Losing My Faith

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September 8, 2005
Losing My Faith

by Ric Sweeney

I know the last two preseason games have inspired fear and dread among many of us, and with good reason. You can only discount preseason games so much. When presumably simple tasks – like staying onsides and throwing to players wearing the same uniform – fall off a steep cliff, and things begin to look an awful lot like 2002 all over again, there’s plenty of justification for being concerned.

In all honesty though, I actually started to get a case of the “worries” before the Dallas game. The source of my angst was rooted in two recent articles that detailed the Texans’ meticulous plan to overhaul and improve its offense this offseason.

Seems after three years of watching David Carr spill his DNA on football fields all across America, Houston’s brain trust at long last determined that maybe risking their franchise quarterback’s life might not be the best course of action on a weekly basis. So they decided to finally implant changes that would keep him upright more often and help move the football downfield.

Eureka! In an offseason filled with uncertain, tentative steps, the Texans seemed to finally be making a move forward. Focus was at last going to be shifted to the team’s game plan – a constant source of anger, frustration and disbelief for many fans who have viewed it too predictable, too conservative, and not too terribly effective. It seemed that after three years, the team was going to take the shackles off its offense and let its natural playmakers take over. Carr would be given a chance to lead the team; Andre Johnson would be given the opportunity to join the elite rank of NFL game breakers; Chris Palmer would prove once and for all that he really was an offensive genius.

Appetites grew damp in anticipation of a new look Texan offense, and hope began to blossom once again inside the mind of the pushing-closer-to-the-edge-of-revolt Texan fan, who watched an unprepared, distracted team close out its lackluster 2004 campaign with a whimper.

All in the past, my friends; 2005 would be the year of the Texan offense. And just what, pray tell, could fans expect from the revamped system? On the surface, more disappointment, I’m afraid, and it’s dashed any and all excitement I may have had for the coming season. I fear our team may be the band during the parade scene of Animal House, being led into a brick wall that it keeps running into over and over again.

According to The Sporting News, “(B)oth Palmer and head coach Dom Capers thought making the offense in general more comfortable for their quarterback was a requisite to Carr’s making the jump to Pro Bowl status. ‘We decided we needed to change some things,’ Carr said. ‘Our offense needed to be more consistent. We tweaked some things.’”

Brilliant. Four years after turning the franchise over to him, the team decided it was time to lessen Carr’s burden. Why this wasn’t a focus in, say, 2002, I’ll never know. In the meantime, they’ve spent three years filling his head with so much gobbledygook, they’ve rendered him a calculated, thinking-too-much quarterback who’s stuffing his natural talents into the nether reaches of a back pocket. Whatever. At least the team was finally, it seemed, doing something proactive, right? Changes were coming; big changes.

According to a recent article by Richard Justice in the Houston Chronicle, among the new wrinkles we can expect from this year’s Texans include, and I’m going to quote here, lest you think I’m making this up or erring in my translation, “moving (Johnson) around… to create a moment of defensive indecision before the snap;” asking Carr “to do less” because “(f)ew quarterbacks in the NFL had such a heavy mental load at the line of scrimmage (last year);” and doing everything “at a faster pace.”

Now I’ll be the first to admit we would have trouble filling the top of a pin’s head when it comes to downloading my intimate knowledge of football beyond what I see between the stripes, but these are things I’ve personally been waiting, and screaming for, since about… oh, midway through the first quarter of the San Diego game during the inaugural season.

You’re telling me it took Palmer and company this long to make those adjustments? Is he consulting with FEMA, or something? Yikes. Maybe I’m naïve, but aren’t these adjustments teams usually can make, uhm, oh, I don’t know – during a game?! Teams that react and then attack have something in common – it’s often called winning. Teams that passively sit back and do absolutely nothing for three straight years are, well, the Texans, apparently.

And OK, if restructuring an offense on the fly during the course of a 60-minute game is asking too much (and I don’t see how moving a receiver around could possibly be too much, but…), is asking them to make these adjustments over a 16-game season unreasonable? How do you allow your opponent to simply, and easily, neutralize a talent like Johnson the way teams did last year down the stretch? Oh, I know – he’s so good, defenses are focused on stopping him. Quick: name Minnesota’s other receiver last year. That’s what I thought, you non- fantasy football players, and yet, Randy Moss had another dominant season. Hells bells, one of football’s greatest minds, Bill Belichick, wasn’t able to find a way to shut down an injured Terrell Owens during last year’s Super Bowl and you’re telling me the Eagles’ other playmakers posed that big a threat?

Yeah, yeah, I know: Daunte Culpepper and Donovan McNabb are more established quarterbacks than Carr. Fine, but it really doesn’t explain how Carson Palmer – in his first year as a starter – found Chad Johnson 95 times for 1,200+ yards and nine scores, does it? And I think Palmer’s other receiver last year was Cris Collinsworth.

Thing is, other teams seem to adjust. If they have a certified playmaker on offense, they work double time to find creases, pick spots, exploit match-ups and get the playmaker the ball. Not doing so is like having Clemens, Pettitte and Oswalt rested and starting Tim Redding in a game 7.

Something’s off. Something. I’ve long given Palmer the benefit of the doubt, but now my defense of him is going the way of little George Constanza after a brief swim in the cold water. And understand, this stops right at Dom Capers’ feet. How is it possible that, in three years, he never, ever thought it might be a good idea to pull Palmer aside and say, “Hey, Chris, ya know what? Carr’s getting pounded like a Clay Aiken fan unwittingly stumbling into a dark corner in Shawshank – think it might be a decent idea to… oh, I don’t know, I’m talking off the top of my head here, mix in a quick slant or two? Move our receivers around? Dumb things down so he’s playing more than he’s thinking? Or does someone else in your fantasy league have Carr and you’re trying to ensure his numbers are dismal?”

And again, these were fears and frustrations mounting before Houston’s back-to-back, abandon all women and children, save yourself bombs the past two weeks against Dallas and Tampa Bay. (By the way, don’t even get me started on the team’s generic, cliché-riddled response to the losses. If this isn’t the boringest team in professional football…) Maybe the team is trying to be coy, not wanting to show off new looks, new formations, etc. I kind of thought that was the point of preseason, but maybe not. Maybe they have a certified Miami ’03 up their sleeves.

But I’m finding it harder and harder to have much faith in what the team is trying to do. Last week, Carr didn’t look like a quarterback going through the preseason motions; he looked like a guy that had reached his breaking point. Frustrating to think four years may be wiped out if the team doesn’t get its act together, isn’t it?

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