Can Schaub, Texans rebound from their unimpressive performance in Indianapolis?
Visiting San Diego is fresh off of a comeback win over the Titans, while the host Houston is coming off of a Monday Night disappointment in a loss to the Colts- one team tries to stay hot while the other tries to get hot.
The Houston Texans and San Diego Chargers will battle for better position in the challenging AFC South at Reliant Stadium on Sunday. While the Chargers sit at a lowly 3-5 record, they also sit with the number one offense and number one defense in the league. However, while the Texans have a 4-3 record, the team ranks last in the league in defense. In that respect, the Chargers are out to prove they’re better than their record speaks; while the Texans are out to prove that last week’s primetime fall out is behind them as they, like 31 other teams in the league, pursue NFL greatness: the Lombardi Trophy.
What to Look For
The Houston Texans are coming off, arguably, their best defensive performance of the season in their Week 8 loss against Indianapolis. Although giving up over 360 yards of net offense, the Texans managed to hold Peyton Manning to 92 first half passing yards and only 268 passing yards total. Although not entirely impressive, it speaks magnitudes that the Texans slowed the Colts’ offense coming out of each’s bye week. The Chargers, on the other hand, are coming off a morale-boosting win against the former NFL team from Houston: the Tennessee Titans. Although beating the Texans’ rival at home, the Chargers have an 0-4 road record coming into their game at Houston. The Texans will be looking to pounce on the Chargers’ unfamiliarity to home, but the Chargers will definitely be looking to unload their number one offense on the Texans’ last ranked defense.
Arian Foster. Foster has been the most surprising playermaker on the Texans’ offense thus far in 2010. Although Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson are the most familiar playmakers on the team, they haven’t led the Texans to the “W’s” like Foster. On Sunday, Foster’s going up against the number two rush defense in the NFL, and he will yet again rely on his team to help him run the game plan. Each Texans’ loss this season has been coupled with moving away from the run. The Texans’ can’t falter early this week, and head coach Gary Kubiak has heard about the lack of touches by Foster all week. Kubiak should plan for a strong run game this week, balancing in a healthy dose of the pass game and expecting the defense to keep the Texans in the game. This team isn’t the ‘98 Vikings, where the offense could be relied upon to win games if the defense forfeited out at most 24 points a game. Houston’s young defense can’t keep opponents’ scores down, and it will be a rude awakening for the team and its wonderful run game if the team can’t stay in games. Sunday, the Texans must get Foster the ball. Last week’s 15 carries is not enough. Expect Kubiak to make it his will to get Foster the ball 30 times on Sunday, especially with the recent poor play from receivers Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones.
Matt Schaub. In Monday’s loss against the Colts, Matt Schaub showed the same intimidation and fear that he did against the Titans of old. Remember old Fat Albert and Kyle Vanden Bosch? They used to strike fear in the eyes of Schaub to the point that Schaub would refuse to answer questions on the former Titans’ defensive linemen’s taunts. Last time Schaub was injured/intimidated like last week’s loss. Another team in 2007 caused the same fear in Schaub: the San Diego Chargers. Although things have changed since then, Schaub will definitely remember his 77-yard, two interception, injury-filled game. Schaub will need to step his game up, build some confidence and keep the Texans in games, whether the offensive line’s giving him 2.5 or 5 seconds to throw the ball.
Brian Cushing. Although Bernard Pollard will likely edge to some coverage plays on Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, middle linebacker Brian Cushing will likely handle Gates’ stomping grounds: the middle of the field. Expect Cushing to be prepping all week for this matchup, and I’d expect Cushing to show up. Still expect Gates to get his four to six receptions, but Cushing should keep the yards after catch down. Gates led the Chargers in receiving last week against the Titans with 123 yards and a touchdown. He’ll put Cushing, who will be playing middle linebacker for the second time in his pro career, to the test. Although the steroid allegations will taint my argument, I bet we see the Cushing we all know on Sunday against the Chargers at home.
