AFC South: Matt Schaub

Double Coverage: Matt Schaub

March, 24, 2014
Mar 24
8:00
AM ET
SchaubJim Brown/USA TODAY SportsThe Oakland Raiders believe quarterback Matt Schaub can rebound this season.
The Oakland Raiders acquired two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Schaub from the Houston Texans on Friday and Raiders coach Dennis Allen immediately anointed the 10-year veteran his starter, even as he already had Trent Edwards, Matt McGloin and Terrelle Pryor on his roster.

Schaub, though, is coming off a career-worst year in which he was often booed at home, threw a flurry of interceptions returned for touchdowns, lost his starting job and had a career-low total quarterback rating of 43.65. In fact, Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson saw his new quarterback's fall from grace as a blessing in disguise, saying, “Had he not had the season he had last year in Houston, he wouldn’t be sitting here today.”

ESPN.com Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli broke down Schaub and his leaving Houston for Oakland.

Paul Gutierrez: It was obvious that Schaub bottomed out last year. The question is why -- was it more mental or physical?

Tania Ganguli: There was certainly a physical aspect to it. His arm strength wasn't what it had been. But a bigger part of it was mental. You can't pin everything that went wrong with the Texans' offense on Schaub. But the pick-six is such a catastrophic play that the streak of four games with one thrown was mentally very taxing on both the team and the quarterback. I've heard a lot of people around him say that his pick-six to Richard Sherman (his third of last season) was the one that ultimately crushed his confidence.

Do you think Oakland is a place where he can regain his confidence?

Gutierrez: So long as the offensive line holds up and gives him time. The Raiders have made a concerted effort to overhaul the offensive line since free agency began, picking up left tackle Donald Penn, right tackle Austin Howard and guard/center Kevin Boothe. The Raiders also got a veteran receiver in former Packers wideout James Jones, so general manager Reggie McKenzie has been building around the quarterback position, so to speak, to get a veteran signal-caller to serve as a bridge, of sorts. Schaub fits that description, no? Thing is, McKenzie and his scouts have failed thus far at identifying and settling on a franchise quarterback. They inherited Carson Palmer, but traded him away in favor of Matt Flynn, who bombed. Then they zeroed in on USC’s Matt Barkley last spring in the draft before the Philadelphia Eagles swooped in and took him. They used a fourth-round draft pick on Arkansas' Tyler Wilson, who was cut a couple of times and ultimately picked off their practice squad by the Tennessee Titans. Finally, they seemed to botch the handling of Terrelle Pryor and undrafted rookie Matt McGloin. With the money owed Schaub, unless he restructures his contract, the Raiders believe he will regain his confidence.

And yet, after last season’s debacle, is Schaub the kind of guy who would benefit from a mere change of scenery?

Ganguli: ESPN Stats & Info passed along some stats that support your skepticism, but I think a change of scenery will be great for Schaub nonetheless. First their points: Schaub has declined over the past three seasons in stats like first down percentage, total QBR, yards per attempt and interception percentage. The dramatic drop in QBR (from 67 in 2011 to 64 in 2012 to 37 in 2013) and dramatic increase in interception percentage (2.1 to 2.2 to 3.9) indicate a statistical anomaly. Given what the Raiders are going to be spending on him, it's clear that's what they believe, too. What made 2013 so bizarre is Schaub had not been a turnover machine historically. If he's in a situation where things around him go well, he can recover. But things have to go well around him. The struggles the Texans had with their running game were a very underrated part of why their offense wasn't working. Schaub had done really well out of play-action in the past, but didn't last year. Is he going to a place where the running game will support his endeavors?

Gutierrez: Which brings us to the $100,000 question (the amount of money guaranteed to running back Darren McFadden). It always comes back to the health of the perpetually injured McFadden. If McFadden is healthy -- he’s never played more than 13 games in a season and has missed 19 of the Raiders’ past 41 games, including six last season -- and used properly to his skill set, he’s a quarterback’s best friend. Look at how good and effective he made Jason Campbell look in 2011, before both were lost for the season with injuries. As noted above, the overhaul of the offensive line would suggest the Raiders are going to go all-in with a power running game and after McFadden, Oakland has the CFL’s Grey Cup MVP in Kory Sheets, a virtual rookie in Latavius Murray, who missed all of last season with injury, and Jeremy Stewart. Obviously, there are more questions than answers when it comes to the Raiders’ running game. No doubt, McKenzie & Co. are hoping Schaub brings some answers with him, without weighing him down with unrealistic expectations.

Schaub, you’ll recall, is already in the Raiders' annals for his part in the "Divine Interception" play in 2011, when he was picked off in the end zone to seal an Oakland victory in Houston the day after Al Davis died and with the Raiders having only 10 players on the field. How cognizant is Schaub of NFL history in general, the Raiders and that play in particular, or is he simply a football player?

Ganguli: Wow, I forgot all about that. And it figures, doesn’t it? Run off on the heels of an uncharacteristically interception-laden season, Schaub gets traded to a team against which he threw an interception that led to an eerily perfect moment in the franchise’s history.

He might be a student of the game’s history, but will rarely let the public into any aspect of his being that isn’t related to the game immediately in front of him. I challenge you, Paul, to extract the personality we all knew was beneath Schaub’s stone exterior. By all accounts, he is interesting, funny and has a great personality. We just never saw it publicly. Schaub went to great lengths to make us believe he was dull, but he isn’t.

It won’t be long before Schaub faces his old team again. The Texans have a trip to Oakland on their schedule, which is less interesting than if the Raiders were to return to Houston with Schaub at the helm, but it’ll be interesting nonetheless. What’s your prediction?

