AFC South: Shiloh Keo

Double Coverage: Patriots at Texans

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

The inaugural Texans Twitter mailbag

September, 14, 2013
9/14/13
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Shiloh Keo ready to start

September, 7, 2013
9/07/13
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HOUSTON -- Safety Ed Reed continued the process toward returning for the Texans.

But he will not start Monday, giving way to Shiloh Keo, who Texans coaches have talked up all preseason and through camp.

"He's just a much improved player through opportunities and repetition," coach Gary Kubiak said. "He's just has much more confidence in what we're doing and had a real good preseason. Just seeing the natural progression of a young player that all of a sudden gets pushed into a starter role and he responds to it. So he's done that."

Keo's had plenty of opportunity this summer with last year's starter Glover Quin gone and Reed recovering from his April hip surgery. It's hard to tell just how far a player's come in the preseason, though. Monday will be a real test of Keo's progress.

Some other notes from Kubiak today:
  • Kubiak was impressed with Wade Smith's recover from knee surgery. Smith promised Kubiak he would be able to handle everything, and Kubiak says he will.
  • Arian Foster and Ben Tate will rotate carries on Monday night. "First off, I think Arian's condition is excellent. His practice this week has been just excellent. He's a worker. That's why he's play well. I've been impressed with how he's held up, but obviously it's early in the season. I don't know how warm it's going to be up there, but I think we're smart in playing them both. Obviously, we'll see how Arian holds up from that standpoint."
  • Kubiak said he asked the team if they wanted to hold practice later to prepare for a 9:20 p.m. CT start, but they decided to keep their regular schedule.
  • Inside linebacker Darryl Sharpton won't travel to San Diego. He's recovering from a concussion. Unfortunate for a guy who is a really good player when healthy, but has had several battles with injuries.

Observation deck: Texans-Saints

August, 25, 2013
8/25/13
9:20
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HOUSTON -- Sunday afternoon was the first view most people had of the Houston Texans' shiny new punter Shane Lechler.

Until Sunday, Lechler was sidelined as he recovered from a hamstring injury in his plant leg. He knew there would be a lot of eyes on him, wondering how he'd fare in his first game in Houston, the first of his career not as an Oakland Raider. And so, something happened to the 14-year veteran that hasn't happened to him in a while:

He got nervous for a preseason game.

"I got out there and went through the basics mentally," Lechler said. "You're like, make sure you catch the snap. There's a lot of people looking at you (to) see how you handle your first ball. That ball actually carried a little farther than I wanted it to. Luckily it checked up perfectly. I was nervous and anxious and excited at the same time."

Lechler punted twice, netting 52 yards per punt. One of those was downed at the 2-yard line, giving the Texans field position that led to their first touchdown. The New Orleans Saints never got past their own 6-yard line and went three-and-out on their next drive.

What started to become very clear in the Texans' third preseason game was that their specialists have really improved.

Second-year kicker Randy Bullock, who spent last season on injured reserve, notched touchbacks on all three of his first-half kickoffs. He also made field goals of 21 and 55 yards. It impressed Lechler, who spent most of his career with one of the best kickers of all time in Sebastian Janikowski.

"I think when you talk about Janikowski, that's probably one of the best that's ever done it, in my opinion," Lechler said. "I think at Randy's stage of his career he's probably a little bit more accurate than Janikowski was as a rookie."

