AFC South: Chris White

Some bullet-point thoughts on the Texans’ 19-16 preseason loss at Arizona on Saturday night.

Impressive:
  • The stars shined. Mario Williams had a big sack and created havoc, Brian Cushing forced a fumble and Andre Johnson broke free deep to haul in a 44-yard touchdown pass from Matt Schaub over Justin Miller.
  • The front-line defense was physical. We saw the forced fumble from Cushing. We saw a Eugene Wilson hit that flipped Larry Fitzgerald right as he made a catch. Zac Diles made a big third-down tackle. The first-string cover guys made quick hits after receptions.
  • Troy Nolan and Daryl Sharpton came up with opportunistic interceptions. Nolan dropped a chance at another.
  • Houston’s defense held Arizona to 120 total yards through three quarters, an average of 3.2 yards per play through the first 45 minutes.

Unimpressive:
  • Steve Slaton lost a fumble at the goal line. This problem is supposed to be solved. If he can’t get it fixed, he’s going to get limited carries. I liked what I saw from him aside from that, but he washed a lot of that away. He ran well on a short pass from Dan Orlovsky -- the sort of play the Texans need from him.
  • Houston was 0-for-4 in the red zone and 0-for-2 on goal-to-go situations. That’s been a point of emphasis, and they are surely frustrated they couldn’t fare better. The offensive line won very little on those plays. Bad sign.
  • When they needed to get downfield, I saw a lack of hustle in some offensive linemen. Chris White was guilty on one occasion where he could have been of help and didn’t make a big effort.

Unfortunate:
A lot of you send me notes asking for dirt on the other bloggers. I remain true to our code: Rip Tim Graham, protect all others.

These guys are very handy when I need someone to have a beer with the night before an NFL event, or if I want to poach an idea for a post.

So I have pilfered this one from NFC South ace Pat Yasinskas.

Here are four guys and one group of guys from the AFC South who should probably be a little nervous about what unfolds in the draft, though I am sure they are all saying bring it on.

Shaun Cody. The Texans need interior push, and they didn’t get enough of it with Cody starting alongside Amobi Okoye. The rush ends, Mario Williams, Antonio Smith and Connor Barwin -- need the help. While Smith kicks inside some, the Texans will be looking for an inside presence who can get in the backfield. (And if Okoye isn’t better alongside that guy, the clock on him starts ticking faster and louder.)

David Thornton. I believe the Titans believe he has reached his breaking point. Literally. His body can’t hold up any longer. I expect they will go with Will Witherspoon, Stephen Tulloch and Gerald McRath as their starting trio. Draft a good linebacker who can provide athleticism and Thornton could become more expendable. (No, I don't see them re-signing Keith Bulluck.)

Clint Ingram. Daryl Smith is an up-and-comer and Justin Durant can play. But the Jaguars appear primed to add another linebacker to complete the starting group. I can see them pouncing on Rolando McClain if he’s available at No. 10. Which wouldn’t bode well for Ingram, a restricted free agent who’s not yet signed his tender but is working out with the team.

Charlie Johnson. He’s signed his tender and is going to remain a versatile offensive lineman who has the coaches’ confidence. But the team could well grab a left tackle type who’s a better run-blocker than Johnson early in the draft. That could kick Johnson inside or it could mean he’s back to the top sub.

Texans’ interior offensive linemen. They ended the season with Kasey Studdard at left guard, Chris Myers at center and Chris White at right guard. Mike Brisiel will be back from injury, they’ve signed Wade Smith as a free agent and Antoine Caldwell should be better in his second season. Another interior guy in the draft will set off a full-fledged competition with some incumbents on the roster bubble.

RFA inaction update

April, 13, 2010
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We’ve seen little overall action on restricted free agents, and no RFA from the AFC South has signed an offer sheet anywhere.

I think teams should be more active in this department, as I discussed here.

Shockingly, no one in power listened to me there.

It’s news when a restricted free agent signs his tender, sure. I saw several of those from around the league flashing across Twitter during my recent vacation.

But the real news would be one of them not ultimately signing it. I’m not going to devote too many blog posts to RFAs following through on their only real option. We’ll see more and more of these soon.