Gutierrez: I accept your challenge, Tania, and look forward to seeing what’s underneath said “stone exterior.” Many see it as more milquetoast and that was a reason so many fans clamored for the likes of Michael Vick because, really, ain’t nothing boring about the artist formerly known as Ron Mexico. And actually, for what the Raiders are doing, Schaub is their man. He was their No. 1 target all along, followed by Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman and then Vick. Fans may not agree with what McKenzie and Allen are doing but as far as the Raiders are concerned, it’s exactly what they want to do. As far as a prediction, I’ll wait until the roster is completely overhauled and the schedule is out and we see when, exactly, Schaub faces the Texans in Oakland. The cynic will predict a back-breaking and game-changing pick-six for Schaub against his former team. The optimist sees a 400-yard passing day and victory for Schaub and the Raiders against the Texans. Look forward to chatting again then.
Bill O'Brien, Ryan FitzpatrickGetty ImagesRyan Fitzpatrick, left, offers Bill O'Brien's Texans stability as they search for their QB of the future.
The Houston Texans' quarterback shuffling started in earnest Thursday night with some inter-division trading when the Texans signed Ryan Fitzpatrick less than a week after the Tennessee Titans released him. Fitzpatrick said on a conference call today that he’s coming in to compete, and that Bill O’Brien hasn’t boxed him into a “mentor” role or anything else just yet. But his ability to mentor whatever young quarterback joins the Texans' roster (or even one of the young guys currently there) will be important for the Texans this year.

Here, ESPN Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky and I tackle Fitzpatrick’s move from both angles. So Paul, what kind of relationship did Fitzpatrick have with Titans quarterback Jake Locker as the two intersected in Locker’s third NFL season?

Kuharsky: They got along well. There was no tension about who was in what role. Locker won the starting job from Matt Hasselbeck a year earlier. The Titans thought Hasselbeck was starting to fade and was too expensive, so they cut him and brought on Fitzpatrick. Everyone knows he’s smart since he went to Harvard. I think he’ll be a good resource for a draft pick to lean on in terms of how to be a pro and all of that.

Is the sense in Houston that while Fitz throws too many picks, he’s a cheaper option to keep the seat warm and be a resource for a draft pick than Matt Schaub would have been?

Ganguli: There is no parameter under which it didn’t make sense to do this for the Texans. They had to move on; Schaub’s time was done. They just needed to make sure to get something for him. Fitzpatrick is cheaper while offering some of the same things Schaub would have offered on the field and in the classroom. They replaced what would have been an $11 million salary for 2014, which includes a $10 million base and $1 million in per-game roster bonuses, with Fitzpatrick, who will make $4 million this year.

You addressed why the Titans cut Hasselbeck, but why did they cut Fitzpatrick last week?

Kuharsky: GM Ruston Webster said they just didn’t play well enough when Fitzpatrick was at quarterback last season, and that’s fair. I have trouble imagining Charlie Whitehurst will be better -- at least Fitzpatrick has some real experience. But Whitehurst was with Ken Whisenhunt in San Diego last season, and the Titans avoided a roster bonus and saved $3.25 million by parting with Fitzpatrick.

He’s very much a shotgun guy who is not very comfortable under center. How do you see that fitting with Bill O’Brien?

Ganguli: O’Brien is adaptable, and I think he’ll be able to work with that. Intelligence, size and at least some mobility are important for O’Brien’s quarterbacks as they will be asked to process a lot. I think those things are in line with what they will get with Fitzpatrick.

One thing that was interesting from Fitzpatrick’s conference call today is that he said being released by the Titans turned out to be a good thing for him. He said he had a lot of options and wound up in what he considers a better situation. What do you make of that?

Kuharsky: No player who just got dumped says where he lands is a worse situation. But he could have avoided that topic altogether. We have a lot to learn about both the Titans and Texans with their new coaching staffs and schemes. Obviously the Texans have some talent. But this idea that they can bounce back into a playoff-caliber team from 2-14 in a year is getting a little tired for me. Both the Texans and the Titans have new coaching staffs. I’m not so certain the one that finished five games worse is the better situation.

Fitzpatrick said he drew a lot of interest. What was the draw of O’Brien?

Ganguli: Sounds like two smart football minds were drawn together. They're both Ivy League guys, though somehow you were let into an Ivy League school, so maybe that doesn't mean anything. I kid, I kid. Seriously though, to hear Fitzpatrick talk about his affinity for the mental aspect of the game and the strategy sounds a lot like what you hear about why O'Brien loves football. Fitzpatrick is also very well connected around the league, as you know, and he's talked with plenty of people who know O'Brien well and spoke very highly of him. "Not only his mind and the way that he thought about football, but treating guys fairly and demanding the best out of you and all that stuff," Fitzpatrick said. "It was nothing but positive reports from people I really trust."
You knew when the Houston Texans signed quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, a capable veteran who started last season in Tennessee.

But really, you knew long before that.

As soon as Matt Schaub threw his last pass of the season -- his last interception of the season -- the end to his story in Houston was written. The Matt Schaub era, once brimming with the promise of a fresh, young franchise hoping to establish itself, had ended.

There was just too much baggage between the Texans and Matt Schaub. It was time.

[+] EnlargeMatt Schaub
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Matt Schaub signed a four-year extension worth $62 million in 2012, but was unable to keep his starting job with the Texans.
This morning, ESPN Insider Adam Schefter reported that the Texans are expected to trade Schaub to the Raiders for a late-round pick in this year's draft. The Schaub era ended with 46 wins and 42 losses, 124 touchdown passes and 78 interceptions that included a haunting streak of picks that were returned for touchdowns -- a pick-six in an NFL record four consecutive games. His arm strength showed signs of having weakened at that point, and the psychological impact of those plays was clear. You could see it in the way he pounded his fists on the grass after one pick-six, you could see it in the slump in his shoulders as bad turned to worse in inexplicable fashion. There was no reason to expect the issues Schaub had last season, and yet there they were.

