By Lori Chase - Staff Columnist
Published: November 1st, 2009
TEXANS OVERVIEW (2009 RANKINGS)
In Year 4 of the Gary Kubiak Era, Houston’s 4-3 record ties them for the best start in franchise history. Can they take the next step and become a playoff team? Judging by early results, they’ll go only as far as quarterback Matt Schaub’s arm and a solid run defense can carry them… and that just might be good enough.
OFFENSE (#10 total yardage, #30 rushing, #3 passing, #13t scoring):
Quick, name the player currently leading the NFL in both passing yardage (2,074) and touchdowns (16). Brady? Brees? Manning (the one in Indy)? Good guesses all, but wrong. Schaub doesn’t garner too many headlines outside Houston ... but if he keeps up his current torrid pace (and avoids injury, a problem during his previous two years as the Texans’ starter), that may well begin to change.
Of course, it helps to have one of the top receivers in the league catching the ball. Is it possible for a two-time All-Pro to be underrated? If so, Andre Johnson is your guy. Like Schaub, No. 80 goes about his business quietly, but no wideout has averaged more receiving yards per game since 2006. He’s tough, too: despite a bruised lung that had him coughing up blood following last week’s game, Johnson expects to play on Sunday. Kevin Walter lines up on the opposite side, with old friend Andre Davis and return specialist Jacoby Jones also in the rotation.
The Texans also boast one of the top tight ends in the league in Owen Daniels, who leads the team with 39 catches and five receiving touchdowns, and running back Steve Slaton is also a threat out of the backfield. In fact, Slaton may do more damage in the passing game than by running the ball; the Texans are near the bottom of the league in rushing yards per play.
The line is young (although not quite as deep a shade of green as Buffalo’s), and became even more so when guards Chester Pitts and Mike Brisiel went on I.R. Last year’s first-round pick, Duane Brown, locked down the left tackle job during his rookie training camp and has started every game since then. On the other side, Eric Winston is probably the team’s best lineman. Former Bronco Chris Myers anchors the line at center, flanked by guards Kasey Studdard and Chris White.
DEFENSE (#21 total yardage, #21 rushing, #18 passing, #20 scoring):
After skewing their early drafts heavily toward offense, the Texans began switching their focus to finding defensive playmakers when they selected cornerback Dunta Robinson 10th overall in 2004. Since then, they’ve made some good (Mario Williams) and some not-so-good (Jason Babin, Travis Johnson) first-round selections.
More than a few draftniks scoffed when Houston spent the 2006 No. 1 overall pick on Williams instead of the flashy Reggie Bush or hometown favorite Vince Young, but then-general manager Charlie Casserly knew that the team needed some semblance of a pass rush. (Five years into their existence, Jeff Posey – yeah, THAT Jeff Posey – still held the franchise single-season sack record with eight.) A case of plantar fasciitis slowed Williams early in his career, but he’s becoming a dominant force from his right end slot. In 2008, John McCargo’s college teammate compiled his second consecutive double-digit-sack season by leading the team with 12 takedowns and earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl.
The rest of the line is a mix of veterans and high-round draft picks, with former Cardinal Antonio Smith lining up at left end and Shaun Cody and Jeff Zgonina in a rotation with the tackle many Bills fans wanted, 2007 first-rounder Amobi Okoye. This year’s second-rounder, defensive end Connor Barwin (Cincinnati), should also see some playing time.
The team also added some talent at linebacker back in April, using their top pick on USC’s Brian Cushing, who may well be the least-known but most productive of the three Trojans ‘backers taken in the first round. He leads the team in tackles and has also forced two fumbles and picked off a pass. Steady DeMeco Ryans mans the middle, with Zac Diles on the weak side after winning an open competition for the job in training camp.
Robinson and Jacques Reeves are the starting corners, with Fred Bennett and rookie Glover Quin coming in on multiple-DB packages. Remarkably, none has picked off a pass yet. Free safety Eugene Wilson leads the team with two picks; Bernard Pollard, the man best-known for taking out Tom Brady’s knee in the 2008 season opener, lines up at strong.
Kris Brown remains the only kicker in Texans history. He finished last season a solid 29-for-33, but has already missed three of nine attempts this year. The ageless Matt Turk handles punting chores, averaging a solid 37.2 net yards per kick. Those numbers are aided by one of the top coverage units in the league; the Texans have allowed under 20 yards per kickoff return and a minuscule 4.1 on punts.
Jacoby Jones drops deep for both punts and kick returns, and he’s a good one, already scoring a touchdown on a kickoff and averaging over 10 yards per punt runback. Davis also sees some time as the kick returner.
The Texans’ season began slowly – they were 2-3 after five games, with their wins against dreadful Tennessee and Oakland – but they rebounded from a loss to the defending NFC champion Cardinals with solid performances in back-to-back victories against Cincinnati and San Francisco.
To have a shot at winning this game, the Bills defense is going to have to slow down Schaub’s aerial circus without letting Slaton run wild. As for the offense ... well, showing up would be a good start.