AFC South: Ed Reed

INDIANAPOLIS -- It was only natural for the question to come up.

Safety is an area of concern for the Indianapolis Colts since Antoine Bethea calls San Francisco home now. The player who is currently available has a history with the head coach.

Ed Reed and Chuck Pagano spent time together at the University of Miami and with the Baltimore Ravens. Pagano respects Reed. Pagano was the Hurricanes' secondary coach from 1995-2000, the Ravens' secondary coach from 2008-10, then their defensive coordinator the following season.

The question about them possibly being reunited was asked by fans when the Houston Texans released Reed last season.

It was asked again by fans after Reed told reporters he plans to play next season during a charity softball game in Baltimore over the weekend.

 

And just like last November, don't expect the Colts to have any interest in Reed. He's a nine-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl winner, but his best years are clearly behind him. He didn't struggle and eventually get benched and released from the Texans for no reason.

The Colts would have signed a safety during free agency or selected one during last month's draft if they were really concerned about the position.

The starting safety spot is right there for Delano Howell. It'll stay that way until he somebody else beats him out for it.

"Delano Howell has played some really good snaps for us," Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said last month. "We feel good about Delano and we're hoping some of these other guys rise to the occasion. We signed Colt Anderson. We've got some guys that have had some starts in this league. Corey Lynch has played 12 starts in this league. Someone is going to emerge."

Double Coverage: Patriots at Texans

November, 29, 2013
11/29/13
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Andre Johnson and Chandler JonesUSA Today SportsAndre Johnson, left, and the Texans hope to surprise Chandler Jones and the Patriots.
HOUSTON -- The last time the Houston Texans faced the New England Patriots during the regular season, Houston was 11-1 and the hottest team in the league. To celebrate their youthful camaraderie, they ordered letterman jackets, the kind high school teams wear, and the jackets happened to come in right before the Patriots game.

That game marked a turning point for the Texans.

The timing of the jackets had nothing to do with the opponent; former Texans Connor Barwin and Shaun Cody were simply trying to create a tradition. That they lost so badly just after unveiling them turned the jackets into a punch line.

The Patriots won 42-14, and the Texans finished their season having lost three of their last four games. That meant losing the home-field advantage that seemed theirs before that game and led to another meeting with the Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs. New England won again, 41-28.

It was a lesson for the Texans in what it takes to be a great team.

Heading into this season, many thought the Texans were positioned to be one of the top teams in the NFL. The Patriots seemed poised for a down year, by their standards, but here we are in Week 13 and they sit in their usual spot atop the AFC East.

ESPN.com Texans reporter Tania Ganguli and Patriots reporter Mike Reiss discuss the matchup.

Ganguli: Mike, how has the loss of so many of his top targets from last season impacted Patriots quarterback Tom Brady?

Reiss: We saw it impact Brady more significantly through the first eight games. But things have started to click the past two games, and it’s no coincidence that it coincides with tight end Rob Gronkowski's reaching a new level of comfort since his return Oct. 20, and running back Shane Vereen's coming off the injured reserve list. With those two joining receivers Aaron Dobson, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Kenbrell Thompkins, the pass-catching corps has been as stocked as we’ve seen all season.

I know it’s been a down year for the Texans, but is J.J. Watt still creating havoc? Is that defense still tough?

Ganguli: Watt is still creating havoc. He has 9.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and four passes defensed. He is someone opposing offenses must track on every play. The Texans' defense has played well, but it has holes. On Sunday, the Jaguars had success with the matchup of receiver Cecil Shorts against cornerback Brandon Harris in the slot. Injuries to middle linebacker Brian Cushing and strong safety Danieal Manning have been particularly damaging. The Texans have statistically been much better with Cushing than without him since he was drafted. Their attempt to add some mental toughness with Ed Reed didn’t work as they had hoped, so two young players are starting at safety -- Shiloh Keo at free safety and D.J. Swearinger at strong safety. Swearinger is the Texans’ rookie second-round pick. He will be really good, but right now he’s learning a lot about playing at this level. They haven’t allowed a lot of yards, but have allowed too many points and not created enough turnovers.

Speaking of turnovers, as I watched Sunday night’s Patriots game against the Broncos, it seemed every time I looked up the Patriots had either committed or forced a turnover. What did you make of that? Was it an aberration?