Just two years ago, the Texans anointed Schaub with a four-year extension worth $62 million with $24.75 million guaranteed. The deal became final the day before the 2012 season began and preceded an 11-1 start that made the Texans the hottest team in the NFL for a while.

Schaub was coming off a 2011 season during which he had his lowest completion percentage as a Texan, but he also helped lead the Texans to their first of two division titles. He missed the 2011 playoff run after fracturing his foot but returned healthy enough to inspire the organization's confidence.

When the problems began, things got ugly.

There were cheers at Reliant Stadium as Schaub lay on the grass when he suffered an ankle injury against the St. Louis Rams, the injury that ultimately led to Case Keenum replacing him as the starter. A grocery store near Schaub's neighborhood made a Halloween cake in the shape of a gravestone, marking the death of Schaub's arm. One photo circulated of a car in Houston with a mannequin in a No. 8 jersey protruding out of the trunk, meant to look like Schaub's body stuffed in the back. And, in one of the more bizarre stories from last season, Schaub's family reported trespassers to the police in an incident that was initially reported by a local radio station as having involved angry fans.

The most damning result of the ugliness came on the field the next time the Texans dared play Schaub at home. The boos got so loud the home team had to go to a silent count. His teammates were furious, not just at the tactical disadvantage they faced, but also at the way a man they still respected and liked was being treated.

Schaub, who closed his Twitter account during the season, tried his best to seem unaffected. But he wasn't fooling anybody.

And so, it had to be done.

In the past few weeks, we've talked a lot about the Texans' options at quarterback and whether or not they could find someone better than Schaub. That depends entirely on your definition of better. If you're looking purely at ability and statistics, Schaub was comparable to the quarterbacks who were options for the Texans, including Fitzpatrick. But unemotional analysis isn't enough in this situation.

The Texans are taking Schaub's $10 million salary and roster bonuses off the books for 2014, but will only gain about $4 million in cap space.

What they'll really gain is a much needed fresh start.
Unlike their counterparts in the AFC South, Indianapolis and Jacksonville, the Houston Texans will not be big spenders on the market once free agency begins March 11.

The NFL announced Friday the league’s salary cap for 2014 will be $133 million, which is an increase from $10 million from last season.

The Texans will have about $11 million in cap space. Houston isn’t as fortunate as the Colts and Jaguars, who will have about $41 million and more than $50 million, respectively, to spend on improving their rosters.

The Texans, meanwhile, could lose starters like guard Wade Smith, defensive end Antonio Smith and defensive tackle Earl Mitchell in free agency. They’ve also got to decide what to do with quarterback Matt Schaub, who is scheduled to make $14.1 million next season after losing his starting job last season.

Meanwhile, Brian Smith of the Houston Chronicle has a neat story on a Crosby (Texas) High School senior football player who will be going to his prom with a Texans cheerleader.

“Courtesy of more than 10,000 retweets in a little more than 24 hours, [Michael] Ramirez went from just-broken-up status to one of Twitter’s hottest names Friday,” Smith wrote.

What went wrong? Quarterback

January, 24, 2014
Jan 24
5:30
PM ET
It was a long, sordid journey, but we finally reach the end.

For the past couple of weeks, we've taken a position-by-position look at what went wrong with the Houston Texans this season.

Should you care to relive the disaster that was the Texans' 2013 season, peruse through the rest of the series which has examined safeties, running backs, inside linebackers, receivers, outside linebackers, tight ends, defensive linemen, offensive linemen, cornerbacks and special teams.

Today we reach the most talked-about position this season: quarterback.

Key players: Matt Schaub, Case Keenum, T.J. Yates

Schaub
Schaub
What went wrong: Frequently during the offseason between 2012 and 2013 I was told that Matt Schaub was going to surprise me. Inside Reliant Stadium, there was a firm belief that Schaub's 2013 would be better than his 2012 season. He would have better receiving options and better protection, they figured.

As it turned out, Schaub did surprise me. But in a different way.

When Schaub threw his first pick-six of the season, he recovered well. Against the Titans he followed the interception by leading a game-tying drive that preceded an overtime win. The next week he threw another pick-six, this time to the Baltimore Ravens, then one to Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and another on his first pass against the San Francisco 49ers. That 49ers game was a complete disaster for Schaub. It was the only game this season when Schaub never looked comfortable. He threw three interceptions and was benched for Yates, his backup for the first six weeks of the season.

When Schaub suffered an ankle and foot injury against the St. Louis Rams in Week 6, Yates came in as his backup and struggled, too. He threw another pick-six, making that five consecutive weeks a Texans quarterback threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown. Another dubious NFL record. That performance, along with the fact that then-head coach Gary Kubiak felt he had little to lose at that point, led to a shift in the Texans' quarterback landscape. Looking for a spark, Kubiak turned to the spirited first-year player Case Keenum.

(Aside: first-year player is different from rookie. This was Keenum's first year on a 53-man roster).

Keenum provided the occasional glint. He exceeded expectations in his first start against the Kansas City Chiefs when he completed 15 of 25 passes and threw one touchdown pass. His first half was better than his second half, and the game ended shortly after Keenum fumbled as he was sacked. His performance pleased Kubiak enough that Keenum kept the starting job. But from then on, Keenum was more easily solved by opposing defenses with each passing week. It didn't help that he was benched twice during games in hopes that Schaub could come in as a closer.

That situation didn't help Schaub either. His absence from the starting lineup erased any chemistry and timing he had with the receivers. It showed.

Reason for hope?: With the first pick in every round of the draft, if the Texans think there's a quarterback who can be their franchise player, they'll get him. Of course, there is no guarantee they think that guy is there. Even if they do, there is no guarantee he will become a successful franchise quarterback. That's part of the fun, isn't it?

Power Rankings: No. 32 Houston Texans

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
2:00
PM ET
A weekly examination of the Houston Texans' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 7 | Last Week: 32 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

For this season's final Power Rankings, the voters kept the Texans at the bottom, unanimously.

