It’s Gut Check Time

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September 28, 2007
It’s Gut Check Time
by Jimmy Mohr

A hard fought 30-24 loss to the Indianapolis Colts resembled the final scene of Platoon more than it did a football game, as the effort left Gary Kubiak’s troops battered and torn. But despite losing three a reserve lineman to a horrifying neck injury and three offensive starters, the Texans fought until the bitter end. Houston is now 2-1 after the loss, but have consecutive games against opponents who’ve yet to win a game this year; the first of which takes place this Sunday in Atlanta where they’ll face-off against the 0-3 Falcons at the Georgia Dome.

The past two games have been particularly unkind to the Texans’ offensive personnel. One week removed from losing standout WR Andre Johnson to a sprained knee, starting C Steve McKinney was lost for the year with a torn ACL, WR/PR Jacoby Jones (separated shoulder) was lost for 2-3 weeks and RB Ahman Green aggravated a sprained knee and is unlikely to suit up for Sunday’s game. If Green can’t go, RB Ron Dayne is expected back in the lineup after missing the Colts game with bruised ribs.

Richard Smith’s 13th ranked defense will have to step up this weekend and help their offensive comrades. They will attempt to do so against a Falcons offense that has scored only 30 points (3rd worst in the NFL) and allowed 14 sacks (2nd worst in the NFL) over their first three games. Atlanta has had limited success running the ball; therefore, they have had to take their chances through the air. Look for Mario Williams and Amobi Okoye to have a field day in the Falcons backfield.

Other than the multitude of injuries the Texans are dealing with, another storyline this week is Matt Schaub’s return to Atlanta to face his former team. The Falcons traded him to H-town for two second round draft picks, a transaction they would not have made had they known about a storm brewing in Virginia. A month after Schaub was shipped off to Texas, the Michael Vick dog fighting scandal erupted and led to their star quarterback being suspended indefinitely by the NFL. For all practical purposes, the Falcons season ended that very day and it could take the team years to replace Vick.

If anyone has benefitted from Vick’s stupidity, it has to be Joey Harrington. He was relegated to the quarterback scrap heap after posting a 24-39 record as a starter in Detroit and Miami. When he signed with the Falcons last April he figured to spend most of his Sunday’s holding a clipboard, but a backyard full of dead pit bulls changed all of that. He has failed to take advantage of his golden opportunity so far; in fact he played so poorly in his first two games, the Falcons signed former Jaguars QB Byron Leftwich. The job is Joey’s for now, but when Leftwich becomes more familiar with the offense, the starting job will be wide open.

On defense, the Falcons are an inconsistent group. Last year, they held opponents to 10 or fewer points five times, but they also allowed 30-plus on four other occasions. They feature DE John Abraham, who leads the team with 3 sacks, and Pro Bowl CB DeAngelo Hall, who imploded during last week’s game leading to a $100,000 fine and a 1 or 2 quarter suspension from first year head coach Bobby Petrino. Opposite of Hall is someone familiar to the Texans, CB Lewis Sanders, who signed with Atlanta after spending two years in Houston.

What to Expect When the Texans have the ball…
Matt Schaub is going to have to somehow make do without his first and third receivers, his starting center and likely his leading rusher. Ron Dayne will handle the bulk of the carries and will face a Falcons defense that is giving up 142 rushing yards per game (25th in NFL). The Texans running game is averaging a bleak 3.2 yards per carry thru three games which has to improve beginning this week due to a severely depleted receiving corps. If they fail to get the running game untracked against a team that allows 4.4 yards per carry the Texans can kiss their winning record goodbye.

When Schaub scans the field for an open receiver he may have flashbacks to the preseason. His top three receivers this week have combined for 9 receptions on the year and outside of Kevin Walter, none of them expected to see significant playing time this year. One who has taken advantage of the opportunity is WR Andre’ Davis, who contributed 4 receptions for 70 yards last week. Three of the four members of the Falcons secondary are listed as questionable for Sunday’s game (Hall, Sanders and FS Chris Crocker) — that should help the depleted receiving corps.

The tight ends figure to be on the top of Schaub’s list of eligible receivers. He threw to Owen Daniels, Jeb Putzier and Mark Bruener a total of 11 times last week, completing 9 of them for 75 yards. The Falcons had trouble covering Panthers TE Jeff King last week, so look for Kubiak to call for routes that exploit the middle of the field.

When the Falcons have the ball…
Atlanta’s running game is led by Warrick Dunn who has 160 yards on 46 carries this season for a disappointing 3.5 yards per carry average. He’s an undersized (5’9”, 187 lbs) 32-year old running back who is well past his prime, but for now, the Falcons’ best option out of the backfield. His back-up is Jerious Norwood who is in his second year in the league and will get the ball 5 to 10 times per game. Up front, their strength is on the right side of their line where T Todd Weiner and G Kynan Forney combine for 17 years of experience, 13 of which have been with the Falcons.