Other observations from the Texans' third preseason game:
  • I haven't talked enough about undrafted rookie outside linebacker Willie Jefferson. That will change this week. Jefferson signed with a team that drafted two players at his position (Sam Montgomery and Trevardo Williams) but quickly surpassed both of them. After Sunday's game, safety Danieal Manning said the most impressive thing about Jefferson is how well he is able to incorporate what he learns in the classroom to the field. "He put pressure on them ever since he got in -- he's definitely holding up," Manning said. "I'm glad he's a part of this team." An important thing to remember about Jefferson is that this is only his third year playing defense. His ceiling is higher than some of the other rookies.
  • T.J. Yates' numbers this week looked similar to his numbers last week. He completed seven of nine passes, though one of his incompletions was a drop. He had the best passer rating of the three quarterbacks at 137.5 and also threw the fewest passes of the three. I'd bet you see more of Case Keenum next week against Dallas, where Kubiak will have to make a final decision on how many quarterbacks to keep. The Texans carried two on the active roster most of last season and had Keenum on the practice squad. But Keenum is making it very hard for Kubiak to cut him.
  • Fullback Greg Jones showed why the Texans signed him on Ben Tate's one-yard touchdown run. "Me and Greg are always talking," Tate said. "He wants to know how I'm thinking, and I'm asking him what he is thinking. ... I was with him on the touchdown run. I was right there with him."
  • The Texans' defense contained the Saints offense until New Orleans got its screen game going. "You know, they resorted to going to screens and stuff like that," Texans defensive end Jared Crick said. "I think that was probably due to the pressure we were putting on." Whatever the cause, it worked. On the Saints' first touchdown drive, Drew Brees threw screen passes to Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas. Ingram took his catch 29 yards. Thomas nearly got tackled by Texans linebacker Joe Mays, but he escaped Mays' grasp first, then Texans safety Shiloh Keo inadvertently blocked Mays on his second effort to get to Thomas. That resulted in a 51-yard touchdown.
  • Speaking of Crick, he might have made a case for himself to start in place of Antonio Smith in the Texans' regular season opener. Crick had the Texans' only sack of the game, ending a Saints drive, and tied for the team lead with four total tackles.
  • Saints rookie Kenny Stills got the best of the Texans' starting cornerbacks on the same drive. Once with a one-handed catch on the sideline with Kareem Jackson on him. Another time, he got away from Johnathan Joseph for a 14-yard touchdown catch from Saints backup Luke McCown. "It was just a double-move, work on it all the time," Stills said. "Got the corner kinda sitting on the outside and was able to get inside and the ball was there."

RTC: Swearinger could start Sunday

August, 20, 2013
8/20/13
1:00
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Though second-round draft picks often start early, the Houston Texans haven't felt yet like their rookie safety D.J. Swearinger, currently better known for ending Dustin Keller's season with a hit Saturday, is ready for that.

Injuries have changed that situation a bit.

Safety Shiloh Keo has been starting while Ed Reed recovers from his April hip surgery. Saturday night Keo suffered a contusion to his quadriceps and might not be available for Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints.

It would be a good test for Swearinger, who has a high ceiling.

We start our links there.

1. Swearinger could start at safety against the Saints, Houston Chronicle, John McClain
• Notes also include Gary Kubiak's thoughts on the backup quarterback battle.

2. Posey's rapid recovery impresses Texans, Houston Chronicle, John McClain
• Tight end Owen Daniels gives his perspective on the second-year receiver's rapid recovery.

3. Texans' preseason action a big hit on TV, Houston Chronicle, David Barron
• Only one Nielsen market drew more total viewers than Houston for its two preseason football games: Chicago.

4. Look at 1st-round WRs of last 5 years, CSNHouston.com, Dave Zangaro
• With a chart!

5. Brian Hartline: Swearinger's hit 'crap,' ESPN.com, James Walker
• Are we surprised the teammate of the player who tore three ligaments and could have nerve damage because of the hit feels this way? Swearinger, who is sympathetic to Keller, said yesterday that this result won't and can't change the way he plays.
Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

For the time being, Shiloh Keo is the Texans' starting free safety, says Dale Roberson of the Houston Chronicle.

The Texans traded receiver Jeff Maehl to the Eagles for offensive lineman Nate Menkin, says John McClain of the Chronicle.

Brian Cushing plans on returning to game action Saturday night against Miami, says McClain.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts expect to have tight end Dwayne Allen (foot) back for the season opener, says Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.

A sore knee kept first round pick Bjoern Werner out of the Colts’ preseason opener, says Marcus Dugan of Colts Authority.