Their preseason expectations were high not just from the inside (the players talked about wanting to win a Super Bowl), but also from the outside (the Texans entered the season ranked seventh). Many analysts weren't sure about the quarterback situation, but none predicted the dramatic turmoil the Texans experienced. Rather, more thought Matt Schaub would be fine, but couldn't do enough to lead the Texans to a championship.

The silver lining for the Texans is that they go into next season with the chance to change things around. They'll get exactly who they want in the first round of the draft and can direct their franchise with a head-coaching selection that should wrap up very soon.

Next season's preseason ranking probably won't have them last -- but it also won't come with this year's lofty expectations.

Goodbye to season of dubious firsts

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
6:30
PM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- To a Houston Texans' season filled with record-setting performances and unprecedented feats in all the wrong ways, goodbye.

Goodbye to what began in thrilling fashion, with two come-from-behind victories for a team seemingly marching toward the Super Bowl. Instead the 2013 Texans became the first team in NFL history to lose every game after starting 2-0.

Goodbye to the year in which Matt Schaub became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw a pick-six in four consecutive games. And even when he didn't throw one, quarterback T.J. Yates did it in his place, making the Texans the first team in NFL history to have a quarterback throw a pick-six in five consecutive games.

[+] EnlargeHouston's Matt Schaub
Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsMatt Schaub and the Texans became the first NFL team to lose the season's final 14 games after starting 2-0.
And while we're at it, goodbye to an intensely private quarterback who had a personality the public never got to see. If fans had seen the side of Schaub that made him well-liked and respected among his teammates, perhaps their ire might have softened when things went so bad this season.

Goodbye to a season that began and ended with interceptions by Schaub, one in which he said "everything" went wrong. "Situational football, turning it over, giving teams opportunities, penalties, not staying on the field on third down, not getting off the field sometimes on third down, and just so many things."

Goodbye to the first season since 1999 when an undrafted quarterback started the first time he was active for an NFL game. Case Keenum's learning process, hampered by an avalanche of injuries around him, resulted in eight more losses that couldn't be blamed on Schaub.

Goodbye to the season of the Ed Reed courtship followed by a surprise surgery, followed by Ed Reed Thursdays and then the bubbling frustration. Ugliness followed Reed to his next destination in New York, perhaps the best player ever to play his position struggling with the denouement of his career.

Goodbye to a team that became one of just four in NFL history to win 12 games in one season and lose 12 in the next. The other three did so because of a relocation, the start of the salary cap and a starting quarterback's career-ending concussion. None took as perplexing a dive as these talented Texans did.

Goodbye to a running back group that featured a Week 17 starter who was picked up off his couch a week and a half prior. Jonathan Grimes asked the official for the ball after he scored his first career touchdown. He was the fourth player to start at running back for the Texans this season after Arian Foster, he of the many injuries, Ben Tate, who played through broken ribs until it didn't make sense to do so anymore and Dennis Johnson, who started one game before a hip injury knocked him out.

Goodbye to an interim head coach whose professionally difficult year was compounded by personal tragedy. Wade Phillips said he couldn't answer whether or not he'd return as the next head coach's defensive coordinator.

Goodbye to the longest single-season losing streak in franchise history -- 14 games. With Sunday's 16-10 loss in Nashville, the Texans became the only team in the past five season to have a losing streak that long.

"I'm just glad what we went through this season is over," receiver Andre Johnson said, he of many records that felt good but didn't matter. "I enjoy playing football, but what we went through this season as a team, I wouldn't wish that on anybody to experience."

Hello, to the benevolent end.
Peyton Manning and Johnathan JosephUSA Today Sports, Icon SMIComing off an unexpected loss, will Peyton Manning's Broncos overlook Johnathan Joseph's Texans?

Quarterbacks tend to pull for each other. They know what it's like to shoulder so much of a team's fate, they understand the pressure better than outsiders could.

"I do think it’s a unique fraternity," Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said. "Matt’s an excellent quarterback. I think he’ll be fine."

This weekend Manning and his Broncos will visit the Houston Texans for a rematch of a game played last year under very different circumstances.

Fittingly, after a season of quarterback turmoil, the Texans are returning to the man they started with at the position. Because of an injury to Case Keenum, Matt Schaub will start Sunday at Reliant Stadium. The last time Schaub started, he entered the game to boos so hearty that the Texans had to go to a silent count on some of their plays.

On the opposite sideline will be one of the best to ever play the position. Manning has played against the Texans 19 times and lost only three times. ESPN.com Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli discuss.

Ganguli: Manning is very familiar with the Texans. Has his (soon-to-be) record-setting season been as impressive to watch up close as the stats suggest?

Legwold: No question the numbers have been staggering, even by Manning’s standards. But the intersection of Manning as a 37-year-old quarterback who was willing to sort of remake himself with a team ready to offer him the place to do that has lifted his play even more. The Broncos have constructed a playbook that is a mix of what they had on hand and what Manning has always done. They've added a warp-speed no-huddle portion and given him targets all over the formation, and Manning has played with the discipline of a veteran quarterback who understands what needs to be done. His coaches have said he forced just one pass in the team’s first eight games and his accuracy has been elite for much of the season. He isn't a power thrower now, and a windy day in the postseason could derail some of what the Broncos like to do, but he is an accomplished pitcher who knows his opponents and can hit all the spots.

Gary Kubiak is still well-liked around the Broncos’ complex, with many people who worked with him still in the building. What has been the reaction of players to his dismissal?

Ganguli: Kubiak was well-liked in the Texans' building, too, especially with, but not limited to, the players. After his dismissal, you heard a lot about how well he treated people, regardless of their role on the team. He’s always been known as a players’ coach, and that’s part of what has made Houston an attractive destination for free agents. Several players exchanged text messages with him after it happened. Some took public responsibility for it. They didn't like seeing him lose his job, but the firing wasn't a tremendous surprise given how the season had gone. The players’ reaction to Kubiak's health scare after suffering a "mini-stroke" on Nov. 3 said a lot about what he meant to them.

