October 7, 2003
by Keith Weiland
The Texans can win for not showing up.
Sitting out with a Week 5 bye, the team watched New England explode for 38 points to outscore divisional rival Tennessee in a wild fourth quarter.
The Titans loss knocks the AFC South contender down a peg or two as the Houston Texans lie patiently in the weeds, just a half game out of second place. A Sunday date with the former Oilers awaits in Nashville. Followed by a jaunt to Indy two weeks later, might the division lead be within their reach?
Excuse me for tilting at windmills, my dear Sancho. I know they must first slay the Titans. Such an improbable quest to win twice on the road against more talented foes, I agree, but a division title for the Texans is no more improbable than a second-year Jaguar team making it to the Conference Championship, not to mention the similarly experienced Panthers that same year.
The first key for Houston is to win games against divisional opponents. One for one there already. The second key is to hope for mediocrity from the Colts and Titans such that no one scampers away with the crown. With Indy’s amazing comeback win over Tampa Bay in overtime, maybe the unbeaten Colts aren’t a Buc Lite afterall.
With their pedestrian 2-2 record, the Texans may not stand among the mighty Colts, but at least they no longer slouch betwixt the league’s meek in Arizona and San Diego. They are in the process of earning their wounds with dignity, and as fans of the Texans, we are witness to their meticulous ascension up the NFL’s food chain.
That pedestrian record is more than a small step forward from a year ago. It’s a giant goalline lunge toward a winning attitude. Facing a heavily favored Miami squad on the road, the Texans emerged victorious. Playing well half of the time against New Orleans then Kansas City, the Texans learned how to finish a fourth quarter against Jacksonville.
With an extra week off to prepare for Tennessee, anything seems possible. Dom Capers has proven to be a game planner. Last year, the Texans returned from their bye and gave the Bills a run for their money, posting their best offensive output of the season to that point.
No longer the plodding steamroller they have been in recent years, the Titans may prove to be too difficult to outscore. Quarterback Steve McNair, unsheathed, has thrust and parried his offensive mates in a downfield arsenal this season, one which can certainly outscore the Texans as quickly as the Chiefs did during a four-minute span in Week Three.
But there are chinks in the Titan armor. Their defense lacks depth, and they just lost corner Samari Rolle’s services to a dislocated elbow. They have also shown a weakness to the run, lacking discipline as tacklers. Against New England last week, the Titans gave up 160 yards to a Patriot backfield featuring the likes of Mike Cloud, fresh from a substance abuse suspension.
Titan running back Eddie George has started slow again this season, and he has shown little signs of momentum. The Texans thus far have done quite well against four of the league’s best running backs. Ricky Williams, Deuce McAllister, Priest Holmes, and Fred Taylor have averaged 80 yards per game against Houston’s 3-4 scheme. None of these elite backs have run for triple digit yardage.
The Titans have been effective through the air, but the Texans have a trio of corners in Aaron Glenn, Marcus Coleman, and Kenny Wright able to defend the skies. Glenn, who is nursing an injured groin and may not be ready just yet, hopes to be healthy enough to return to Pro Bowl form on Sunday. If he can’t go, no worries. Coleman plans to maintain his AFC Defensive Player of the Month award. As a nickleback with a pair of picks, Wright proved against the Jaguars that he is worthy as a spot starter if pressed into duty.
The trick in slowing down the Titan offense, however, will be in containing the elusive McNair, and keeping him from creating an opportunity while within the clutches of Texan pass rushers. But even that is wishful thinking. The Texans have yet to put serious pressure on an opposing quarterback this season.
The road to the playoffs this fall is a quixotic one for the Texans, since it is at least another year away, and quite possibly two.
I don’t care. Let’s keep tilting.
Tune in, drop out… This weekend is like Bowl season in October. So many prospects, so little time. There are enough positional possibilities to make even Arnold Schwarzenegger blush.
Miami @ Florida State, 11:00am, CT, ABC – Here’s another chance for you to watch defensive tackle Vince Wilfork (6’2" 245) and safety Sean Taylor (6’3" 225). While you’re at it, keep an eye on Hurricane offensive lineman Vernon Carey (6’5" 350), and linebackers D.J. Williams (6’2" 249) and Jonathan Vilma (6’1" 220), too. For the Seminoles, take a look at defensive lineman Darnell Dockett (6’4" 280). Following a terrific start to his collegiate career, Dockett got lost somewhere along the way due to injuries and off-field problems. If he regains form, he has first round ability.
Texas vs. Oklahoma, 2:30pm CT, ABC – As usual, there’s plenty of NFL talent to scout in the Red River Shootout, so let’s narrow the focus down to two per side. Each team has a D-lineman and a cornerback with the talent to be a first rounder next April. For the Sooners, it’s junior Tommie Harris (6’3" 287) and senior Derrick Strait (5’11" 194), quick and aggressive players when they’re at the top of their game. The Horns meanwhile have senior leaders in the beefy Marcus Tubbs (6’4" 310) and the human highlight reel, Nathan Vasher (5’11" 180).
It may look like hasta la vista, baby, but don’t fret, Keith Weiland will be back.
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