Jim Irsay’s tweet calling out his coaching staff was “unfair, unwise and uncalled for,” says Josh Wilson of Stampede Blue. I agree.

Jacksonville Jaguars

According to offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, the Jaguars have run 2,100 plays since the start of OTAs, says Ryan O’Halloran in this practice report from the Florida Times-Union.

No one is pulling away in the quarterback competition, says O’Halloran. And Luke Joeckel is dealing with a hip flexor.

How are the Jaguars using technology and analytics? Taylor Bloom of Sports Techie considers.

Tennessee Titans

Adjusting to a new job description and playing too many snaps made last season tough for Kamerion Wimbley. Now the Titans feel sure they know how to use the defensive end better, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

Jake Locker rebounded from a bad practice Sunday for an efficient session Monday, says Wyatt.

Ropati Pitoitua is with the Titans because he can defend the run, but he recently made a big play against a fake run as well, says Craig Peters of the team’s website.

Observation deck: Texans-Vikings

August, 9, 2013
8/09/13
11:51
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When Houston Texans quarterback T.J. Yates threw up what seemed to be a jump ball, the ensuing play revealed exactly why the Texans loved DeAndre Hopkins in this year's draft.

Well covered by Minnesota defensive back Bobby Felder, Hopkins leaped, secured the ball, then came down with his first NFL touchdown.

Texans coach Gary Kubiak often says that Hopkins is at his best on contested catches. It's something he thrives on during practices when the Texans' starting cornerbacks don't give him much room.

Even better for the Texans was that the touchdown play came very shortly after an uncharacteristic drop by Hopkins. He wasn't happy with himself for that play, but didn't let it linger long.

A few more observations from Friday night's game:
  1. I wrote earlier today that quarterback Case Keenum struggled in Wednesday's practice and my feeling was the backup quarterback job was Yates' to lose. That wasn't a feeling based on just that practice, of course. While I still think Yates is ahead, Keenum had a really nice game in Minnesota. On Twitter, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle suggested Keenum should be first off the bench next week against Miami. It's a good point. Keenum looked good, but he did it against worse players than Yates did. Flipping the two to see how Keenum does against second-string defenders could allow a more accurate assessment. Against the Vikings, Keenum completed 13 of 18 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown. Yates completed 13 of 21 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown.
  2. Earl Mitchell will take over as the Texans' starting nose tackle this season, and if tonight was any indication, the Texans are getting a serious upgrade at the position. Mitchell, another player in a contract year, led the team with four tackles in the first quarter, three of them for loss and one of which was a sack. He was constantly in the backfield early in the game.
  3. The Texans' punting and kicking on Friday was greatly improved, even though Andrew Shapiro, not Shane Lechler, did the punting. Shapiro's second punt was downed inside the 10-yard line. Coverage, however, struggled at the start of the game when Vikings rookie Cordarrelle Patterson returned the opening kickoff 50 yards.
  4. The Texans don't do live tackling in practice, and at times it showed. A short pass by Vikings backup Matt Cassel turned into a 61-yard touchdown catch by Zach Line when three different Texans defensive backs missed tackles.
  5. Minnesota's first series ended with Houston safety Shiloh Keo intercepting a Christian Ponder pass. Keo has had a good training camp, but the players who made that interception happen were two linebackers fighting for a starting role: Joe Mays and Darryl Sharpton. Sharpton broke through to pressure Ponder as he released the ball, and Mays disrupted receiver Jerome Simpson's route. The pass bounced off Simpson and into Keo's arms.
  6. Running back Cierre Wood helped himself. The undrafted rookie out of Notre Dame came into Friday night's game second to Dennis Johnson in the battle to be the Texans' third running back. Wood had 10 carries for 59 yards, including a 20-yard run. Johnson had seven carries for 11 yards, though he had four carries for 14 yards in the first quarter.
  7. Oh, and the Texans won 27-13. Don't care? Good. You shouldn't.
Johnathan Joseph was nowhere near the player he was in 2011 and 2012.