You covered another head coach's health scare this season. How did the Broncos weather John Fox’s absence?

Legwold: There have been seasons over the past decade or so when neither the locker room nor the coaching staff would have been as equipped as this year's group was to deal with something like Fox’s four-week absence following open-heart surgery. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio stepped in as interim coach, and players often spoke of his composure and leadership during that time. Manning, Wesley Woodyard, Champ Bailey and others helped keep everyone in the locker room pointed in the right direction, while Adam Gase and rest of the offensive staff kept things humming on that side of the ball. The team went 3-1 in that stretch, with two wins over Kansas City and one against San Diego. The loss was an overtime defeat at New England, when the Broncos let a 24-point halftime lead get away. Through it all, the Broncos showed themselves to be a stable organization, able to overcome the most serious of issues.

An awful lot of folks believed when the season began that the Texans would be in the hunt for the Super Bowl title. What are some of the major issues that have prevented that from happening?

Ganguli: How much time do you have? It starts with the quarterback. The Texans don’t have the luxury the Broncos have of one of the greatest quarterbacks ever. Their situation at the position has been tenuous all season. Schaub’s costly turnovers early on put the Texans in a precarious position. He didn't play as poorly as some indicate until Week 5 against San Francisco. He just looked uncomfortable and out of sorts from start to finish, throwing three interceptions, including a pick-six on the first pass of the game. Schaub’s foot and ankle injuries the following week opened the door for Kubiak to make a switch to Keenum, who spent last season on the Texans’ practice squad. Keenum did well before opponents deciphered him, and since then he has struggled. I’m not ready to say he’ll never be a passable quarterback in the NFL, but his play over the past eight games has been a big factor in the losses. To be clear, quarterback is not the only factor in the Texans’ 12-game losing streak, but it’s been a big one. Further, the handling of the quarterback situation played a part in Kubiak’s firing. He benched Keenum for Schaub against Oakland and Jacksonville. That kind of uncertainty didn’t help matters.

That’s one question I get asked a lot. Another is this: Who will the Texans’ next head coach be? I covered Del Rio for his final season and a half as the Jaguars' coach. From what you've seen in Denver, do you think he gets another shot at being a head coach?

Legwold: I spoke with executives from around the league in recent weeks, and it seems Del Rio helped his cause with the way he conducted himself and led the Broncos during Fox’s absence. If the Broncos can snap out of their current defensive funk and go deep in the playoffs, it would help his cause even more. (He interviewed with USC during the bye week, the day before Fox suffered the dizziness and light-headedness on a golf course that led to his open-heart surgery.) Del Rio would need an owner/team president to look past the offense-first mentality everyone seems to be looking for these days, and he would have to present a clear, concise picture of what he would do on offense. But if the Broncos make the Super Bowl, or even win it, and the defense makes some plays along the way, Del Rio should be on some short lists.

How has Wade Phillips handled the interim job? He’s seen Manning plenty over the years, how do you think he’ll have the Texans go at the Broncos’ offense?

Ganguli: It wasn't a particularly good situation to come into, as tends to happen with interim jobs. The results have been similar to Kubiak's tenure, though Phillips has been more proactive in trying to curb the Texans' penalties. He's had Big 12 officials at practice several times, and puts players in timeouts if they commit a penalty. Not a lot has changed for the better, and the injury situation has gotten worse. The Texans now have their first- and second-string running backs on injured reserve, as well as their starting tight end, starting middle linebacker and starting strong safety. Phillips' defenses have always been very aggressive -- they blitz a lot. The play calling is being done by defensive-backs coach Vance Joseph now, but that doesn't change a lot. Manning's statistics against the Texans are better against a four-man rush than against blitzes.

RTC: Moon says Schaub needs a change

December, 18, 2013
12/18/13
7:35
AM ET
Reading the coverage of the Houston Texans...

Former Houston Oilers quarterback Warren Moon thinks Matt Schaub can still be an NFL quarterback; he just needs a change of scenery, Moon tells Nate Griffin of SportsRadio 610. Moon says he isn't sure if Case Keenum can be the Texans' quarterback next season, and he says Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is the most NFL-ready of next year's class (provided Bridgewater leaves school, of course).

Dave Zangaro of CSNHouston.com takes a look at some key numbers to come out of the Texans' 25-3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Here's an interesting one: "The Texans have scored three or fewer points nine times (0-9) in their history. They've done it twice this year. The seven other games were from the 2002 and 2003 seasons."

Cornerback Brandon Harris praised defensive-backs coach Vance Joseph's play calling during Sunday's game, writes Deepi Sidhu of HoustonTexans.com. Like many of his fellow defensive backs, Harris praised Joseph's ability to improve his own game.

Josh Moyer of ESPN.com says speculation of Penn State coach Bill O'Brien's move to the NFL is premature. CBS reported that the Texans have contacted O'Brien about their coaching job.

Double Coverage: Texans at Colts

December, 12, 2013
12/12/13
12:00
PM ET
J.J. Watt and Andrew LuckGetty ImagesJ.J. Watt's Texans aren't playoff-bound like Andrew Luck's Colts, but Sunday's hosts haven't had it easy.
INDIANAPOLIS -- This was supposed to be a game that had AFC South division title implications between a Super Bowl contender and a playoff team, one that could have even been flexed on the schedule.

At least that's the way it was envisioned when the season started.

Instead, it'll be a battle of two teams dealing with a number of issues when the Indianapolis Colts take on the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Colts haven't beaten a team with a winning record since Oct. 20 and haven't had consistency on offense, defense or special teams in weeks. The Texans ... well, they've been a disaster this season. They are on an 11-game losing streak, benched their starting quarterback and fired their head coach.