Reiss: The forced turnovers were the norm, as the Patriots recently ended a streak of 36 games with at least one forced turnover (Nov. 18 vs. Carolina). The Patriots' committing turnovers was a little more out of character, although one of the pressing issues facing the club is what to do with lead running back Stevan Ridley (3 lost fumbles in the past three games). The Patriots are traditionally strong in turnover differential, and this season is no different, as they are plus-8 with 23 takeaways and 15 giveaways.

I know this probably comes out of left field, but how is the playing surface at Reliant Stadium? Patriots followers remember the last visit, in 2009, when Wes Welker tore his ACL. I saw a recent game, and it looks like there are patches of grass on the field with noticeable seams in certain parts.

Ganguli: Not out of left field at all. If the game you saw was the Texans’ Nov. 3 Sunday night game against the Indianapolis Colts, this was a major topic of conversation that night. The field looked pretty bad, mostly because there was a college game played on the same grass that week. They replaced the center of the field, but the outer grass was a mess. The University of Houston has played five games at Reliant Stadium this season while its stadium is being renovated. It has played most of them on field turf. The Cougars will play again on Friday morning, and none of the grass will be replaced between that game and the Texans-Patriots game Sunday. I believe the thinking is that will give it enough time to recover. Something to watch, though.

Let’s talk more about defense to wrap up here. Will Aqib Talib be assigned to Andre Johnson on Sunday? How do you think he’ll fare?

Reiss: That would make a lot of sense, as Talib has often been assigned the opponent’s top receiver. After a rocky game Nov. 18 against Carolina and Steve Smith, he was very good this past Sunday night against Demaryius Thomas in the 34-31 win against the Broncos. Talib has been key for the pass defense. Meanwhile, the loss of key players to season-ending injuries (defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, and linebacker Jerod Mayo) has hurt the run defense at times, such as in the Broncos game. But they played a 4-2-5 nickel for most of the game, and I don’t think that will be as much of a factor against the Texans. The Patriots will probably be in their base defense more often, and they played well against the Panthers’ tough running attack in that package.

One thing I think Patriots followers would be interested to hear is what has happened to the Texans? How could a team go so quickly from the AFC divisional round of the playoffs and talking about “letterman” jackets to vying for the No. 1 pick in the draft?

Ganguli: Even with some of the missteps in the offseason, it would have been difficult to foresee this. There are a lot of issues, but I'll focus on the quarterback situation. The biggest mystery is what happened to quarterback Matt Schaub. He was never on the level of Brady, but he gave the Texans what they needed. He was consistent and productive. He actually played really well in leading comebacks against the San Diego Chargers and Tennessee Titans this season. That seems so long ago. The Texans' turnover margin has been among the worst in the league all season, and Schaub was part of that. He became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw pick-sixes in four consecutive games. He threw one on the first pass of the game against the San Francisco 49ers, and that game marked the only time this season Schaub played poorly from start to finish. There were myriad other problems, but Schaub lost his starting spot when he suffered a foot and ankle injury in Week 6. First-year quarterback Case Keenum took over, but his play hasn't meant victories. In his first three starts, he played well in the first half and not so well in the second half. His most recent game, against Jacksonville, was his worst of the season. Keenum threw for 169 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.

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When Ed Reed signed with the Texans, he wanted to be part of an organization that wanted him. Pointed, after the Baltimore Ravens did not match the Houston Texans' offer of $15 million over three years.

Reed
The Texans' courtship of one of the best safeties to play the game sure indicated they wanted him. But as Reed's time with the team unfolded, more happened with Reed off the field than on it. He had surgery, he mentored younger players, he talked about feeling like the Texans were a special team, just like his Super Bowl champion Ravens from the year before.

But things weren't all rosy with Reed and the Ravens. That he was a loose cannon off the field was balanced by the fact that he was one on it, too, in a very good way. He made himself invaluable to the franchise for that long, despite his insistence on being himself and saying what he thought -- two things football culture doesn't exalt.

But when Reed's level of play dropped from the transcendent level at which he played for so many years, and it did so by his own admission, that dynamic changed. And the business of football has seemed to chafe Reed.

The Texans insist Reed's release two weeks ago wasn't related to his comment the previous Sunday that the Texans were outplayed and outcoached. But Reed made it clear on Wednesday during the now-infamous conference call with Baltimore reporters that he thinks that is why he was released.

Some players might keep their thoughts to themselves, but Reed felt wronged, and he made that known when asked about his time with the Texans.