He was banged up in his second year with the Houston Texans, but groin, quad and hamstring injuries weren’t enough to account for the drop-off in his performance.

As we noted in our “Reading the coverage” file this morning, Joseph revealed there was more to it than that.

He told James Palmer of CSN Houston he had two sports hernias.

From Palmer:
"With the groin issues and everything behind me and the sports hernia on both sides, I had both those fixed," Joseph said Thursday. "Now I have more pop, more explosion with my legs. I can run all day again."

Joseph is feeling better than ever and was anxious to get back on the field to test his finally healthy legs.

"I'm just glad to have it behind me," Joseph said. "I'm feeling better than I've ever felt. I told somebody that yesterday. I was just excited that I got it fixed just to see where I am at on the field. And I'm having probably the best OTAs I've had in four or five years."

Great OTAs don’t mean much.

A far healthier Joseph during the season can mean a great deal to the Texans.

Kareem Jackson blossomed last year when Joseph fell off. If Jackson can maintain his gains and Joseph can maintain his health, the Texans should be formidable at corner, where Brice McCain was re-signed as the nickelback.

With Ed Reed and rookie D.J. Swearinger now in the spots where Glover Quin and Quintin Demps were last year. (Demps wound up yielding time as the third safety to Shioh Keo. Demps is gone and Keo needs to play far less with Swearinger around.)

Quin will be missed, but overall the secondary should come out ahead.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Who is one highly drafted or highly paid player from each AFC South team who needs to show something during the remainder of the offseason?

Houston Texans: I can’t find a highly paid or highly drafted player who could be in jeopardy. Shiloh Keo was a fifth-round draft pick in 2011 and ranked as a Wade Phillips favorite. Keo played in every game last year, even seeing time as the often-used third safety when Quintin Demps fell out of favor. But Keo is limited, primarily because he’s slow. The Texans replaced Glover Quin with Ed Reed, which doesn’t really affect the bottom of the safety depth chart. Demps is an unsigned free agent who won’t be back. Second-round pick D.J. Swearinger will be the third safety. Keo and Eddie Pleasant are the fourth and fifth safeties now, and the team had five on the roster at the end of last season. But a good player at the back end of another position could prompt them to keep just four, which could put the limited Keo in jeopardy if he doesn’t perform well in camp.

Indianapolis Colts: A team that didn’t have a true nose tackle option last season because of injuries and personnel deficiencies will have a glut this summer if everyone remains healthy. Now they have Aubrayo Franklin and 2012 fifth-rounder Josh Chapman, who’s back from the knee injury that kept him out last year. They also have new fifth-round draft pick Montori Hughes as well as Ricky Jean Francois, a versatile lineman who can man the middle on occasion. I don’t expect Martin Tevaseu to stick, and if the rest of that pack remains healthy, one player who will need to have a solid camp to make his case to stay is Brandon McKinney, who’s due $1 million this year. Brought in as a free agent from Baltimore last year, he too is coming off a serious knee injury. He’s expected to be ready for camp but could have already lost some ground in organized team activities and minicamp.

Jacksonville Jaguars: While the Texans don’t have a highly paid or highly drafted veteran who could be in trouble because they have drafted well and their roster is solid, the Jaguars don’t really have one because they are young and largely unproven. They already parted with an expensive guy who wasn’t worth his contract in strong safety Dawan Landry. Tight and Marcedes Lewis ($4.2 million base this year) and defensive tackle Tyson Alualu ($1.8 million) are overpaid based on recent production, but the Jaguars have money and don’t have promising replacements for either.

Tennessee Titans: I don’t think right tackle David Stewart is in jeopardy. But he’s coming off a down year when he committed too many penalties, is recovering from a broken leg, has an ankle that seems to be a lingering concern and is due a $5 million base salary. I’m not sure Mike Otto or Byron Stingily, the team’s two primary backup tackles, are starting-caliber guys. But the team did visit with free agent Eric Winston, who worked with offensive line coach Bruce Matthews in Houston. If Winston remains on the market and Stewart doesn’t look ready to bounce back, perhaps the Titans would still consider adding Winston and allowing him to slug it out with Stewart. That could be an epic battle.

