September 21, 2007
Bring on the Champs
by Jimmy Mohr
It’s been five long years since an NFL game of significance was played at Reliant Stadium. The date was September 8, 2002, when the Texans hosted their neighbors from North Texas in the franchise’s first-ever regular season game. The NFL’s 32nd team embarrassed Jerry Jones and the Cowboys by defeating them in front of a national television audience. Since that triumphant victory, the Texans have dropped 27 of their last 40 home games and have had usually played them with nothing but pride on the line.
That all changes this Sunday when Peyton Manning and the Super Bowl Champion Indianapolis Colts visit Reliant Stadium with first place in the AFC South on the line.
The road to 2-0 was not an easy one for Gary Kubiak’s troops. After falling behind 14-0 with barely half of the first quarter in the books, the Texans rallied last Sunday with 34 unanswered points en route to a 34-21 victory over Carolina. The win was gargantuan, but not without some downside. Andre Johnson sprained his knee in the second half and is unlikely to play in Sunday’s game.
Johnson’s injury aside, the Texans offense is playing at a transcedent level. Much of the credit belongs to what Matt Schaub brings to the table. In his first two games as the Texans’ QB, Schaub’s completed 72% of his pass attempts and posted a 111.4 QB rating, 5th highest in the NFL. Most importantly, he’s been sacked only twice in two games, well on pace to better Kubiak’s goal of 30 or fewer sacks for the season. He’s quick to get rid of the football and is mobile enough to elude pressure. Without his leading receiver, Schaub will have to add a new wrinkle this Sunday by involving others in the offense.
The Texans have the 9th ranked defense in the NFL and are 3rd against the run (69/YPG). Hard to believe, I know, but those statistics have been authenticated by the league office and The Elias Sports Bureau.
First round picks Mario Williams and Amobi Okoye are paying huge dividends registering a pair of sacks each and DeMeco Ryans continues to impress leading the team with 16 tackles. The key to slowing Manning will be to disrupt the pocket protection and force him to move around. He was sacked twice last week and hurried an additional seven times. He has rookie LT Tony Ugoh protecting his blind side, so look for the Texans to exploit his inexperience.
Indianapolis is looking to go 3-0 for the third consecutive year and they haven’t lost a regular or postseason game since the Texans defeated them last Christmas Eve. They’ve had to retool for ’07 having lost six starters from last year’s Super Bowl squad to free agency, retirement and injury, and were especially hard hit on defense. They lost both starting corners (Nick Harper and Jason David) and two of their three LB’s (Cato June and Gilbert Gardner). Their revamped defense has played adequately, but they’re still weak against the run and have allowed their opponents to convert 13 out of their 29 third down attempts.
The Texans have the football…
Thanks to a solid running game, Kubiak’s offense is tied for 2nd in the NFL in third down conversions and 4th in time of possession. If they expect to beat the Colts this Sunday, they would be well advised to continue those trends. Running backs Ahman Green and Ron Dayne (who’s injured) will square off against a Colts’ run defense that has given up just over 4 yards/carry this season after allowing an atrocious 5+ per carry last season. Look for them to exploit the middle of the defensive line where rookie DT Ed Johnson is starting in place of Booger McFarland (knee surgery). The Colts may also have to go without two of their starting linebackers Freddie Keiaho and Rob Morris due to injuries.
The “X” factor this week will be the passing game and how it will adapt to life without #80. Rookie Jacoby Jones and Kevin Walter should see plenty of balls. Their numbers pale in comparison to Johnson’s (4 catches for 50 yards combined) so they will both have to step up and force the Colts defense to respect the passing game. Jerome Mathis should factor in as well, but he isn’t a proven receiver and hasn’t caught a reception since the end of the ’05 season. Look for TE Owen Daniels to be a big contributor after Schaub threw his way 7 times last week (5 receptions) and also keep an eye on FB Vonta Leach who contributed five receptions of his own against the Panthers.
The Colts have the football… The Colts and their 3rd ranked offense (415 YPG) will bring little to the table the Texans haven’t seen in their previous 10 meetings. The usual suspects are still around: Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, but for the third time in as many years, there’s a new running back in the starting line-up. Joseph Addai takes over in the backfield after an outstanding rookie campaign that saw him become the first NFL running back to rush for 1,000 yards in a season without starting a single regular season game. With two games under his belt as the starter this year, he’s averaging 4.6 yards per carry and has scored two touchdowns. Success on the ground is the key to opening up the Colts’ air assault, so look for them to try to establish the run early.
The strength of the Indianapolis offense is their passing attack and has it ever feasted on the Texans secondary. Manning has thrown 25 touchdown passes and only four interceptions the ten times he has faced Houston and has a QB rating exceeding 100 in 6 of those games. WR’s Harrison and Wayne have been on the receiving end on most of Manning’s attempts, accounting for 24 of his 47 completions in last year’s contests alone. TE Dallas Clark is the forgotten man on the Colts offense, but he shouldn’t be overlooked. He set a career high with seven receptions last week and he is averaging 13 yards per catch.