Some coaches might keep their thoughts to themselves (like Texans head coach Gary Kubiak, who declined to comment on Reed's comments). But Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, whom Reed attacked on Wednesday, offered his defense, and couldn't help but sneak in a few jabs (like echoing Reed's "the truth is the truth.") It is true, though, that Phillips' response was more respectful and deferential than Reed's, whom he again called a future Hall of Famer.

In the end, it was another jagged ending for Reed, this one without the warm fuzzy past he left in Baltimore.

Colts need to take a pass on Ed Reed

November, 12, 2013
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts are lacking depth at safety.

Injured safety Larry Asante was waived on Monday and Delano Howell has missed the past two games with a neck injury. Howell hasn’t practiced this week and his status for Thursday’s game at Tennessee is up in the air.

That leaves Sergio Brown as the only backup safety behind LaRon Landry and Antoine Bethea.

That leads us to Ed Reed.

Reed was released by the Houston Texans on Tuesday. He and Colts coach Chuck Pagano have a history together at the University of Miami and with the Baltimore Ravens. Pagano was the Hurricanes' secondary coach from 1995-2000, the Ravens' secondary coach from 2008-10, then their defensive coordinator the following season.

“It’s really the first time that I’ve heard that. I just came off the practice field,” Pagano said. “I didn’t even realize that Eddie had been waived.”

Reed obviously isn’t the same player who caused havoc for so many years with the Ravens. The Colts are set with Landry and Bethea, who hasn’t missed a game since 2007.

Would Reed be able to handle being a backup?

Not according to ESPN.com Texans reporter Tania Ganguli. She wrote Tuesday that Reed “never bought into the idea that his limited role was best for the team.” Reed said the Texans were “outplayed and outcoached” during their loss to Arizona last weekend.

The Colts don’t need those types of distractions. They’re too close of a team and they’re trying to figure out ways to be productive without receiver Reggie Wayne and without a running game.

The Colts may lack depth at safety, but they’re better off taking a pass on Reed, who is 35 and only totaled 16 tackles in seven games this season.
HOUSTON -- Eight months ago, Texans owner Bob McNair sent his private plane, armed with general manager Rick Smith, to Atlanta to collect one of the best safeties to ever play the game.

The Texans' official Twitter account tweeted about the journey. Ed Reed's former college teammates were dispatched on a recruiting mission. Houston was a place Reed wanted to play, to win a championship with his friend Andre Johnson and show the Baltimore Ravens they made a mistake in failing to re-sign him.

It didn't work. Today, the Texans finally admitted their mistake.

The Texans, who are on a seven-game losing streak, are releasing Reed. They're doing so two days after Reed was limited to just 12 snaps. Two days after he declared that the Texans were "outplayed and outcoached" in certain situations. One day after interim head coach Wade Phillips said the Texans preferred to keep opinions like that in house.

Reed's time in Houston never went smoothly. He showed up with a torn labrum in his hip that the Texans missed during their lengthy physical before signing him. Once he was healthy, his snaps were still limited. By now, the Texans have gotten to the point where they feel more comfortable starting Shiloh Keo at free safety than a future Hall of Famer.

Reed never bought into the idea that his limited role was best for the team. He began to express his frustrations after the Texans' 27-24 loss to the Colts on Nov. 3, claiming it was the first time since his sophomore year of college in which he didn't start despite being healthy.

Sunday, though, he admitted this about his play: "I'm not perfect. I know I'm held to a high standard because of what I've done in the past, but that was the past. I'm a totally different player now."

It's likely that had Reed kept quiet, he would still be on the team as a backup. The Texans like to control the message about their team, and Reed has always been someone to speak his mind. He didn't let his new location change that, and bravo to him for that.

But the fact remains the Texans didn't sign Reed to be a backup.

They thought he would replace Glover Quin, a good, young player who went to Detroit for less yearly money than Reed got and is having a solid season. Quin would have provided stability in a secondary that had developed good chemistry in two years together. His agent told me in March the Texans never even made an official contract offer.

Reed was supposed to be one of the missing pieces on a team that fell just a few players away from a championship. The truth is, no team is ever just a few players away from a championship. Each season starts anew.

It's a lesson the Texans are learning the hard way.
HOUSTON -- The very first question of Wade Phillips' first Monday news conference as the Houston Texans' interim head coach was about Ed Reed's comments that the Texans were outplayed and outcoached.