Reassessing the Texans' needs

April, 4, 2013
4/04/13
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They are two-time defending division champs and have been to the second round of the playoffs two consecutive seasons.

Teams like that are not typically prime players in free agency. They have players they have to spend to retain, limiting the cash on hand to go get a bunch of free agents.

This is the case with the Houston Texans, who’ve lost more than they’ve gained in free agency and anticipate addressing primary needs in the draft.

Wide receiver -- They cut Kevin Walter to gain some cap relief, but also because they need a more dynamic second receiver who might ultimately have a chance to replace Andre Johnson. With DeVier Posey recovering from surgery to repair his Achilles, a top receiver is this team’s No. 1 need.

Inside linebacker -- The Texans are confident Brian Cushing will be recovered from ACL repair and ready to go at the start of training camp. But there is still a hole beside him. Bradie James, Tim Dobbins and Barrett Ruud are free agents who aren’t returning. Darryl Sharpton is injury-prone. Safety Glover Quin often played as a virtual linebacker in a dime package. He’s gone, and Ed Reed isn’t going to do that. The second inside linebacker is not a simple two-down run-stopping job any longer. Big need.

Outside linebacker -- Whitney Mercilus may not be sturdy against the run yet (another ingredient making inside linebacker increasingly important). But he can rush the passer and will start. The Texans will find ways to maximize his strengths. Connor Barwin’s departure means they need a third outside guy. I wouldn’t count on Bryan Braman as depth or someone who could rotate in. It’s a need for sure.

Safety -- They basically swapped Quin for Reed. In a good draft for safeties, they should grab one. They need to grab someone who can develop behind veterans Reed and Danieal Manning, upgrade depth and provide a better dime option if Wade Phillips wants to utilize it as much as he has in the last couple years. Quintin Demps and Shiloh Keo shouldn’t be on the field with the defense.

Nose tackle -- Shaun Cody is a free agent and Earl Mitchell is in line to take over as the starter. I think they are content with that, though they need a backup. I’d love for them to draft a guy who could challenge Mitchell for the nose job in the base defense.

Running back -- Ben Tate is No. 2 with Justin Forsett gone, so they need a third. But whether they need to spend even a low pick on the spot is the question. If they like one, have at it. If not, no pressure.
Ed Reed is a risk-taker who’s a risk the Houston Texans are willing to take.

The 34-year-old safety, who played the first 11 years of his career for Baltimore, is set to join the Texans, filling the spot left open when Glover Quin signed a free-agent deal with Detroit.

Reed
Tania Ganguli of the Houston Chronicle says it’ll be a two-year deal, not the three-year, $12 million pact the sides had previously been discussing.

Reed will be the team’s first outside addition since free agency opened March 12.

In joining a team that won 12 games in 2012 and went two rounds into the playoffs for a second consecutive season, Reed can provide swagger for a defense that faded down the stretch.

While the unit will be built around J.J. Watt for the foreseeable future, Reed will give the team a second player who has won defensive player of the year honors. Reed has 61 career interceptions and he typically makes them count -- his 1,541 interception-return yards are the most for a player in league history.

Like Houston receiver Andre Johnson, Reed played collegiately at Miami.

Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has often used a three-safety package. With Reed replacing Quin, the Texans should still look to upgrade the position. None of their other three safeties has proved up to the job, and they can do better than Shiloh Keo and Eddie Pleasant. Quintin Demps is a free agent.

The 2013 draft class is rated as strong at safety, and Houston can select a guy who should play this fall and could be an eventual successor to Reed.