The deadline for signing an offer sheet with another team is Thursday.

Then, if a guy really wants a chance to be traded during the draft, he’s got to be under contract when calls are made and the paperwork needs to be turned quickly. Think he creates a lot of leverage by not signing the tender?

On June 15, old clubs can pull tender offers to unsigned RFAs and still keep exclusive rights by substituting an offer of 110 percent of 2009’s salary.

Here is the status of RFAs who were tendered in the division.

Houston

Indianapolis

Jacksonville

Tennessee

Who rates as neediest?

March, 15, 2010
3/15/10
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On a sort of slow afternoon, I sought inspiration and as the NFL Blog Network prepares to do something revisiting team draft needs, here is what I found:

Who is neediest?

Without getting into depth, looking at the depth charts of all four AFC South team and factoring in departures and starting spots that need upgrades, who needs the most. We assume restricted free agents stay put and regard unrestricted as holes.

Again, starters only.

Here’s my rundown, which I hope might set off some debate:

Neediest to least needy: Jaguars, Titans, Texans/Colts. What a shock, huh, that it’s reverse of the 2009 order of finish?

A closer look:

Jacksonville
The Jaguars have made it clear they aren’t going to address it, but I’m not convinced David Garrard solves quarterback and call it a need. Center Brad Meester is a wily veteran, but he’s started to fade and the Jaguars need to upgrade at center. They could also look for a change from Uche Nwaneri at right guard. Torry Holt is gone. While Kassim Osgood, Troy Williamson and Mike Thomas will all have a chance to fill the second starting receiver spot, a playmaking wideout would help, as usual.

Offense: Three

While Daryl Smith shined, a playmaking linebacker could displace restricted free agent Clint Ingram or his injury replacement, Russell Allen. Free safety, where Anthony Smith was starting ahead of Reggie Nelson at the end of 2009, is a major concern.

Defense: Two

Josh Scobee hit on 64 percent of his field goals, and the Jaguars just can’t live with a batting average like that.

Special teams: One

Total: Six

Tennessee

I don’t know that they will address it, but I think they need a starting-caliber, affordable quarterback in case Vince Young falls back to the things that got him demoted the first time.

Offense: One

While Jacob Ford and William Hayes are in line to start as the ends with Kyle Vanden Bosch gone, it would probably be better if Ford didn’t have to start. So end is a need. Jovan Haye was underwhelming as an interior starter beside Tony Brown, and while last year’s second-rounder, Sen'Derrick Marks, should be ready for that role, we’re calling defensive tackle a need. Who’s starting at corner opposite Cortland Finnegan? The Titans need better.

Defense: Three

Return games were a disaster in 209 and it’s a gigantic need.

Special teams: One

Total: Five

Houston

I expect newcomer Wade Smith and a healthy Mike Brisiel to be two of the three offensive linemen, and finding a third out of Antoine Caldwell, Kasey Studdard, Chris Myers and Chris White should be possible.

Offense: None

The Texans need to find more interior push than they got from defensive tackle Shaun Cody and Amobi Okoye, and I don’t see them giving up on Okoye yet. Ideally Cody would have a reduced role. Right cornerback Dunta Robinson left for Atlanta as a free agent, and while Jacques Reeves and Fred Bennett have starting experience, the Texans need better. Free safety has been a revolving door position for the better part of two years.

Defense: Three

Kicker Kris Brown killed the Texans in the clutch.

Special teams: One

Total: Four

Indianapolis

Ryan Lilja was let go and the Colts are looking to upgrade and get bigger. Two additions so far, Adam Terry and Andy Alleman, are hardly guarantees. I see a need for one guard and one tackle to allow them flexibility with Lilja’s spot and perhaps left tackle.

Offense: Two

Provided tenders are signed, everyone from the starting lineup who finished the season will be back. They can still use a bigger defensive tackle, but I don’t think it's a necessity with 2009 second-round defensive tackle Fili Moala expected to be much better. Strongside linebacker can probably stand an upgrade from Philip Wheeler.

Defense: One

The return game remains an issue and the Colts need at least one viable guy for the punt and/or kick return jobs.

