September 2, 2005
The End of the Innocence
by Keith Weiland
The Texans never do things the easy way. Following a heartless loss to the Browns to end the 2004 season, the team posted a 1-3 record in preseason, closing with a pair of stinkers against the Cowboys and Buccaneers.
Ah, but the preseason is meaningless, right? David Carr better hope so at least. His quarterback rating over the past four games has been a miserable 23.0.
In the last two games, playing in roughly three quarters of football, Carr has thrown just 8 completions in 24 attempts (33 percent) for 56 yards, no touchdowns, and four interceptions. Check that again: Carr has half as many completions to the wrong jerseys as he does his own teammates.
And here we thought we should be worried about Carr improving his touchdown-to-interception ratio this fall. How about keeping an eye on his completion-to-interception ratio?
If the “Road to Forty” is the path to this season’s Super Bowl, then apparently Carr is on the road to forty interceptions if something doesn’t take a right turn at Albuquerque real quick, starting against the Bills next week.
Carr and the Texans are implementing a new wrinkle to their offense, some of which they have already shown during the preseason contests: shorter drops, faster reads, and more timing patterns. It not only requires a receiving corps to get separation quickly, it also demands the quarterback to read his coverages even quicker.
If Carr has had one weakness over his first three seasons, reading coverages might be it. When his offensive line has given him more than a blink of protection, Carr’s progression has been to find the primary target, often Andre Johnson, and if he’s not open, then to locate the dumpoff receiver, often Domanick Davis.
In the last two preseason games, as well as in the open camp workouts, Carr has not made the correct reads consistently, choosing to rely on his arm strength, forcing the ball into tight coverage. Can this be improved? Yes. Will it be improved in time for the flight to Buffalo? I don’t know.
Regardless, don’t expect any tweaks in the near future. Head coach Dom Capers defended his team’s changes to the offensive gameplan this season after the loss to the Bucs.
“We made a commitment to it,” he said to the Houston Chronicle. “David knows we have work to do, and I’m convinced that we’ll get things squared away.”
Are we being poisoned by a fairy tale? How long should we wait for Carr and the Texans offense to figure this out? Offer up your best defense, Capers, ‘cause this is the end of the innocence for you and your quarterback.
For maybe the first time ever, the Texans finally have enough talent assembled on both sides of the ball to win games without over-achieving. The tendency for the Capers and his coordinators to over-think the gameplan to out-scheme opponents isn’t necessary when they have the better collection of players on gameday.
On both sides of the football, Texan players are asked to read and react far more often than they are allowed to just buckle their chinstraps and smash the other team in the mouth. On offense, they zone block, reading what the defense gives them. On defense, coordinator Vic Fangio has installed a ponder-heavy approach when a player isn’t asked to flat-out blitz.
“A lot more technique, a lot more thinking involved,” cornerback Phillip Buchanon said of Fangio’s defense, comparing it to the system he left in Oakland.
If the commentary sounds familiar, it was the same thing said about the futile Colts defense when Fangio left Indianapolis for Houston after the 2001 season. Why do the Texans continue to employ such a cerebral approach when it undermines their players’ raw talent and energy?
With all of the new faces on defense combined with the scheme changes on offense, one can only raise more questions about the team’s readiness for the Bills after the last two preseason games.
Keep this in mind though: The Texans have rarely given their fans much hope in the final two preseason games in their brief history. The team has posted an 0-8 record since 2002 in those final games. Yet these boys of Houston’s summer have a 2-1 record in regular season openers. Training camps in the heat and humidity of our hometown can be at least partly to blame for the team’s ineffectiveness in those final meaningless games.
Still, if happily ever after fails, and Carr cannot overcome his struggles in adapting to the gameplan changes, he might need to prepare himself for one long season.
Keith Weiland assures us Don Henley was not harmed in the production of this column.
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