Matt Schaub Vs. The Cover 2
The “Cover 2” defense run by the Colts is a major reason the Texans have won only one of their previous meetings. Tony Dungy perfected the scheme in Tampa Bay and brought it with him to Indianapolis when he was named their head coach in 2002. It is intended to defend against the deep pass by dividing the deep part of the field into two zones and letting each safety cover their respective half. The cornerbacks and linebackers drop into zone coverage and force the QB to find the holes before Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis rips them to shreds. If given enough time, Schaub should be able to find open receivers within 5-10 yards of the line of scrimmage. If the running game is successful, that should open up the deeper part of the field.
Texans Pass Protection VS. Colts Pass Protection
The Colts have set the gold standard for sacks allowed over the last decade. In the 9-plus years Peyton Manning has been their starting QB, he has been sacked 172 times in 146 games, or 1.18 times per game. In comparison, David Carr was sacked 249 times in 76 games for Houston, or 3.28 times per contest.
This year has been different for the Texans offensive line. Matt Schaub has been sacked twice in two games including a big goose egg last week against Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker. They face a similar dynamic duo this week in Mathis and Freeney who have only one sack between them this year but five in their last four meetings with the Texans. The offensive line will also have to leery of the safety blitz; SS Bob Sanders recorded 2.5 sacks last week against Vince Young.
Mario Williams VS. Tony Ugoh
This is the week that Gary Kubiak’s #1 overall choice in ’06 could truly pay dividends. The Colts passing attack was a major factor in the decision to spend high draft picks on pass rushers the past two years and the retirement of Tarik Glenn has forced them to put a rookie at left tackle. The Titans exploited Ugoh last week and the strategy worked to the tune of two sacks and seven hurries. Williams should expect to see plenty of double teams which should allow his fellow defensive linemen room to work.
1. Bend Don’t Break
As sure as the sun will rise, the Colts will gain yardage and move the football. Take last week for example: The Colts had five drives that entered the Titans red zone and only had 16 points to show for their efforts (1 TD, 3 FGs). Their inability to put the ball in the end zone from inside the 20 kept Tennessee in the football game until the final gun sounded. The Texans should be able to incorporate the same philosophy. The secondary will need to prevent Manning from completing the deep ball and force him to throw the ball underneath. Demarcus Faggins will have to improve his play from last week, as he will line up opposite Harrison or Wayne on virtually every snap of the football.
2. Play Keep Away
The Texans running game is the key to keeping Manning off of the field and the Colts off of the scoreboard and its importance is further magnified with the absence of Andre Johnson. Ahman Green and Ron Dayne will be keys to any chances the Texans have of winning. Dayne can attest to that statement having rumbled for a career high 153 yards in last season’s 3-point victory over the Colts.
Indy is also hurting from the injury bug as they will likely be without two of their starting linebackers for the second consecutive week. Throw in a rookie defensive tackle and you have the makings of a long day at the office for the Colts defense.
3. The Home Crowd
For the first time in their existence the Texans are playing for something at home, so every single seat in Reliant had better be occupied on Sunday. A raucous crowd will pump up the Texans players and make communication more difficult for the Colts offense. While Indianpolis is used to playing in front of hostile crowds, they did go 4-4 on the road last season with losses in their final four away from home.
Blake says: Green covers a lot of green, but not enough: Colts 27, Texans 17
Bob says: Bob says It’s not Christmas Eve anymore. Colts 27, Texans 20
Jimmy says: The Colts show the Texans whose boss in the AFC South. Colts 30, Texans 17
Keith says: The defense is still too susceptible to the pass, and guess what? Peyton is good at finding open receivers. Colts 27, Texans 24
Mike says: Jacoby’s coming out party not enough. Reality check time. Colts 24, Texans 20
Ric says: Hello, rest of NFL; we’re the Texans. Texans 17, Colts 10
Roy says: No Andre = No way. Peyton destroys Faggins in a landslide. Colts 31, Texans 14
Warren says: Continued outstanding play by both lines is key to the keep-away-from-Peyton strategy. Texans 23, Colts 20
2007 Regular Season Records
Blake 2-0; Bob 1-1; Jimmy 2-0;
Keith 1-1; Mike 1-1; Ric 1-1; Roy 1-1; Warren 1-1
Week 3 Indianapolis Colts
2007 Record: (2-0)
09.23.07 | 12pm
Houston, TX Texans Leaders Matt Schaub
36/50, 452 yds, 3/1 Ahman Green
31/144, 4.6 YPC, 1 TD Andre Johnson
14/262, 18.7 YPC, 3 TD Colts Leaders Peyton Manning
46/72, 600 yds, 4/1 Joseph Addai
43/199, 4.6 YPC, 2 TD
12/185, 15.4 YPC, 2 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