Special teams: One

Total: Four
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Falling

Chris White, RG, Texans: White played eight games as the starting right tackle for Houston last season as the Texans tried to recover from the early loss of their two starting guards. The Texans gave up 25 sacks of Matt Schaub and had major trouble running the ball, and upgrading the interior line has been a priority. Thus the arrival of free-agent guard Wade Smith, who’s getting $3 million a year for four years in a new free-agent deal. One would expect that cash is intended to go into the pocket of a starter. However it sorts out, White will be moving down the depth chart.

Rising

Aaron Kampman, DE, Jaguars: After a tough year with Green Bay’s switch to a 3-4 and a blown-out knee, Kampman still qualified as an attractive pass-rusher. In Jacksonville, he landed with a team desperate for both sacks and defensive leadership. He’s got a prime chance to re-establish himself and make a real impact for a team that had major pass-rush deficiencies last year, and he was alluring enough that a fiscally conservative team dished out $11 million guaranteed to secure his services. He’s a guy who can have a ripple effect on effort and work ethic.
Options on the interior offensive line rated as a big need for the Texans heading into the offseason, and they landed one Wednesday with Wade Smith, the free agent from Kansas City.

Smith
Smith
Smith agreed to a four-year, $12 million deal, according to a source, that has $6.25 million in guarantees.

A big part of Houston’s offensive troubles last year were related to the interior line, where starting guard Chester Pitts and Mike Brisiel went down early with season-ending injuries. Kasey Studdard and Chris White were less than stellar as fill-ins.

Pitts is unrestricted and unlikely to return, and now Smith will jostle with the rest of that group and last year's offensive line pick, Antoine Caldwell, who backed up center Chris White, for a role. I’d expect they expect Smith's an upgrade who will start. And while they could take another interior lineman in the draft, it shouldn't be a spot they prioritize ahead of cornerback, free safety or running back.

Here’s Scouts Inc.’s review of Smith, which makes him sound very much like a guy that fits what the Texans like to do up front:
Smith had been pretty much a career backup up until he started seven games in 2008. He is athletic with good short-area quickness, agility, balance and body control. His most glaring weakness is his inability to stop powerful bull rushers on the inside. He understands angles and can react to movement and adjust to counter moves. He is more of a finesse blocker than a road-grader. He gives the Chiefs solid depth in that he can back up multiple positions.
Steve SlatonStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesSteve Slaton is eager to bounce back from a subpar sophomore season, and he's not averse to sharing carries if it helps the team.
The sign on the road Steve Slaton is traveling is a common one in the NFL for a guy coming off a poor season:

Uncertainty ahead.

In a 15-minute chat with him this morning, I sensed he’s got a handle on that, and is fine with it. He’s ready to prove himself again, plug into the Texans' offense in whatever way he’s asked to and wipe the tarnish off his name that came with a shaky sophomore season.

Something his coach, Gary Kubiak, told him after an outstanding 1,282-yard rookie season in 2008 proved prophetic.

“You come out of a rookie year where you gain 1,100-1,200 yards you think, ‘Damn, this is a pretty easy deal,'" Kubiak said. “I teased with him before the season and said 'The next 1,200 you gain will probably be the toughest of your career. It’s not that easy.’”

Slaton’s still got 763 yards to go to get there after a poor 2009, when he gained only 3.3 yards per carry and fumbled seven times before a neck injury ended his season after 11 games.

By the time he went on injured reserve, he said he had a numb right arm from the top of his shoulder to his thumb, all day every day for two months. A pinched nerve led to a C-5 cervical fusion in mid-January.

He felt the difference as soon as he woke up and doctors told him it went as smoothly as possible and rate his recovery, tabbed to take four to six months, as very good. He said he will be ready for training camp, holding the ball high and tight.

He’s been rehabbing since surgery and can now run and lift weights as long as he limits the stress on his neck.

“Everybody wants to come in their second year and never have that slump, and not have an excuse for something you think you can help,” he said. “It was uncharacteristic of myself to fumble that much. I won’t say it was the only thing, but I think it was a big part.”

A revamped run game is the team’s offensive objective this offseason. The Texans were a bad rushing team no matter who carried the ball, Kubiak emphasized. That was on the running backs, the line, the scheme and the coaches.