Reed actually specified that was only the case in certain situations, he alluded to predictability from the Texans and he said players and coaches need to do some soul searching. But the point remains.

"Oh wow; good start," Phillips said.

He went on: "We certainly tried -- everybody has their own feelings about what’s happening, they have their own ideas about what’s happening or didn’t happen. We try to keep everything in house. That’s our policy here. that’s what we try to do. That’s what I’m going to do."

Was he surprised Reed didn't keep things in house?

"I really don’t have an answer to that question," Phillips said. "Lot of people have opinions about what should and shouldn’t be done."

Ed Reed: Playing, coaching inconsistent

November, 10, 2013
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Houston Texans safety Ed Reed didn't see much playing time again on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.

And as he watched as the Texans let another halftime lead, albeit a smaller one than last week, Reed had some thoughts.

I touched on this a bit in my Locker Room Buzz, but here is more context to Reed's thoughts on how the Texans played.

"Arizona played their best ball," Reed said. "We played really well outside of certain situations. Certain situations, we just got outplayed and outcoached."

Would he expand? He sure would.

"If you're watching the game, it's not no-brainers," Reed said. "Certain situations we have to get off the field. We need three-and-out. You have to also come out as an offense and move the ball. We can't go three-and-out and put your defense on the field that quick. That drive that they had, I'm looking at it like guys are a little fatigued because I know if you don't control the ball as much, offensively and defensively, you're going to get fatigued. They're going to get plays.

"Eventually, they're going to figure out what you're doing if you're doing the same old things."

Reed isn't the first person to address the Texans' predictability, but to hear a player say it is interesting.

He added that he would have liked to be on the field more and indicated that he stopped short of expressing his true feelings.

"I'm just doing what I'm told for the most part," Reed said. "At the same time, I know a lot of football. I know a lot about football. I know a lot about this game. I'm not just watching it blind. The stuff I do know, I can't say to you guys because it is a team sport and I do look at it from a coaching perspective as well. There's lots of soul searching, top to bottom, that needs to be done as coaches and as players."

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HOUSTON -- At first Houston Texans safety Ed Reed gave the stock answer when asked about not starting Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts -- by his recollection it was the first time since 1999 that he was a healthy non-starter in a football game.

At first, Reed simply said he knew the plan going into the game and was OK with it.

[+] EnlargeEd Reed
AP Photo/Gail BurtonEd Reed appears to be the third safety on the Texans' depth chart.
What he meant depends on your definition of "OK."

"I’m human," Reed said. "I have trial and tribulations like anybody else. Did I accept it well? No, I didn’t because I look at the tape as well. I’m grading, not just myself, but us a whole. At the same time, like I said, I understand this game. I understand where I’m at. I understand communication with my coach and what he’s trying to accomplish, what we’re trying to accomplish. At the end of the day, that’s for the betterment of the team.

"I also know that I didn’t have the reps to show that I can still do what I do even if I’m on the field. I see the blogs, the stuff that is being written and all of that, 'Ed is old. He’s not doing this. He’s only had one pass defended.' I had no pass defended at the time until last week. Let’s look at the tape. I’ll look at the tape with anybody who wants to look at it with me. Played six games, missed three-and-a-half-four tackles, mental error here and there, nothing major. But they haven’t thrown my way, not anywhere close. I think the ball has come close to me twice. Am I not doing my job or am I not being tested?"

It's not the first time Reed has mentioned his belief that he hasn't been tested by quarterbacks. The future Hall of Famer, who was signed after a heavy courtship and fanfare by the Texans, is being used in the Texans' dime defense. Shiloh Keo started last week in Reed's place at free safety. Keo played 16 more snaps than Reed did.

There really hasn't been a pattern of diminishing playing time for Reed yet.

Against the Colts he played in 52 percent of the Texans' defensive snaps. Against the Kansas City Chiefs before the bye week it was 79 percent. Prior to that he played in 81 percent of snaps against the St. Louis Rams, 45 percent against the San Francisco 49ers, 97 percent against the Seattle Seahawks and 73 percent against the Baltimore Ravens in his first game in a Texans uniform.

But it does appear he's become the Texans' third safety.