San Diego Chargers
Philip Rivers. Did you know Philip Rivers is on pace this season to smash Dan Marino’s NFL single season passing record of 5,084 yards from 1984? Rivers has thrown for 2,649 yards halfway through the season, more than any other quarterback in league history through the first eight games. Throwing an average of 311 yards per game, Rivers has fairly protected the ball: seven interceptions and three fumbles lost. His weapons include Antonio Gates (40 receptions, 623 yards and 9 touchdowns this season) and receivers Malcolm Floyd, Craig “Buster” Davis and Legedu Naanee. However these receivers were inactive against the Titans with hamstring injuries. That’s where the Chargers receiving running backs, receivers rookie Seyi Ajirotutu and veteran Patrick Crayton came in to boost Rivers to 305 yards passing. Against the Texans’ league worst pass defense, Rivers should have a field day. The Texans will have to play conservative defense to stop the Chargers’ complete offensive attack. The best bet to slow the Chargers is outsmart head coach Norv Turner. If that doesn’t happen, the Texans will likely be thrown off their game plan again, abandoning the run and passing to keep themselves in the game.
Chargers Ground Game. Although the Houston Texans run defense ranks 14th in the league, they have been more than susceptible against opposing offenses. Last week, third year backup Mike Hart ran for 84 yards on 12 carries. Two weeks before, Chiefs backs Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones totaled 193 yards on 35 carries. This game will present a similar matchup to these backs: rookie Ryan Matthews, veteran speedster Darren Sproles, and the young pounder Mike Tolbert. To slow the Chargers’ run game, the Texans defensive line will have to play their positions. They’ll be required to fill as many gaps as possible and to mislead the Chargers offensive line. The Texans linebackers will have to shoot the gaps and still maintain coverage against the likes of Antonio Gates. The secondary, led by Bernard Pollard, will have to play smart. They’ll have to utilize their instincts and be aware of which back is in the game. If Sproles, the defense will be on notice of toss, stretch, screen and other outside the hash plays. If the Chargers bring Matthews, the Texans will have to be sure tacklers. Matthews has an engine with speed and grit. Expect the Texans to slow him more than the others, but he’s still a rookie playmaker. Lastly, the Texans will likely have the hardest time containing the seven-touchdown running back, Mike Tolbert. He pounds the goallines and the Texans must limit him early and now let the Chargers within their 10. Tolbert’s the kind of back who will keep moving through the Texans’ best tackles.
Defensive Coordinator Ron Rivera. Before playing New England, the legitimacy of the Chargers defense was in the air: were they that good? Well before New England the Chargers had only faced once-lackluster offenses to become the number one defense in the league in Kansas City, Jacksonville, Seattle, Arizona, Oakland, St. Louis. Against New England, Rivera’s Chargers limited the Patriots starting quarterback Tom Brady to 159 yards and a touchdown. However, the Chargers’ defense followed up a great defensive effort with allowing Vince Young to complete ten passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns in their Week 7 win. Against the Texans, the Chargers’ number two rush defense will employ all efforts in shutting down the hot Houston runner, Arian Foster. On only 15 limited carries against Indy, Foster totaled 102 yards. The Chargers’ best defense to slowing Foster will be a good offense. The Texans have lost every game they haven’t ran the ball well and often. The reason why: the Texans have gone down early and were unable to timely run the ball and control the clock.
The Houston Texans should be ready for the Chargers to put up at least 24 points come Sunday. If prepared, Kubiak should have a different game plan than last week’s Colts loss. He should expect the chance the Texans won’t get to utilize their run game, and rather may have to pass the ball to stay in the game. So he should develop a game plan to reflect a shoot out “Plan B” to the Texans usual dose of run, run, pass, run, play action. However, head coach Kubiak has proved three times this season that he’s been unable to plan around playing from under. Expect the Chargers’ number one offense and defense to bring the 4-3 Texans back to earth. Their early season successes were built on a great offense, but now opposing teams know how to take on the Texans: get up early on their young defense and force the Texans’ pass offense to keep up. For the Chargers, they’ll be able to get up and stay up. Chargers win 35-26.