Guards Chester Pitts and Mike Brisiel were lost for the season early on, and with Kasey Studdard and Chris White in their place, the interior line was a weakness.

“We regressed in there, not by lack of effort, just by young players having to play,” Kubiak said.

As the Texans seek to boost the run game and give a great pass game featuring Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson better balance, Slaton should be part of a new backfield combination.

If the price falls on a veteran free agent such as Chester Taylor or Thomas Jones, maybe one of them could be getting carries. If they don’t see a value there, the Texans will attack the spot in the draft.

After failing with Ahman Green and Chris Brown, the popular thinking and the team’s tenor suggest the Texans will address other areas in free agency and look for the running back in the draft.

“That has been a young man’s position in this business for a while,” Kubiak said.

So the expectation is that Slaton is the team’s quick back and the Texans will attempt to bring in a bigger guy who can be effective in short yardage and goal-line situations.

“I’m not the biggest guy, I’m not the smallest guy,” said Slaton, who was listed as 5-foot-9, 215 at season’s end. “This league spits out running backs, they don’t last too long. So to have somebody to help in certain situations is good. I want to be the guy when the game is on the line, you give me the ball.

“… As a running back, you’re always stingy but you’ve got to be smart. If it helps the team, if I can’t get it done and somebody else can get it done, then I’ll gladly let that person come in and handle that job. But my thing is I want to be that go-to guy, I’ve always been that, that’s what I pride myself on.”

While he’s encouraged by his recovery, ESPN’s resident physical therapist Stephania Bell put up a caution flag. (See sidebar.)

“He will need to work diligently to strengthen the stabilizing muscles around his neck (very deep muscles) as well as all the muscles in the upper back that help support the neck,” she said of going forward with the neck issue. “While he can very well be cleared to return -- and he can indeed go on to have success and not have another major incident -- there is inherently more risk, simply because of what he has been through.”

Kubiak doesn’t sound like he wants to distribute carries by preset formula, just the flexibility to use two different quality options in situations in which they excel. Offensive line/run game guru Alex Gibbs is no longer on the coaching staff, but Kubiak said the team has invested a lot of time in his zone blocking scheme and will stick with it, adding a few things.

One-cut-and-go backs are usually the guys who fit it well, though Kubiak said he’d be fine with two cuts.

Slaton is good with 20 carries in a game, Kubiak said, and actually runs better in the second half than he does at the start.

“But I think like anybody else in this league if you put the whole load on him, you can wear him down pretty damn quick, so we need a complement to him,” he said. “… Obviously there is a place in this league for that guy, there is no doubt. He can make big plays. And then there is a place for a guy who can take a little bit more of a pounding and be a short-yardage and red zone guy. I think there is a place for those two guys in the league.

“The bottom line is we’ve just got to get another good player to go with him.”

AFC South: Free-agency primer

March, 4, 2010
3/04/10
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Houston Texans

Potential unrestricted free agents: CB Dunta Robinson, WR Kevin Walter, RB Chris Brown, DT Jeff Zgonina, G Chester Pitts, S Brian Russell, S Nick Ferguson, LS Bryan Pittman, LB Chaun Thompson, QB Rex Grossman, LB Khary Campbell, G Tutan Reyes, T Ephraim Salaam, P Matt Turk.

Potential restricted free agents: DL Tim Bulman, S John Busing, OT Rashad Butler, TE Owen Daniels, RB Ryan Moats, S Bernard Pollard, LB DeMeco Ryans, G Chris White.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: I don’t think the Texans will jump out and make any monumental moves. But by deciding not to tag Robinson they created another hole and saved themselves big dollars. With needs at corner, running back, free safety, interior offensive line and defensive tackle they may have more than they can address in one draft. That means they could jump out for one significant free agent – like they did last year with defensive lineman Antonio Smith -- and maybe another less expensive one or two.

Indianapolis Colts

Potential unrestricted free agents: MLB Gary Brackett, K Matt Stover.