"Whether the sixth man or the starter or not, it’s just like a lot of other positions, it depends on what the offense comes out in in the first series or so," defensive coordinator and interim head coach Wade Phillips said. "Sometimes they come out in four-wide and so-and-so isn’t in there and you say, ‘he’s not a starter,’ and vice versa. It’s really dictated by our packages and what we do as to who’s actually playing the first play of the game."

Reed is clearly conflicted by this. He said he understood. He said he was all for whatever was for the good of the team. He also said he didn't think his play had dropped off.

"At the end of the day it’s a team sport, I’m the ultimate team player," Reed said. "If that’s what we need to do to win, so long as we win I honestly don’t care."

The Texans have lost their past six games.
Reading the coverage of the Houston Texans...

Texans players would like nothing more than to win one for "Kubes" this weekend, writes Dale Robertson of the Houston Chronicle. Coach Gary Kubiak paid them a visit during practice yesterday.

Greg Bedard of The MMQB rejects the notion that Texans defensive end J.J. Watt is having a down season. Bedard's publication created a statistic called pressure points that indicates Watt was the top interior pass-rusher in Week 9.

Another former coach weighs in on the pressures of coaching, this time Brian Billick for NFL.com. Billick writes that Kubiak's and Broncos coach John Fox's situations spotlight the grind of NFL coaching.

Texans interim head coach and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips was a bit non-committal on Ed Reed's status as the team's starter when asked about it Thursday, writes Dave Zangaro of CSNHouston.com. Reed didn't start Sunday. Phillips said that who plays the first play of the game depends on the package.

RTC: As the bye week turns

October, 24, 2013
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Reading the coverage of the Houston Texans...

John McClain of the Houston Chronicle submits his power rankings, and they have some things in common with ESPN.com's power rankings. The Chiefs are at the top in both polls.

Dave Zangaro of CSNHouston.com notes that the Texans enter the bye week in a surprising position. He recounts the tale of Andre Johnson, who waited so many years to be part of a successful team, and also mentions that Ed Reed considers the Texans to be in playoff mode from now on.

Patrick D. Starr of StateoftheTexans.com takes a look at why the Texans are in the position they find themselves. He cites certain players he feels should have made a bigger jump than they have, the lack of impact from most of the team's rookies and an aging core group.

Upon Further Review: Texans Week 5

October, 7, 2013
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A review of four hot issues from the Houston Texans' 34-3 loss to the San Francisco 49ers:

[+] EnlargeArian Foster
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsThe performance of RB Arian Foster was one of the few bright spots for Houston on Sunday night.
Special teams struggled: The Texans didn't get much from their special-teams units once again. It started with a missed 45-yard field goal by Randy Bullock that could have cut the 49ers' lead to 7-3. Instead, San Francisco maintained a shutout until the third quarter. Returner Keshawn Martin made some questionable decisions on when to bring the ball out of the end zone, seemingly pressing to make a big play. The Texans allowed a kickoff return of 29 yards and two punt returns for a combined 28 yards. Martin also suffered a shoulder injury for which he was scheduled to have an MRI on Monday.

More on the injury front: Left tackle Duane Brown seemed to have come out of the game in good shape injury-wise after working through a case of turf toe that he suffered against the Tennessee Titans. But safety Ed Reed came up hobbling after stopping a sliding Colin Kaepernick. Reed said after the game that he tweaked his knee on the end of the play, not the hip on which he had arthroscopic surgery in April. Reed also said he wasn't concerned about the injury and it did not need further tests Monday.

Run defense: I'll repeat my thought from Sunday night that you cannot blame the loss on the Texans defense. It is worth noting, though, that the rushing defense was gashed by San Francisco. The Texans gave up 177 rushing yards, 81 of them to Frank Gore, an underrated talent who has worked through injuries for a lot of his career. (Side note: Gore was one of the former University of Miami teammates that Reed talked about wanting to reunite with in free agency. Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne and Gore.) The 49ers averaged 4.9 yards per carry and Kaepernick only ran the ball once. That's 0.7 yards per carry more than the Texans went into the game giving up. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the 49ers gained 118 of their 177 rushing yards before contact.

On the other hand: It was for naught, but given the situation Arian Foster might have played his best game of the season. Before the game, a group of 49ers fans heckled him by saying he wouldn't have a 100-yard performance. Foster almost got there, rushing for 98 yards. But he did it on only 21 attempts for a 4.7 average, a mark well above his 3.8 yards per carry entering Sunday night.