Priority one: Houston Texans

January, 23, 2013
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Today we look at the biggest issues facing each team in the AFC South and give you an opportunity to assess priority one:

Pending free agents of note: Safety Glover Quin, fullback James Casey, outside linebacker Connor Barwin, cornerback Brice McCain.

Weaknesses: The pass rush beyond J.J. Watt was insufficient and there was too much room for plays to be made in the secondary. The right side of the offensive line wasn’t good enough. Pass-game threats beyond Andre Johnson didn’t develop and now DeVier Posey is recovering from a torn Achilles. Red zone offense sputtered late in the year. Special teams allowed too many returns and didn’t get enough.

SportsNation

What should be priority one for the Texans?

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    18%
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    15%
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    50%
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    5%
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    12%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,670)

Unsettled starting jobs: Right guard was split up between Ben Jones and Brandon Brooks and both Derek Newton and Ryan Harris saw time at right tackle. Bradie James is a smart veteran, but might they look to a younger and more athletic option from on the roster or outside?

Depth issues: The Texans like to play a package on defense with a third safety playing as a linebacker, and neither Quintin Demps nor Shiloh Keo was very good in that role. Secondary depth wasn’t good enough.

Health concerns: Inside linebacker Brian Cushing is coming back from a torn ACL. Posey’s got a long rehab again. McCain is rehabilitating after suffering a broken foot. Swing tackle Rashad Butler, who’s going to be a free agent, is coming back from a torn triceps. Two backup inside linebackers who I believe are good players, Darryl Sharpton and Tim Dobbins, finished the season on IR.

Unseen issue: They seem to love Shaun Cody as the primary nose tackle with help from Earl Mitchell. But couldn’t an upgrade there would make things a lot easier on the inside linebackers?
Wade PhilipsAP Photo/Patric SchneiderThe Patriots torched Wade Phillips's defense during their Week 14 matchup and won 42-14.
The New England Patriots gobbled up 419 yards and scored six touchdowns against the Houston Texans in a regular season meeting.

The guy who’s got to get the Texans defense ready for a better showing Sunday, Wade Phillips, said the unit’s effort at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 10 wasn’t as bad as it appeared, and believe it can fare far better in Sunday’s divisional round playoff game.

“We always want to execute better,” Phillips said. “We’ll give them some different looks, obviously. But we’ve got to execute. That’s what we do, we try to play fundamentally sound, make it hard to complete the ball on you, those kinds of things.

“We’re going to try, just like we always do, to play the running game and force them into throwing it.”

That’s dangerous, of course, because the guy the Texans want to throw it is Tom Brady who was surgical against them in the regular season blowout and has a stellar playoff record.

Here’s Phillips on some key issues heading into the game:

Attacking Brady: “You’re not going to get to him very much. That’s what he’s great at. He recognizes blitz and changes protections better than anybody in the league, anybody that I’ve ever been around. He finds out where you’re coming from, he’s patient enough to wait and do it at the last second and pick up most. You just don’t see people get to him much. You’ve got to beat some one-on-one blocks, but to get guys clean on him is hard to do.”

Presumptive defensive player of the year J.J. Watt didn’t sack Brady in the first game, but he did hit him four times and was more disruptive in that game than he got credit for.

Defending Welker: The Texans wanted to slow Wes Welker down and did a good job of it. He had three catches for 52 yards. Other pass-catchers hurt the Texans far more in the loss.

That was the first game for Brandon Harris working as the nickelback in place of the injured Brice McCain. The penalty-prone Harris is a lot better now than he was then.

Houston’s top corner, Johnathan Joseph is far healthier this time around. He typically tracks the opponent’s best receiver but stays on the outside. Last week in the win over Cincinnati, Joseph even followed A.J. Green into the slot.

I asked Phillips if we might see Joseph do the same with Welker.

“Ah, Welker’s not Green,” Phillips said. “He’s a good player, but he’s not that big or a real athletic guy. He’s a quick guy that gets open on option routes. Harris actually played him pretty good. He got a holding penalty that hurt us early in the game. But Harris played pretty well… If we don’t get him on a speed guy, we’re in good shape.”