Potential restricted free agents: WR Hank Baskett, S Antoine Bethea, S Melvin Bullitt, OL Dan Federkeil, CB Aaron Francisco, LB Tyjuan Hagler, CB Marlin Jackson, CB Tim Jennings, DT Antonio Johnson, OT Charlie Johnson, LB Freddy Keiaho, DT Dan Muir, CBPR T.J. Rushing.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: Brackett is priority one and the team has indicated a plan to pay him as an upper-echelon guy. The restricted list includes a lot of key guys who will remain big factors next year. Indy is not a team that looks to bring in many outsiders for big roles and it won’t start now. Bill Polian’s said the Colts will sit back and see how things unfold in the new capless landscape.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Potential unrestricted free agents: DE Reggie Hayward, G Kynan Forney.

Potential restricted free agents: DT Atiyyah Ellison, LB Clint Ingram, DL Greg Peterson.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: The Jaguars are draft-reliant, but will also shop for bargains in free agency, hoping to plug a couple holes with high-character guys with upside who fit what they are doing. As for a big splash, it’s unlikely based on their recent busts with big-name free agents like Jerry Porter and Drayton Florence and the direction they’ve moved since.

Tennessee Titans

Potential unrestricted free agents: DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, C Kevin Mawae, LB Keith Bulluck, TE Alge Crumpler, CB Nick Harper, CB Rod Hood, DE Jevon Kearse, S Kevin Kaesviharn.

Potential restricted free agents: DE Dave Ball, DT Tony Brown, TE Bo Scaife, LB Stephen Tulloch, DT Kevin Vickerson, RB LenDale White.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: The Titans will undergo a youth movement, especially on defense where Vanden Bosch and Bulluck, who’s recovering from ACL repair, are going to be allowed to walk. Mawae been told his only chance to return is as a backup at a backup price. Brown, Scaife and Tulloch are important guys they’ll want to retain. Beyond that, expect mostly bargain shopping.

RFA tender update

March, 4, 2010
3/04/10
9:03
AM ET
Restricted free-agent tenders have to be done before midnight ET. Here's what's out so far:

Houston

From John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

Indianapolis

Bethea info from Adam Schefter.

Jacksonville

Tennessee

From Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

Here’s a free-agency preview of the AFC South from Pro Football Focus -- they give one target per team.

I think three out of four are pretty good. But I can’t see the Titans chasing Aaron Kampman. If they are letting their own aging, high-motor pass-rusher, Kyle Vanden Bosch, leave via free agency, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to court another if their prices are in the same ballpark. KVB is 31, Kampman is 30.

Here's Pro Football Weekly's thorough look at needs in the AFC South.

PFF has also done pass-protection research recently. They rank David Stewart and Eric Winston among the league’s best right tackles in 2009 with Eben Britton as one of the worst and Eugene Monroe and Duane Brown among the worst left tackles.

Part two covers guards and centers; Chris White and Jeff Saturday fared well and Brad Meester and Kevin Mawae did not.

These links bring me in a roundabout way to a different topic.

I am very intrigued by what Pro Football Focus tries to do in terms of player ratings. But I also have known many of the guys who do work for Football Outsiders and greatly respect their approach, opinions and pioneering work.

So I am compelled to include this link, where Stephanie Stradley has Bill Barnwell of FO commenting on the ratings process at PFF. I think Barnwell raises some interesting questions about PFF's methods while not striking a defensive tone. Quite frankly I'd welcome an expansion on this commentary from FO, though I know it would be a difficult thing to do.

It's important, whatever stats we sift through that go beyond what we get from the NFL itself, to consider what's doable, what's possible, what's reasonable to expect.

(Read full post)

A look at restricted free agency

February, 19, 2010
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It’s a whole new offseason world starting March 5, and we have no experience from which to predict what happens in an uncapped year. There are enough restrictions on the players’ side to offset the Wild West so many initially projected.

One area I am really curious to see is restricted free agency. Because there are fewer unrestricted free agents (it takes six years to get there now, not four), will teams be more protective of their RFAs and more aggressive in terms of signing RFAs from outside to offer sheets?

I certainly think a creative front office that can go after the right guys can lure them away or at least get a trade conversation going.

Teams must tender their RFAs by the end of March 4. Here are the levels of tags:

With no CBA by March 5, and we aren’t expecting one, here are the RFAs for each team in the AFC South, according to the NFLPA.