Upon Further Review: Texans Week 3

September, 23, 2013
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An examination of four hot issues from the Texans' 30-9 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

[+] EnlargeTandon Doss
AP Photo/Gail BurtonTandon Doss dealt the Texans a critical blow with an 82-yard punt return for a TD just before halftime on Sunday.
That pivotal punt return: Though Ravens linebacker Daryl Smith's 37-yard interception return for a touchdown gave the Ravens their first lead of the game, Tandon Doss' punt return for a touchdown with 45 seconds left in the first half might have been more deflating for the Texans. Doss returned the punt 82 yards, after catching the punt long before any Texans player was near him. Three Texans -- Shiloh Keo, Bryan Braman and D.J. Swearinger -- had positioning to tackle him, but Doss sliced through all of them. "We had three guys free around him," Texans special teams coach Joe Marciano told Mark Berman of Fox 26. "He made them all miss. To me it's inexcusable." There was some good from the Texans' special teams in Baltimore. Shane Lechler's start was just as strong as his previous games have been, pinning the Ravens at their own 7-yard line and their own 1-yard line early. Kicker Randy Bullock also made all three of his field goal attempts. But the bad seemed to be a continuation of last season. From ESPN Stats & Information: "Entering Sunday [and before Doss’ touchdown], the Texans' special teams unit has cost Houston 52.4 expected points since the start of 2012, more than 10 expected points worse than any other team."

Divergent snap counts: The Texans kept Ed Reed on a snap count, but he still played most of the game. Reed played in 73 percent of the Texans' defensive snaps. Seven players played in every single snap on their side of the ball: the five offensive linemen, rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins and safety Danieal Manning.

Flipping roles: The Ravens' five longest plays were all longer than any one of Houston's. Four of them came in the third quarter during the Texans' only defensive dip of the game. All of the Ravens' 10 longest offensive plays came after the first quarter and seven of them after halftime, which you'd expect. Meanwhile, only four of the Texans' 10 longest offensive plays came after halftime.

Penalties a killer: They came at damaging times, but the sheer number of penalties the Texans had Sunday in Baltimore was staggering: 14 penalties for 113 yards. Coach Gary Kubiak said the lack of discipline disappointed him more than anything else. Defensive end Antonio Smith said those penalties came from pressing too much, wanting too badly to make a play. That was a theme Reed touched on, as well. Reed said it was important for the Texans to remember to just do their jobs, rather than thinking about making a play. Whatever the reason, Ravens penalties helped the Texans early and their own crushed them late. The six defensive penalties in the second half helped move the Ravens down the field. It was the biggest issue on a Texans defense that otherwise had a strong day, allowing just 236 yards.

Is Ed Reed right about the Texans?

September, 22, 2013
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BALTIMORE -- Ed Reed knows special.

He felt it last season with a Baltimore Ravens team that sputtered at times (including in Houston), that dealt with injury and personal tragedy, but ultimately finished the season as champions.

Reed
"We had a special team," said Reed, who could make his Texans debut today. "We went through something that I said after the game was out of our hands. It was truly God’s work that was working within us because we went through a lot. From the start, I remember Torrey [Smith] losing his brother so that is a lot of connections that we had with that team. I was saying it that year that we were on that road."

It was almost like an afterthought when Reed connected his current team and his former team last week.

"I’m telling these guys the same thing because I feel it," he said.

Could something special be brewing in Houston?

It's hard to know the answer to that so early in the season.

They're only the second team since the merger in 1970 that has won their first two games on the last play of the game. But the last team to do that was the 2007 Denver Broncos, who went on to finish 7-9 and miss the playoffs. Denver's first two wins that year were against the Oakland Raiders (4-12) and the Buffalo Bills (7-9).

Last year's Ravens offer the counterpoint.

The way a season starts doesn't necessarily tell you anything about how it will finish. Whether or not the Texans can turn this into a special season will depend on how they grow and develop and how they fix the mistakes they've made so far.

To do it, they need to have believers inside the locker room. And they certainly have one in Reed.
HOUSTON – Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak made his strongest statement to date about Ed Reed's health Friday.

Reed
“If Ed is ready to go, Ed would start, yes,” Kubiak said of the veteran safety, who's recovering from offseason hip surgery.

Reed, left tackle Duane Brown (toe) and tight end Garrett Graham (hip/groin) were listed as questionable on the Texans’ injury report. The most notable appearance on the Ravens’ injury report was running back Ray Rice (hip), who was listed as doubtful ahead of the teams' meeting Sunday in Baltimore.