ESPN.com's Colts reporter Mike Wells and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli weigh in on the two struggling teams.

Wells: Tania, obviously the big news -- really the only news -- to come out of Houston in the past week was the firing of coach Gary Kubiak. Wade Phillips takes over as the interim coach. Teams tend to rally around interim coaches or just shut them out. What do you think the Texans will do with Phillips?

Ganguli: I don't think they'll shut him out, but wanting to succeed for the coach was never a problem in Houston. They wanted to win the last Colts game for their head coach, who left at halftime in an ambulance. They wanted to win the following week in Arizona for their coach, who watched from home as he recovered from his transient ischemic attack. It's not a matter of wanting the win -- the process has gotten lost. Two weeks ago, the Texans made so much progress in fixing their issues and then last week they went to Jacksonville and completely lost their discipline, committing a franchise-record 14 penalties for 177 yards.

The Colts are now back on top of the AFC South. What was the mood like for the team upon clinching the division and a playoff spot?

Wells: It was a bittersweet feeling for them because they needed help from their good buddy Peyton Manning in Denver to win their first division title in three years. The Colts wanted to go into Cincinnati and win it by themselves so that they would be able to avoid getting it in the side or backdoor. That obviously didn't happen. But a division title is a division title no matter how you get it. That's how the Colts should look at it, especially since they were 2-14 just two years ago and many people thought the Texans wouldn't have a problem winning the division for the third straight season.

I'll be the first to say I picked the Texans to win the division this season. I'm sure there are probably a lot of reasons why they've been a major bust. But does one reason stand out more than others?

Ganguli: If I had to choose one, I would say the quarterback situation has been the biggest reason. It was completely out of the blue. A lot of people disagree with me on this, but I don't think Matt Schaub played poorly most of the time, it's just that pick-6's are such dramatic momentum swingers. Really, though, it's been a combination of a lot of things. If you look at their stats, you'd expect the team to have a much better record. After Schaub, they went through Case Keenum's learning process, which is ongoing. Kicker Randy Bullock had a rough start, which impacted the team's record. He has improved lately, but by then the Texans developed other problems, like the loss of four important players to injury: inside linebacker Brian Cushing, safety Danieal Manning, running back Arian Foster and tight end Owen Daniels. Daniels has a chance of returning this week. And of course, I mentioned the meltdown of discipline that led to what happened last Thursday in Jacksonville. That was a problem early in the season, but unusual for the Texans lately. They had four penalties in the previous two games combined.

I expected the Colts to be better than they are, too. Do you think this team has taken a step forward or backward from last season?

Wells: I thought the Colts had more talent this season but they wouldn't be able to duplicate their 11-5 record from last year. I was right about their record but wrong about their talent. Season-ending injuries forced the Colts to take a step back in the talent department. They're known for using the phrase "Next Man Up" when dealing with injuries. There really isn't a Next Man Up when it comes to replacing future Hall of Fame receiver Reggie Wayne, guard Donald Thomas and tight end Dwayne Allen. The Colts thought acquiring running back Trent Richardson would soften the blow of losing Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard. That hasn't been the case. Richardson's struggles since coming to Indianapolis have been well documented. So injuries and players not living up to expectations are the main reasons why the Colts have taken a step back

We talked about the benching of Schaub prior to the first meeting between the two teams in early November. Receiver Andre Johnson made Keenum look pretty good in the first half of that game. Has Keenum shown enough to prove he's worthy of being the team's quarterback for years to come?

Ganguli: He's had good moments and bad ones. I think the bad moments are fixable, but whether he'll be able to fix them remains to be seen. The end of this season is an audition for him just as much as it is for Phillips. He has to show he's learning how to read defenses and make better decisions. There are times when Keenum hangs on to the ball too long because his internal clock isn't quite where it needs to be yet. He is learning that sometimes it's better to take the checkdown. He's learning that turning his back on the field when a rush comes at him reduces his options. If he stops growing where he is now, he'll have a career as a serviceable backup. If he continues to improve, he has the chance to be a starter.

To wrap up, let's talk about the quarterback up there, which I know we have before. How would you assess the season Andrew Luck has had?

Wells: Two words: A struggle. But it's not Luck's fault. The offensive line has been inconsistent all season. The running game has been more poor than good. The biggest reason behind it, though, is because of the loss of Wayne. Wayne was Luck's security blanket and nobody has stepped up to help him out. Luck is good, but you can't forget that he's only in his second season and is still learning. Rookie Da'Rick Rogers had a breakout game against Cincinnati (107 yards) last weekend and believes he can be Luck's third-down go-to guy.

A review of four hot issues from the Jacksonville Jaguars' 27-20 victory over the Houston Texans:

Big night for MoJo: Running back Maurice Jones-Drew surpassed 100 yards for the first time since Week 3 of the 2012 season. He ran for 103 yards despite not playing the final 11 minutes of the game because of a right hamstring strain. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Jones-Drew ran for a 98 yards and averaged 8.2 yards per carry between the tackles. Jones-Drew, who hurt his hamstring on a 15-yard reception, said his injury was minor and he expects to play in the Jaguars' next game against Buffalo on Dec. 15.

[+] EnlargeMaurice Jones-Drew, D.J. Swearinger, Darryl Sharpton
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesMaurice Jones-Drew rushed 14 times for 103 yards on Thursday.
More offensive trickery: For the second week in a row, a non-quarterback threw a touchdown pass. This time it was receiver Ace Sanders, who took a lateral from quarterback Chad Henne, rolled to his right, and lofted a pass to running back Jordan Todman for a 21-yard score. While Sanders was talking about the play in the locker room, teammate Cecil Shorts was yelling "Michael Vick" at him from his nearby locker. That was just one instance of ribbing Sanders got from his teammates. "They said, ‘What took you so long to throw it?'" Sanders said. "I said, ‘Hey, we scored.'"