Houston

Indianapolis

Jacksonville

Tennessee

No cap can be so restricting

December, 30, 2009
12/30/09
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NFC South maven Pat Yasinskas obtained the list that lines up with this report about the 212 players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents in 2010, who will instead be only restricted free agents if a new labor deal isn't reached.

Stinks to be these guys who stand to lose a lot of leverage, and in many instances, a lot of money.

Houston

Indianapolis

Jacksonville

Tennessee

Further Review: Brackett's blitz

November, 10, 2009
11/10/09
4:20
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky

The suggestion from Raysrock070: [Clint] Session's pick on [Matt] Schaub when [Gary] Brackett blitzed him. That killed their drive, and any momentum that they had going.

The situation: Houston ball, second-and-10 at the Indianapolis 42-yard line with 2:20 remaining in the game and the Colts ahead 20-17.
AP Photo/AJ Mast
Clint Session’s interception helped put the Colts in position to remain undefeated.

The Texans line up with Steve Slaton to the right of Matt Schaub in shotgun with four wide receivers, two to each side, all inside the numbers -- left to right, Andre Johnson, David Anderson, Jacoby Jones and Kevin Walter.

Indy counters with a nickel package, with Jerraud Powers shifted to the inside near Anderson before the snap and Tim Jennings wide on the same side. Jacob Lacey is on the Jones/Walter side of the formation. Both safeties are deep.

Both linebackers are near the line of scrimmage, with Gary Brackett between Dwight Freeney and Antonio Johnson and Clint Session between Raheem Brock and Daniel Muir.

What I saw unfold after the snap: Powers tracks Anderson first, but when the receiver turns outside he leaves him for Jennings to deal with and goes to front Johnson who turns inside and has safety Melvin Bullitt behind him.

Right tackle Eric Winston helps right guard Chris White on Muir, before moving on to Brock, who was held up for a second by Slaton.

Left tackle Duane Brown handles a spin move by Freeney, in part because the defensive end bumps into his left tackle, Johnson, who’s ridden to his right by the double team of left guard Kasey Studdard and center Chris Myers.

Session drops to cover the middle.

Brackett loops around Johnson and Myers is slow to leave Johnson and get to the linebacker, who has a straight path to Schaub. The quarterback drops about two steps and bounces once waiting for things to develop before the blitzer is on him. Schaub appears to have room to buy a bit of time by sliding left, but does not and Brackett hits him in the upper right arm as he releases the ball -- probably for Johnson who was bracketed and not open, maybe for Anderson who was not very deep.

The result is a fluttering pass that Session has no trouble collecting for an interception.

Result: The pick gives the ball to the Colts who go three-and-out but burn 27 seconds and two Houston timeouts.

Ultimate outcome: The Texans are under major time pressure for the end-of-game drive that results in a missed 42-yard field goal by Kris Brown that would force overtime. Colts win 20-17 and move to a perfect 8-8 with a 3-game lead over the Texans in the AFC South.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky

With Owen Daniels lost for the season to a torn ACL, Gary Kubiak and Kyle Shanahan will need to tinker with their offense.

And Sunday in Indianapolis, one of the players they’d like to look to to help offset the loss won’t be available either. Rookie tight end James Casey has a torn meniscus repaired with a scope early Monday, Gary Kubiak said at his afternoon press conference.

("The surgery went really well and I will be back in no time ready to rock and roll," Casey tweeted from @jamescasey86.)

It’s hardly ideal to go forward without Daniels -- who is second on the team with 40 catches and tops with five touchdown receptions -- but it shouldn’t be a death blow either.

The Texans will be able to get something out of Daniels’ replacement, Joel Dreessen. And they can do more with receivers beyond Andre Johnson. I’ve touted No. 2 wideout Kevin Walter, who’s had a semi-quiet year and can produce more than roughly the 3.5 catches a game he’s averaging now.

Other players they can try to look to more: receivers David Anderson, Andre Davis and Jacoby Jones and Casey once he’s healthy, hopefully after the bye week for a Nov. 23 "Monday Night Football" game against the Titans.