In weeks past, Kubiak has indicated that if Reed plays, he will take a situational role in at least his first game back, with Shiloh Keo the Texans’ starter. Thus, he's announced Keo as the starter before announcing Reed's status.

"Yeah, that’s where we’re working," Kubiak said last Thursday when asked if Reed would start or be worked back into the lineup. "From a football standpoint, he’s two weeks into it. He’s really had two weeks, maybe a couple of extra days of football. He’s right there, going into his first preseason game this week, so to speak, in a lot of ways. I think the question right now is when is he ready for those first 25-30 plays? That’s what we’re trying to make a decision on, but he’s making good progress. I just think we’ve got to keep going and keep preparing the way we’re preparing and, when we get there, it will be a big plus."

This week came with no such disclaimer -- and no announcement of Keo as the starter.

"We feel good about today," Kubiak said Friday. "The biggest thing, as I keep telling y’all, is how he comes out of practices. Is he sore? Stuff like that. He came out of yesterday really good. We’ll see how we did today."

A sign of progress.
Ed Reed, Ray RiceGetty ImagesEd Reed returns to Baltimore for the first time as a Texan, while Ray Rice looks to improve from his slow start.
Sunday's AFC showdown between the Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens features the return of safety Ed Reed to Baltimore. Reed went to nine Pro Bowls during his 11 seasons with the Ravens and was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2004. He has missed the first two games of the season because of his surgically repaired hip and would make his Texans debut if he plays.

While there will be plenty of attention placed on the reunion with Reed, this game will factor into how the balance of power in the AFC shakes out. The Texans (2-0), one of five undefeated teams in the AFC, are the first team since the merger in 1970 to win each of their first two games of a season on the final play of the game. The Ravens (1-1), the defending Super Bowl champions, are trying to get back on track after getting routed by the Denver Broncos and struggling to beat the Cleveland Browns.

Texans team reporter Tania Ganguli and Ravens team reporter Jamison Hensley discuss how this emotional and pivotal game will unfold.

Hensley: The big storyline heading into this game is whether Reed will play. Like Ravens coach John Harbaugh, I would be surprised if Reed sat out this reunion game. But it was only three years ago when Reed underwent a procedure on his hip while with the Ravens and missed the first six games of the season. When Reed returned, he picked off two passes in his first game and eventually led the NFL in interceptions despite playing just 10 games. If Reed plays, how much of an impact can he make in his first game with a new team and a new defense?

Ganguli: Anything can happen when Reed plays. He’ll have a lot of free rein when he returns, as he’s helped not just his teammates but also given coaches advice. The Texans are being cautious with him. He had a blood-spinning procedure done three weeks ago that has a range of results in patients. Reed said it helped his hip feel better. He also said this hip injury feels more mild than the surgery he had three years ago. He practiced more last week than he did before the Texans’ season opener against the San Diego Chargers, so he is progressing toward playing.

Texans coach Gary Kubiak said last week that if Reed does play, the Texans don’t plan on starting him in his first game back. They’ll use him in certain defensive packages and continue to start Shiloh Keo. Asked about it this week, though, Kubiak said he would listen to Reed’s evaluation of his health.

Reed isn’t the only legacy gone from the Ravens’ defensive roster. How has that changed Baltimore’s defense?

Hensley: The two longtime faces of the Ravens defense will be there at M&T Bank Stadium, but both won't be wearing purple. Reed is on the other sideline, and Ray Lewis will be inducted into the Ring of Honor at halftime. The Ravens have seven different starters from the defense that lined up against -- and got beaten up by -- the Texans last October.

The biggest improvement has been the Ravens' run defense, especially with Daryl Smith in the middle. This is key because the Ravens gave up 98 yards and two touchdowns to Arian Foster in the last meeting.

Baltimore also upgraded its pass rush with Elvis Dumervil, but there are questions in the secondary. The Ravens have already benched cornerback Corey Graham and safety Michael Huff and replaced them with cornerback Jimmy Smith and safety Matt Elam.

Talking about new looks, how much has rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins -- whom the Ravens liked in the draft -- helped the Texans passing game?

