12.09 Tampa Bay   12.13 Denver   12.23 at Indianapolis   12.30 Jacksonville     Overall Record 3-4