“The production of catching the football and those types of things have got to continue to come from some place,” Kubiak said. “Does it come from Joel? Does it get spread out amongst the receivers? We’ll see. But it’s another adjustment period for us as an offensive coaching staff.”

Dreessen played 52 plays of offense and about 80 total in the win in Buffalo, Kubiak said. He will continue to work as the long snapper, but likely have his other special teams obligations scaled back.

Because Daniels is so good, the Texans haven’t had to rely on Dreessen in the passing game, but it doesn’t mean they’ve not looked to him. In their Week 2 win at Tennessee, Matt Schaub threw to Dreessen to convert a key fourth-and-2 on a drive that tied the game in the fourth quarter.

“He’ does a little bit of everything,” Kubiak said. “He’s a guy who can play a lot of football with limited [practice] reps. ... He’s just very flexible. He can do a little of both as a tight end on the line of scrimmage, as a receiver. Big opportunity for him in his career, we’ve got to use him the right way and he’s got to step up.”

Kubiak said with replacement guards filling in and Kasey Studdard and Chris White gradually improving after season-ending injuries to Chester Pitts and Mike Brisiel and Ryan Moats’ stellar performance against the Bills after Steve Slaton was benched, the Texans are looking for the next round of players to rise to the opportunity.

Another rookie tight end, Anthony Hill, was brought in largely because of his abilities as a blocker. The team will likely look at tight ends and long snappers this week as they consider how to fill Daniels’ roster spot.

As for the running back situation, Kubiak was non-committal. He said only Slaton can fix the fumble problems that led to his benching.

They will consider both and Chris Brown as they prepare for Indy. Kubiak said that Moats is roughly the same as Slaton in pass protection, but while he has good hands less equipped to line up wide and run routes as Slaton can.

The Texans could play backs by down, meaning work on first and second down for Moats and maybe some chances for Slaton on third down when his versatility is more appealing.

They shouldn’t be quick to move away from Moats after such a great fill-in performance. A lost Slaton fumble won’t likely be something they can survive at Lucas Oil Stadium.

One note on Moats, who scored three TDs in the fourth quarter in Buffalo, from the Elias Sports Bureau: In the last seven seasons (2003-09) the only other NFL player to score three touchdowns in the fourth quarter of one game was Michael Turner for the Falcons -- last year against Carolina.

Few run yards up the middle for Texans

October, 15, 2009
10/15/09
12:01
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky


In a breakdown of runs up the middle by ESPN Stats & Information, Chris Johnson ranks third (7.9 yard average), Maurice Jones-Drew ranks seventh (6.2), Donald Brown ranks 24th (4.0). Joseph Addai ranks 26th (3.9) and the Houston Texans backs rank …

Well, the list ended at 32 players, including Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer, and there wasn’t a Houston runner on it.

I asked for further assistance and got these:

Texans RBs: Runs up the middle
Player Rushes Yards Avg Long TD
Ryan Moats 3 16 5.3 8 0
Chris Brown 9 17 1.9 7 1
Matt Schaub 11 13 1.2 6 0
Steve Slaton 11 13 1.2 11 0

Houston isn’t rushing well overall, and certainly not up the middle.

Right tackle Eric Winston talked on Sirius Radio Wednesday about some of the measures defenses are using to slow the Texans' zone-blocking scheme.

"They’re basically kind of baiting you into making an outside read or an inside read and then trying to get you to commit to that and then playing you backside at the same time,” he said. “That’s kind of what we’re seeing a lot. That’s why I also think some of our man blocking plays have been some of our best running plays. Because they are playing the read and all of a sudden that’s a complete misread for them and the ball bounces and they are stuck in the middle waiting for the cutback.

“Maybe we’ve got to change it up a little bit as far as play calling, but that’s definitely not my purview, I’m running whatever is called.”

That’s interesting stuff and might be cause for Texans fans to think the team is figuring some things out and can get on track with some new wrinkles that respond to what they are seeing from defenses.

Still, Houston will have its second new guard installed this week when Chris White replaces Mike Brisiel, who’s out for the season with a foot injury, as the starter with Antoine Caldwell in line to get work, too.

Cincinnati ranks 12th against the run.

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