Setting the Table for Sunday


Dec 10, 2012; Foxboro, MA, USA; General view of the opening kickoff of the NFL game between the Houston Texans against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports

With the New England Patriots as their next target, the Houston Texans ready themselves for their 4th playoff game in franchise history. Last time they met, the Texans were embarrassed as Tom Brady connected with several receivers, taking advantage of a depleted Texans secondary.

Going into Sunday, the Texans will have to assert themselves from the start to save themselves from another defeat. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is an all-star, and despite a losing score, he is one of the few players who can lead his team back from a losing position.

For the Texans to succeed this weekend, they need to first look at their offense on their priorities check list. Defense wins you championships is the saying, but having a good offense gets you there. Running back Arian Foster will be needed now more than ever, and he’s shown great promise in the post season, being the first running back to rush for 3 – 100 yard games in his first three playoff games. Foster is the key to the offense as he sets up the pass for quarterback Matt Schaub. Without a run game to keep defenses honest, Schaub tends to struggle. Receiver Andre Johnson does a great job of finding separation and makes plays on a regular basis. Yet, there hasn’t been a clear number two, let alone a solid receiving core, in years. The tight end position has also been a bright spot this year with Owen Daniels leading the way, but the group has experienced injuries which has hampered their production.

Final word: Mix it up with Foster, he can run outside or in, but could see more production with a few counters and traps mixed in. Head Coach Gary Kubiak tends to follow a trend with his plays, its time to start trying something new. Schaub also needs to find a number two receiver. Any business would rather work with what they got then constantly shelling out for new employees. If Schaub wants to prove his worth, he needs to make the players around him better by trusting them to make the play.

Jan 5, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans outside linebacker Connor Barwin (98) reacts after a play against the Cincinnati Bengals during the third quarter of the AFC Wild Card playoff game at Reliant Stadium. The Texans defeated the Bengals 19-13. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Texans defense has experienced a multitude of injuries this season, losing linebacker after linebacker, as well as depth in the secondary. Luckily, the Texans have drafted well on this side of the ball, having a three man front that outplays many 4 down linemen schemes. J.J. Watt is the Defensive end that spear heads this attack, disrupting the passing game constantly. In their last outing, Watt was stuffed by a two man blocking scheme by Nate Solder and Logan Mankins, rendering the Texans defense useless to the Patriots passing game. On the other hand, the Texans may try to use more stunts with Watt to disrupt and confuse the Patriots blockers. A one on one match up will give Watt a better chance for sacks, as well as a sense of paranoia for Tom Brady.

The linebacker position has seen more turnover then a restaurant. The inside position is the most hampered on the bunch, with Bradie James and Barrett Ruud starting this Sunday. The outside has been more stable despite injury, yet not as productive as last year with the middle being as hampered. The inside was spear headed by Brain Cushing, who was able to perform well whatever the play call would be. With him lost early in the season, the backers have been playing a safer type of defense to compensate, rushing the passer less often or with less players. It is however, a 3-4 defense, so having one backer rushing is normal. More than one is not as much as expected, especially with Watt taking over that role.

When the Texans acquired Johnathan Joseph in free agency last year, the Texans acquired a true number one corner. Joseph has been great in coverage but not perfect. The corners as a whole have dealt with injuries as well, but has been covered up by the front sevens play. As the Texans face better teams, such as the Patriots, the secondary had been exposed to their lack of depth. While this position will surely get attention in the draft, the secondary needs to play better as a whole if the expect to limit Brady. They will need to limit mistakes as Brady will dissect and dominate the weaker links.

Final Word: The Defense needs to keep the energy up from last week to pull out a win. J.J. Watt needs to get pressure early and often, which will feed the defense. By having Brady feel uncomfortable, everything else should fall into place. Stevan Ridley has proven worth as running back this year, but he is not an elite back. Covering the run shouldn’t be a problem, but covering the pass will be. Look for the Texans to play tight and sending the blitz early if they can put up points faster the Brady.

Special Teams is has been hit and miss this season. Kicker Shayne Graham has been earning his pay this season, going 31/38 in the regular season, missing most of those from 50 yards + (5). Graham has however been called upon too often, not because he’s a kicker, but because the Texans offense play has dropped off in the red zone. Punting has been average from Donnie Jones, and nit picking his play wouldn’t exactly be in the best taste.

Nov 22, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Houston Texans kicker Shayne Graham (17) reacts after attempting a field goal in the overtime of the Thanksgiving day game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. The field goal was no good. Houston Texans defeated the Detroit Lions 34-31. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Finally we have the return game, that has been above average with Keshawn Martin, with a little Daniel Manning in the mix. Martin has the speed to take these kicks back, averaging 23.9 yards in the regular season; but hasn’t taken one to the house yet. Any team would like to get back to the 20 as that’s where you would start on a touch back. F four extra yards on average is always a plus. Punt returning has also been productive as he averages 12.1 yards on twenty two returns. In the post season however, Danieal Manning has been taking over duties in the kick return game, averaging almost the same as Martin. While it isn’t expected for special teams to score touchdowns, better field position always helps.

Final Word: Shayne Graham has been great, but his number shouldn’t be called as often as it has, especially when the Texans in the redzone. The Texans can put up points, they just need a fire when in the red. Besides Graham, the rest of the special teams has been average, so no problems on that front.

Game Starts Sunday 4:30 EST on CBS

– Antonio Furgiuele