The Falcons have passed the ball on roughly 60% of their plays from scrimmage this season. A shocking statistic considering they are led by the underachieving Joey Harrington, who owns a 69.1 QB rating for his career. He had one of his best games as a pro last week, throwing for 361 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but he has never been able to maintain any consistency on a weekly basis.

WR Roddy White leads the team in receptions with 15 and in yardage with 237 and is a favorite target of Harrington’s. Alge Crumpler is one of the leading tight ends in the NFL and turned in his finest effort of the season last week (6/63/1). His size (6’2”, 264 lbs) makes him a load to bring down, and for his career, 63% of his receptions have moved the chains.

Match-Ups to Watch

Ephraim Salaam vs. John Abraham
Salaam draws a tough assignment this week opposite John Abraham, who leads the Falcons with three sacks this season. Abraham appears to have returned to his Pro Bowl form of ’05 after playing in only 8 games last season due to a recurring groin injury. Salaam is likely to get double-team help from his teammates, but the other defensive lineman can’t be ignored. Six out of the seven sacks the Falcons have registered this season have come from the defensive line.

Matt Turk vs. Michael Koenen
This match-up is not exactly sexy, but it could very well decide the game. Matt Turk has pinned Texans opponents inside their 20 on 6 of his 11 punts; conversely, Koenen has done it only 4 out of 14 times. Field position is going to be huge this week considering the condition of the Texans offense. Turk has quietly added a dimension to the Texans arsenal that had been missing all of this time. If he unleashes the “Elephant leg” this week, he could single-handedly bury the Falcons fragile offense.

Matt Schaub vs. Joey Harrington
Schaub can’t let himself get outplayed by a player of Harrington’s caliber, especially in front of his former team. At the same time, he doesn’t need to come out of the gate slinging the football all over the field. He has his team in prime position for its third win, a feat the Texans didn’t achieve until week 13 of last season. The Falcons have lost five in a row at home dating to last season and have little expected of them this season, making this game a must-win if the Texans are to establish themselves as a legitimate playoff contender. Three Keys to Victory 1. Pound the ball
Something has to give this week — the Texans have had trouble running the ball and the Falcons have been defenseless to stop it. There’s little doubt that Gary Kubiak will devise a game-plan that relies heavily on a successful running game. The Panthers galloped for 175 net yards last week against the Falcons, just one week removed from gaining a mere 66 net yards on the ground against the Texans. A successful running game this week will keep the pressure off of the Texans unproven receivers.

2. Move the chains on third down The Texans have been superb on third down this season converting on 51.3% of their attempts, second best in the league. Atlanta’s defense is equally as strong on third down allowing only 33.3% of their opponent’s attempts to result in a first down. Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer keeps the pass rush conservative on first and second down in an attempt to force their opponents into third and long situations. Then they become aggressive and come after the quarterback. Schaub will have to be leery of this on third down and be ready to unload the football.

3. Get to Harrington
The guy has been sacked 14 times in three games and he is by no means elusive in the backfield. Houston’s trio of first round picks on the defensive line has shown improvement this year, but they need to step it up this week. Harrington is a mistake waiting to happen and if they can get pressure on him, he’s likely to be forced into committing a turnover. Look for Amobi Okoye, who leads the Texans and NFL rookies with three sacks. He will have extra incentive this week since he will be playing in front of Bobby Petrino, his college coach when he was at Louisville, and the guy who passed on him with the 8th pick in this past year’s draft.

Views on the Game

Blake says: Prediction under construction.

Bob says: A lot tougher choice than first glance. Texans 21, Falcons 13

Jimmy says: This team seems to want it more than in years past and this win will show what they are made of. Texans 16, Falcons 13

Keith says: At least Atlanta still has the Braves to root for after Sunday… no, wait, they don’t. Too bad. Texans 20, Falcons 13

Mike says: Falcons fans declare The Schaub trade as "Brett Favre II". Houston 24 Atlanta 10

Ric says: Hey, we used to have a failed QB from the 2002 draft, too… Texans 24, Falcons 13

Roy says: I don’t know where the points will come from, but I’m saying Texans 28, Falcons 10

Warren says: Another franchise milestone: the perpetual underdogs are road favorites. Texans 23, Falcons 14

2007 Regular Season Records
Blake 3-0; Bob 2-1; Jimmy 3-0; Keith 2-1;
Mike 2-1; Ric 1-2; Roy 2-1; Warren 1-2

Week 4 Atlanta Falcons
2007 Record: (0-3)
09.30.07 | 12pm
Atlanta, GA Texans Leaders Matt Schaub
63/83, 688 yds, 4/3 Ahman Green
35/149, 4.3 YPC, 1 TD Andre Johnson
14/262, 18.7 YPC, 3 TD Falcons Leaders Joey Harrington
66/96, 760 yds, 2/2 Warrick Dunn
46/160, 3.5 YPC, 1 TD

Roddy White
15/237, 15.8 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