Joseph will be outside on someone like Brandon Lloyd or even one of the Patriots tight ends.

Speaking of which…

Slowing two top tight ends: Aaron Hernandez ate the Texans up with eight catches for 58 yards and two touchdowns. Now Rob Gronkowski, who missed that game with an arm injury, will also be on the field.

“What makes it tough is, they’ve really got two tight ends in there but sometimes it’s like four wide receivers,” Phillips said. “They’re athletic enough to play out in space. So that gives you matchup problems. If you play your base defense against them it’s one thing, and if you play a sub defense against them it’s something else. If you play a sub what happens a lot of times with the two tight ends is they just run over people.

I think you have to mix it up and see how you match up, which players can play them and see if they need help. Do you need somebody to bang them at the line of scrimmage and then rush? If you have matchup problems you’ve got to do those kinds of things.”

Phillips said Hernandez really qualifies as a wide receiver in a lot of situations and indicated the Texans will cover him as such.

“If you put a corner on him they’re not quite as good,” Phillips said. “We hope we can match up well there. If they split him out wide and you put a corner on him instead of a linebacker they may look a little different. We’ll have to see.”

The Texans also insert a third safety to work as an inside linebacker in some situations. Shiloh Keo is slower but more physical than Quintin Demps and has taken over that role recently.

Phillips vs. Belichick: Shalise Manza Young breaks down Phillips’ work against Bill Belichick in this piece.

“He’s a great coach, he does a great job with them obviously,” Phillips said. “I don’t remember ever game we played. He’s had championship teams and winning teams for a long time. They’re always going to be good against anybody. His numbers are going to be good against anybody.”

Rematch attitude: “We talked about it last week -- hey we ought to be confident, look at all the things we’ve done in winning 12 games,” Phillips said. “Going into the Cincinnati game we said let’s get our swag back, we know we’re good, let’s go ahead and play like we play.

“We’ve got confidence going into this game. We feel like we should win. That’s our guys, that’s our mentality.”

HOUSTON -- Thoughts on the Texans’ 19-13 wild-card game win Saturday over the Cincinnati Bengals at Reliant Stadium:

What it means: The Texans knocked off the Bengals in the first game of the playoffs for the second consecutive season and advanced to a divisional-round game next weekend at New England. Cincinnati still has not won a playoff game since the 1990 season.

What I liked: Star power got it done for the home team. Running back Arian Foster became the first player in NFL history to top 100 rushing yards in his first three playoff games. In combination, receiver Andre Johnson (four catches for 62 yards) and tight end Owen Daniels (nine for 91) were big in a game in which the run game and defense carried the day. Matt Schaub played better than he had recently, hitting on 29 of 38 passes for 262 yards with a pick-six and no touchdowns. Defensive end J.J. Watt had a sack and a couple of batted passes.

What I didn’t like: Schaub gave the Bengals a touchdown with a bad throw for James Casey that corner Leon Hall picked off and took 21 yards in a tightrope walk down the sideline to the end zone. The Texans had a lot of chances in the red zone but really took only one crack into the end zone, an inaccurate pass that Johnson should have corralled but did not.

Quality: The Bengals aren’t a good third-down offense, and the Texans did a great job making sure that stayed the case. Cincinnati was 0-for-9 on third down.

He’s back: Cornerback Johnathan Joseph has had an inconsistent season during which he has been hampered by a groin and hamstring injury. He played a very good game Saturday, with a key interception on a pass on which A.J. Green stopped running, and with a lot of tight coverage.

What’s next: The Texans return to New England on Jan. 13. They lost a Monday night game there, 42-14, on Dec. 10. It’s not unprecedented for the Patriots to lose at home to a team they’d beaten badly not too long before. It happened with the Jets in 2010. The Patriots crushed New York 45-3 on Dec. 6, 2010, then lost at Gillette Stadium 28-21 in the divisional round of the playoffs.

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