Ganguli: Hopkins had a breakout game in Week 2, catching seven passes for 117 yards and scoring the game-winning touchdown. He wears size 3X gloves, only one size smaller than J.J. Watt, who is four inches taller and 70 pounds heavier than Hopkins. Those big hands give him the confidence to catch with his hands and not worry about bringing the ball into his body. Because of that, Hopkins is excellent on contested catches.

Getting to the heart of your question, though, Hopkins’ impact will be big this season. He finally gives the Texans a complementary threat to Andre Johnson. Quarterback Matt Schaub became more confident in Hopkins through the game, especially when Johnson left with a concussion and he had to. That trend will continue during the season. The Texans threw to Johnson more than all their other wide receivers combined last year, and that will surely change this season.

Sticking with offense, what would be the impact of not having Ray Rice if his injury prevents him from playing?

Hensley: Rice injured his hip toward the end of the Ravens' not-so-thrilling win over the Browns. He will likely be questionable for Sunday's game against the Texans. He's always been a big factor in the Ravens offense. Rice was one of three running backs last year (with Doug Martin and C.J. Spiller) to produce more than 1,000 yards rushing and 400 yards receiving. The Ravens are 37-6 when Rice gets at least 15 carries.

The problem is the offensive line hasn't opened many holes for Rice, who is averaging 2.9 yards per carry. Backup running back Bernard Pierce has been the more physical back and has broken more tackles than Rice this season. The Ravens need to establish the run because they've lost too many weapons -- wide receiver Anquan Boldin was traded, tight end Dennis Pitta is on injured reserve and wide receiver Jacoby Jones is sidelined -- to rely solely on the passing game. Any chance the Ravens' ground game can come to life against the Houston front seven?

Ganguli: The Texans’ front seven has played inspired football in spurts this season, especially inside linebacker Brian Cushing, whose play is showing just how much he missed being out there for most of last season. The Texans gave up an 80-yard touchdown drive to start the third quarter against the San Diego Chargers but contributed to the biggest comeback in franchise history by allowing just 10 yards the rest of the game. In Week 2, Chris Johnson had only five rushing yards in the third quarter and 19 in the second half.

On one hand, the Texans defense hasn’t put together a complete game yet. On the other hand, it's been excellent with halftime adjustments. Even if the Ravens get going early, there’s a strong chance that won’t last.

A big part of that is Cushing, who has resumed his position as a leader on the defense. We talked about the on-field differences on the Ravens defense, but has anyone filled the leadership void?

Hensley: The Ravens' leadership in the past came from the veterans, like Lewis, Reed and Boldin. This team is going to rely on the likes of Terrell Suggs, Dumervil and Lardarius Webb. Suggs has taken over Lewis' role as the vocal leader, and I can see Webb becoming a more behind-the-scenes influence like his mentor Reed. The Ravens offense has strong character players such as Rice and wide receiver Torrey Smith.

Suggs and Dumervil have made a similar impact on the field. Last year against the Texans, Suggs played his first game since tearing his Achilles. Now, fully recovered, Suggs looks even better than before because he is in the best shape of his career. Dumervil has been just as disruptive and destroyed right tackle Mitchell Schwartz last week. They've each had a sack in the first two games. How are the Texans tackles going to hold up against these Ravens' edge rushers?

Ganguli: That will be an interesting thing to watch in this game. Derek Newton is new as the Texans’ starting right tackle this year, and left tackle Duane Brown thinks he could be a game-time decision after suffering a turf toe injury against the Tennessee Titans. Losing Brown would be damaging to the Texans, who rely on him to win one-on-one matchups. Another matchup to watch is the kicking game.

Hensley: One of the biggest surprises last season was the consistent kicking from Justin Tucker, who hit 30 of 33 field goals. The biggest surprise Sunday was Tucker's inconsistency, missing twice wide right after only missing once in Baltimore as a rookie. Tucker isn't worried, and a short but strong body of work doesn't have the Ravens panicking either. But given all the injuries on the Ravens offense, they can't afford for Tucker to be off his game. It seems like the Ravens aren't the only team having a problem with a kicker.

Ganguli: Randy Bullock has struggled in his first two games, making only one of five attempts. They haven’t been easy attempts, none shorter than 40 yards and three longer than 50, but the Texans know he has the leg for making those. It might help his confidence if he was put in the position to kick shorter field goals. Though fans are upset, the Texans aren’t giving up on him. Why would they? He’s only two games into his NFL career, having spent his rookie season on injured reserve.

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