Nimble Henne: Henne actually looked more like Vick than Sanders. OK, that's exaggerating, but Henne did do a nice job of keeping plays alive with his feet and scrambling for positive yardage. He ran four times for a season-high 33 yards, including a 14-yard run. "They played a lot of man coverage and two-man and gave me some lanes up front with the pass rush, so I just took off instead of trying to force the ball downfield when it was covered," said Henne, who completed 12 of 27 passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns. "I just tried to get as much as I could get."

Shredded secondary: The Jaguars limited Texans receiver Andre Johnson to two catches for 36 yards in the first meeting. Johnson caught 13 passes for 154 yards on Thursday night. He was targeted 21 times. Case Keenum and Matt Schaub combined to throw for 357 yards and two touchdowns and did most of their damage over the middle, which has been a trouble area for the Jaguars all season. Tight end Garrett Graham caught eight passes for 73 yards and a touchdown. The Jaguars have improved against the rush since the bye week but have given up an average of 320.6 yards per game passing in the five games since the break, including 419 yards to Arizona's Carson Palmer and 370 yards to Cleveland's Brandon Weeden. Schaub threw for 198 and Keenum threw for 159.
Andre JohnsonAP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackAndre Johnson made history with his 13-catch, 154-yard night. But he couldn't get the Texans a win.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- When he caught the pass, that wasn't the end of his work. Andre Johnson kept his eyes open for the right move to make next. He caught the ball from a young, struggling quarterback, scooted several yards to his right, found a hole to run through and gained 6 yards.

It was a play made harder than it should have been, but one Johnson made the best of anyway. In that way, it parallels his career.

On Thursday night, with a 27-20 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Texans lost their 11th consecutive game, making it official they would miss the playoffs after winning the AFC South the past two years.

On Thursday night, Johnson became the first receiver in NFL history to have 20 or more games with at least 10 catches and 100 yards. He tied Jerry Rice with 10 games of at least 10 catches and 150 yards. Johnson's 13 catches and 154 yards led the game.

He spoke slowly, softly and deliberately when asked about it, his voice shrugging for him.

"I don’t really think about stuff like that," Johnson said. "To accomplish something that in my book the greatest probably player to ever play the game, to do something he’s done, it’s very humbling. I’m just out here working, trying to do everything I can to help the team."

By halftime, Johnson had only two catches for 14 yards out of the five passes that quarterback Case Keenum threw to him. It was in the second half that things changed for Johnson, even before the spark provided by the return of quarterback Matt Schaub.

"I didn’t do nothing different," Johnson said. "Just had more opportunities and just try to make plays when they came my way."

Keenum targeted Johnson five times in the third quarter before being benched for Schaub. Johnson caught three of those passes. According to ESPN Stats & Information, 40 percent of Keenum's passes for Johnson were off target.

Schaub, meanwhile, didn't throw any of his passes off target to Johnson. Johnson caught eight of the 11 passes thrown to him by Schaub and averaged 8.6 yards per attempt to Keenum's 5.6 yards per attempt on throws to Johnson.

Johnson was targeted a career-high 21 times Thursday -- the second-most targets for any player in a game this season, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

It makes sense.

"You don’t even have to look at numbers to know that dude’s a special guy," Keenum said. "He cares a lot about this team. He puts us on his shoulders and carries us quite a bit."

Well, he tries. The Texans, who are 2-11 overall, are 1-5 this season in games in which Johnson has had at least 100 yards receiving.

It has been that kind of career for Johnson.

Eight quarterbacks have started at least one game for the Texans since Johnson was drafted. The NFL record he set Thursday speaks to his longevity. That he has done it in the face of so much change at the position getting him the ball speaks to his versatility. He makes the jobs of his quarterbacks easier.

He also has provided a model for young receivers to follow. Those who do, like last year's third-round pick DeVier Posey, who asked for his locker to be put next to Johnson's, benefit from it.

Johnson thought the lean years were behind him, like that 2-14 season in 2005 that led to a No. 1 overall draft pick. But here they are again.

Through it, even amid whispers about his diminishing ability, Johnson has produced.

"He's been a man," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "Been a man all year long. Probably has a chance to have his biggest year, I don't know. But he's never changed."

Could be.

Last season, Johnson set a career mark for receiving yards in a season with 1,598. He needs 322 over the next three games to set a new personal best. Next week, he'll face the Indianapolis Colts, against whom he caught nine passes for 229 yards in the teams' first meeting this season.

Last week against the Patriots, Johnson became the second-fastest player in NFL history to catch 900 passes. Only Marvin Harrison did it faster.

None of it means as much to Johnson as a Super Bowl would have this season.

"Just frustration," he said, when asked of his emotions as the Jaguars intercepted a pass to essentially end Thursday's game. "We just want to win. I'm tired of losing."

It has all been much harder than things often are for a player of his caliber.

These Jaguars are no longer a joke

December, 6, 2013
12/06/13
2:30
AM ET
Marcedes LewisAP Photo/Chris O'MearaMarcedes Lewis and the Jaguars have won three in a row and four out of five since their bye week.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Go ahead, Jaguars offensive lineman Uche Nwaneri said, make jokes now.

Bring on the snide remarks about 0-16 and being one of the worst teams in NFL history.

He's waiting ...

He knows nobody's going to have much -- if anything -- to say, not after Thursday night's 27-20 victory over Houston in front of 60,414 at EverBank Field. That was the Jaguars' third win in a row, which Nwaneri said proves they're no longer the joke they were in the first half of the season.

"Everybody who was talking noise can just eat some crow real quick," he said.

The Jaguars (4-9) are the hottest team in the AFC, having won four of their five games since the bye week. The fact that none of the teams they've beaten has a winning record and one, the Texans, has lost 11 in a row, is irrelevant. The Jaguars are winning games, which is something that looked darn near impossible in the first month of the season.

They scored just two points in the season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs. They lost their first eight games all by double digits. They didn't score a touchdown at EverBank Field until Nov. 17.

They're starting three rookies in the secondary. They don't have their best receiver, who was suspended indefinitely for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy for a third time.

The Jaguars were a mess. They were hopeless. They were a joke.

And boy did people pile on. The season's first month wasn't even over before NFL analysts were comparing the Jaguars to the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the 2008 Detroit Lions, the only teams in the NFL's modern era to go winless. The players answered those questions openly and honestly, but they were angry inside.

Thursday was another vindication.

"Nobody wants to hear that junk: 0-16, first pick," receiver Cecil Shorts said. "We tried to tune it out but when the media asks that or tweets that we're going to draft so-and-so every day, it's hard to get out of your mind.

"But we did a good job of staying the course and things are really paying off. But we've got a long way to go. Our goal is to get better each and every day."

They've done that since the bye week. Especially defensively, improving their run defense from 161.8 yards per game allowed in the first eight games to 70.8 yards per game allowed over the past five.

But more important, they're making plays in crucial situations. Their first two touchdowns against the Texans came on third down -- Chad Henne's 1-yard pass to Marcedes Lewis and Henne's 6-yard pass to Shorts -- and the third came on a well-designed trick play. Henne threw a lateral to receiver Ace Sanders, who lofted a 21-yard touchdown pass to running back Jordan Todman.

[+] EnlargeJacksonville's Cecil Shorts
AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack"Nobody wants to hear that junk: 0-16, first pick," said Cecil Shorts of the chatter surrounding the Jaguars' 0-8 start.
While Matt Schaub and Case Keenum combined to throw for 357 yards and two touchdowns, the Jaguars made two key interceptions. Alan Ball picked off Keenum late in the first half, and that led to Josh Scobee's 40-yard field goal and a 17-7 lead.

Linebacker Geno Hayes intercepted Matt Schaub with 2 minutes, 8 seconds remaining in the game, and that led to Scobee's 39-yard field goal with 25 seconds left.

They weren't making those plays in the first half of the season. Heck, they weren't even in position to make those plays.

But coach Gus Bradley never wavered in his message to the team. He told the players to trust in their preparation, trust in what the coaching staff was asking them to do, and trust that if they did those things the results would eventually be positive.

It was hard, for sure, because for so long the results did not come. But Bradley was so strong that the players stayed with him. They never doubted.

Then came a 29-27 victory at Tennessee on Nov. 10. Two weeks later, the Jaguars beat the host Texans 13-6. On Sunday, they beat the host Cleveland Browns 32-28. Then Thursday night.

"We talked a couple weeks ago about it validates what we're doing," Bradley said. "It really is a credit to our players for what they've gone through and to stick to it and have some results go their way, it's pretty cool."

Now the Jaguars are no longer a mess. In fact, their recent run has -- believe it or not -- kept them alive in the playoff race. It's obviously a ridiculously small chance, but the fact that they're still alive after the horrendous 0-8 start means they deserve respect, not ridicule.

"That just lets you know that all the analysts and people who [are] so-called professionals and geniuses don't know what they're talking about," defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks said. "It's the NFL. Any given Sunday any team can go out and beat any team."

That's no joke.

Rapid Reaction: Jacksonville Jaguars

December, 5, 2013
12/05/13
11:54
PM ET

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A few thoughts on the Jacksonville Jaguars27-20 victory over the Houston Texans.

What it means: The Jaguars have their first three-game winning streak since the 2010 season and their first victory at home in more than a year (Nov. 25, 2012). The Jaguars had lost six consecutive games at EverBank Field. They’re also 4-1 since their bye and somehow still alive in the playoff race.

Stock watch: The Jaguars had no answer for quarterback Matt Schaub, who came in for Case Keenum in Thursday's third quarter and led the Texans to 10 points. The Jaguars couldn’t mount much of a pass rush -- they sacked him only once until the game's final play, and he had plenty of time to pick out receivers -- and Schaub was able to exploit what has been the Jaguars’ weakness all season: the middle of the field. He feasted, too, completing 17 of 29 passes for 198 yards and one touchdown. He made one mistake, a pass that linebacker Geno Hayes intercepted to set up the game-clinching field goal. The secondary has been an issue all season but particularly in the four games before Thursday night, giving up an average of 291 yards per game passing in those contests.

Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch continues to show his creativity. One week after having Maurice Jones-Drew throw a pass to Marcedes Lewis for a touchdown, he called a play in which receiver Ace Sanders threw a touchdown pass to running back Jordan Todman. The creativity makes up for a lack of experienced receivers and an offensive line that struggles with consistency. Of course, it helps that the plays are working.

RB injuries: The Jaguars lost Jones-Drew late in the third quarter to a hamstring injury, and Todman suffered a minor injury late in the fourth quarter, which really hurt their chance to run the clock. Jones-Drew had surpassed 100 yards for the first time this season and it was the closest he has looked to the player who led the league in rushing in 2011. The Jaguars had to go to third-stringer Denard Robinson, who carried twice for minus-1 yard, to try to kill clock on their next-to-last drive. Todman did return on the final drive, which began after Hayes’ interception.

Costly penalty: The Jaguars played a pretty clean game, but they did commit one costly penalty that directly led to three points in the fourth quarter. Texans kicker Randy Bullock missed a 51-yard field-goal attempt, but the Jaguars were penalized for having 12 men on the field. The Texans decided to go for it on fourth-and-5, converted the first down, and Bullock went on to kick a 31-yard field goal that cut the Jaguars’ lead to 24-20 with 11 minutes, 31 seconds to play.

What’s next: The Jaguars host Buffalo on Dec. 15 in their next-to-last home game of the season.

Double Coverage: Patriots at Texans

November, 29, 2013
11/29/13
12:00
PM ET
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.

.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider