Houston Texans: Houston Texans
The NFL draft has come (finally) and gone and now it’s time to take stock of how it affected the teams around the AFC South.
The division was clearly the worst in the NFL in 2013, with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans combining for just 13 victories. The Texans had the No. 1 overall pick and the Jaguars were two spots behind. That means those teams needed a lot of help.
The Texans nabbed perhaps the best pass-rusher of the past 15 years in Jadeveon Clowney to pair with J.J. Watt but didn’t address an obvious need at quarterback until the fourth round.
The Jaguars surprised everyone by taking quarterback Blake Bortles with their first pick, then adding a pair of receivers in the second round, including first-round talent Marqise Lee.
The Titans went substance over style with their draft but did nab one of the top three offensive tackles in Taylor Lewan and may have found a replacement for Chris Johnson in Bishop Sankey.
The Colts had the fewest draft picks in the league (five) but didn’t address perhaps the team’s biggest need.
Division reporters Michael DiRocco (Jaguars), Tania Ganguli (Texans), Paul Kuharsky (Titans) and Mike Wells (Colts) help you figure out what it all means.
Have the Titans added enough to their hybrid 3-4 defense to make a leap?
Michael DiRocco: One of the key things about coordinator Ray Horton's defense is that it demands versatility, especially among the linebackers. They have to be able to play multiple spots, and that requires speed and athleticism. The addition of Wesley Woodyard from Denver certainly helps, because he can play inside and outside. Drafting Avery Williamson, however, doesn't seem to fit. He's an inside player who doesn't run well. I do like tackle DaQuan Jones, though. He can play multiple spots on the line. The one thing the defense is missing is a big-time pass-rusher and that's the key to making the defense work.
Paul Kuharsky: I don't know. The four primary outside linebackers can turn out to be a good group. I think Kamerion Wimbley will be a lot closer to the player the Titans paid big money to in 2012 now that he's back to the position in a favorable scheme. And Shaun Phillips was a smart signing considering production and price. The system is also a better fit for Akeem Ayers. I'm not as certain about Derrick Morgan, who's listed as a defensive end/linebacker but worked in position drills with the linebackers at the pre-draft voluntary minicamp. Ropati Pitoitua is much more of a run-stopper than a pass-rusher, and he's certain to play end in the three-man front. The Titans have a lot of candidates to play with him and opposite him, but none scream that they will consistently get into the backfield. Jurrell Casey was excellent last season with 10.5 sacks. I feel certain coordinator Ray Horton won't do anything to mess up the good thing the Titans have going with Casey. The pass rush will be better. But better enough? I would have liked to have seen a young edge guy added in the draft.
Mike Wells: It may eventually work in Tennessee, but don't be surprised if it takes a little time for the defensive players to adapt to the 3-4 defense. Ask Colts linebacker Robert Mathis if you need further proof. Mathis shifted from defensive end in the 4-3 defense to outside linebacker when coach Chuck Pagano brought his 3-4 defense to Indianapolis in 2012. Mathis went from 8.0 sacks in his first year under Pagano to 19.5 sacks last season. The Titans have some players who are familiar with the 3-4 scheme. Shaun Phillips (9.5 sacks in 2012 with San Diego), Wesley Woodyard and Kamerion Wimbley have all played in the 3-4 at some point in their careers. But will the rest of their defensive teammates pick it up right away? I'm not convinced it'll happen.
Will the Colts regret not trading up to grab a top safety to replace Antoine Bethea?
DiRocco: The Colts had only five picks, so that didn't give them a lot of ammunition to trade up. It would have been too costly to jump into the first round because it would have meant dealing future picks. The real problem is they failed to address the position in free agency, when there were several options available. That magnifies their failure to find a safety in the draft. Why is it a problem? Two reasons: Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. To take the next step in the playoffs, the Colts are going to have to go through Denver and/or New England, which means dealing with Manning and Brady. The Pats pounded the Colts on the ground in a playoff victory last season, but the key to beating those teams is stopping the pass.
Kuharsky: There are going to be positions on virtually any team where the top guy on the depth chart doesn't look like a sure thing and the competition isn't topflight. The Colts believe Delano Howell can be an effective successor to Bethea and that they have sufficient guys to supplement him. Through an excellent career with the Colts, Bethea was a guy who consistently got to the right place at the right time and was a very sure tackler. It will be tough for Howell to match that. The bigger concern in my eyes is if LaRon Landry gets hurt and the Colts need another safety to step up. But given their lack of picks this year, trading up for a guy would have been awfully difficult and they certainly shouldn't dip into their 2015 picks.
Wells: It was going to be tough for the Colts to trade into the first round because they only had five picks total in this year's draft and very little interest in giving up a first-round pick in next year's draft. They are steadfast in saying running back Trent Richardson is their first-round pick. Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward was the best cover safety in this year's draft. He was the 30th overall pick by San Francisco. I didn't think not addressing safety would be an issue at first with Mathis leading the way on what should be an improved front seven. There wouldn't have been as much pressure on the Colts' secondary. But as everybody knows, Mathis has been suspended for the first four games next season, leaving the Colts without the 2013 league leader in sacks. I think the Colts may regret not trading into the first during Mathis' suspension, but they'll be fine with Delano Howell, the likely starter, when it's all said and done.
@MikeWellsNFL Lots of S were drafted early, so that leads me to think lots of good veteran S will be waived. No regrets, claim 1 on waivers.- Ben Meyer (@TheBigBenDiesel) May 15, 2014
Were the Texans right to wait until the fourth round to draft a quarterback?
DiRocco: Nope. They blew it, especially when they could have made a move back into the last part of the first round to get Teddy Bridgewater -- which is what Minnesota did. The Texans also could have taken Derek Carr or Jimmy Garoppolo but instead went with a guard at the top of the second round. Coach Bill O'Brien did turn Matt McGloin and Christian Hackenberg into very good Big Ten QBs, and I'd rather have either of those guys than Tom Savage, who somehow became the hottest QB prospect in the weeks before the draft. The Texans are still talented enough to be a playoff team with the right quarterback in place. O'Brien apparently believes he can find one among Savage, Ryan Fitzpatrick, T.J. Yates and Case Keenum. Andre Johnson clearly doesn't agree.
Kuharsky: The Texans have a major question mark at the most important position on the team. But it's not like they could have waved a magic wand to get a guy, or that one of the more highly regarded quarterbacks in the draft would have been a sure thing. I imagine they would have opened the second round with Teddy Bridgewater if Minnesota hadn't traded into the last pick of the first round to take him. After that, it's wise the Texans didn't force a pick. But Tom Savage hasn't played a great deal of football in the past few years and I think a lot of people won't be surprised if the Titans do better with sixth-rounder Zach Mettenberger than the Texans do with fourth-rounder Savage -- not that the odds of a pick in either range panning out into a reliable long-term starter are any good.
Wells: Yes. No Andrew Luck and no Robert Griffin III in this year's draft. There was no need for the Texans to use the No. 1 pick on a player they hoped could be as good as Luck one day. Teaming Jadeveon Clowney opposite J.J. Watt on what is already a solid defense gives the Texans better hope than with one of the quarterbacks selected in the first round. Give the Texans a serviceable quarterback with that defense and who knows what can happen. The highlight of taking Johnny Manziel -- in the first year at least -- would have made the Texans a national draw. But in the end, all that counts is wins and losses. Clowney will help the Texans win more games next season than what Manziel or any other quarterback taken prior to the fourth round would have.
@taniaganguli I would say yes. It's obvious Bortles could've been taken but we filled more needs by waiting. Still got our 'Prototypical' QB- Ryan Brackenridge (@GHS_Forever) May 16, 2014
Will Blake Bortles be the Jaguars' starting quarterback at any point this season?
DiRocco: I say yes, but I'm not as sure about when. This may sound like a cop-out, but it really depends on how he progresses. If he picks up the offense, fixes the lower-body issues that are preventing him from throwing the ball as hard and accurately as he can, and makes the transition from the spread offense, then he'll get on the field. I can see that happening by December, and if that's the case, then he'll get a start or two. At the very worst, he'll get a drive or a quarter within some games to get his feet wet.
Kuharsky: I really believe general manager Dave Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley will look back on what the previous regime did at quarterback and be super cautious. The Jaguars had no intention of starting Blaine Gabbert as a rookie. Then they cut David Garrard just before the season, watched Luke McCown struggle and had no choice. I don't know how much better Gabbert would have been if he was eased into NFL life, but it certainly would have been better for him. If Bortles needs time, they will resist temptation to start him even if Chad Henne struggles. In a way, this is an offensive line question, because if Henne gets hurt, they may not have a choice. They'll have three new starters in the interior to go with a healthy Luke Joeckel at left tackle. That group should fare better and increase the chances Henne is good to go for the whole season.
Wells: He has to be. It likely won't be in Week 1, but I expect it to happen at some point because the Jaguars aren't going to win the AFC South with Luck at quarterback for the Colts. More than 2,000 fans did not show up at the Jaguars' minicamp to watch cornerback Aaron Colvin. That was all about Bortles. The Jaguars need something to bring the fans out. The only highlight of the area is the nearby Atlantic Ocean. No offense to Chad Henne, but Bortles gives the Jaguars the best opportunity to bring some kind of excitement to the city. Look at it this way: He can't do any worse than Blaine Gabbert.
Will it be comparable to Steve Stenstrom or David Garrard? Danny Wuerffel or Aaron Brooks? Sage Rosenfels or Kyle Orton?
The latter name in the three comparisons above is obviously preferable, but the chances of that happening are low. There were 28 quarterbacks drafted in the fourth round from 1994 to 2013. Only nine were able to start at least 10 games and only six were able to become the starting quarterback or start at least 16 games.
That means only 21 percent of the quarterbacks drafted started what amounts to a full season in the NFL. That is a low number until you remember it’s the fourth round, which is traditionally not a place teams find quality starting quarterbacks.
There are obviously exceptions, such as Garrard, Brooks and Orton, all of whom became multiyear starters. Other fourth-round picks over that span that started at least 16 games were Danny Kanell, Seneca Wallace and Rob Johnson.
It’s interesting to note that there are also six sixth-round quarterbacks that have gone on to start at least 16 games in their careers. It’s a pretty good group, too: Tom Brady, Matt Hasselbeck, Marc Bulger, Jim Miller, Bruce Gradkowski, and Derek Anderson. It’s obviously skewed by Brady, but Hasselbeck, Bulger and Miller combined to lead their teams to the playoffs nine times and one Super Bowl.
Seventeen of the 135 quarterbacks drafted in Rounds 4-7 from 1994-2013 went on to start at least 16 games in their careers. In addition to the previously named players, that group includes Gus Frerotte, A.J. Feeley, Matt Cassel, and Ryan Fitzpatrick.
None of that will be any help to receiver Andre Johnson, who less than a week after the Texans took Savage in the fourth round said he wondered if Houston was still the place for him. It's obvious he's unhappy with the quarterback position, especially after seeing the Jacksonville Jaguars take Blake Bortles No. 3 overall, the Cleveland Browns trade up four spots to take Johnny Manziel at No. 22, and the Minnesota Vikings trade back into the first round to take Teddy Bridgewater with the 32nd pick.
Houston had the 33rd overall selection.
But it’s interesting to look back because it shows that while it’s unlikely, it is possible to find very good -- and possibly even great -- quarterbacks in the fourth round or later. The Texans are hoping they did.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The NFL’s owners, coaches and general managers gathered in Orlando this week for the owners meetings.
Some of the topics discussed were potential changes to the kicking game, Colts owner Jim Irsay's DUI arrest, expanded playoffs and racist/discriminatory/profane language. The league tabled any action on adjusting or eliminating PATs. No playoff teams were added. But the owners did discuss sensitivity and sportsmanship issues.
As for the Irsay situation, commissioner Roger Goodell said he'll wait for the legal process to play out before deciding what kind of punishment Irsay will face.
But don't worry, four of ESPN's NFL Nation reporters -- Michael DiRocco (Jaguars), Tania Ganguli (Texans), Jeff Legwold (Broncos) and Mike Wells (Colts) -- were at the meetings and took a run at those issues.
What should the owners do to fix the kicking game?
Michael DiRocco: I'm in favor of the decision to extend the goalposts several feet to eliminate some of the ambiguity of whether some field goal attempts are successful. Kickoff returns are among the most exciting plays in football, but they are also among the most dangerous. I don't see a realistic way to make them any safer without eliminating them completely. As for PATs, I'd be in favor of moving them back to a 40- or 45-yard attempt. That increases the difficulty. But how about adding a radical change as well by giving teams the option of a 3-point PAT by attempting a kick of 55 yards? It certainly would make game strategy more interesting.
Tania Ganguli: The league tabled the discussion about moving the extra point back to the 25-yard line and will experiment by moving it to the 20 during some preseason games. I'll be interested to see the result of the trial period. I don't have a problem with the fact that extra points are so often effective. There is still strategy in deciding whether to kick it or go for two. It doesn't always play into game strategy, but it can, and that means it isn't a meaningless play. My bigger concern would be safety issues that come with kickoffs.
Jeff Legwold: Not sure I understand the rationale of removing something from the game because the players have become too proficient at it. Sure, 1,267 extra points were attempted in the 2013 season and all but five were made. Four of the extra-point attempts were blocked and only one was missed (Minnesota's Blair Walsh), but it seems misplaced to remove it simply because kickers, snappers and the rest of those lined up have become mind-numbingly good at it. That's a bad precedent. In 1970 there were no quarterbacks who threw for even 3,000 yards. In 1980, only two quarterbacks crossed the 4,000-yard barrier. In 2013 there were nine quarterback who threw for at least 4,000 yards and two -- Peyton Manning and Drew Brees -- topped 5,000 yards. So, if the league's passers get much better, they'll have to ditch the forward pass.
Mike Wells: The NFL can do away with extra points because they're pointless. There were only five unsuccessful PATs last season. Does anybody even watch teams kick extra points? That's usually the time to get an early jump to the bathroom so that you're back in time for the kickoff. Moving the PAT back to the 25-yard line doesn't provide any more excitement. Automatically give teams seven points for scoring a touchdown with an option to get another point by going for a conversion. About the only bad thing with eliminating PATs is that Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee may get upset that he can't punt, kick off, kick field goals and kick PATs, something he wants to accomplish at some point in his career. But something tells me he'd get over PATs being eliminated from the game.
How should the commissioner handle a misbehaving owner?
DiRocco: Owners should be held to at least the same standard as players when it comes to off-field behavior, but I'd argue that they should be held to an even higher standard because of their status -- especially when it comes to something that endangers the public, such as driving under the influence. The first thing the league must do is ensure that Jim Irsay gets the help he needs with his problem. Suspending an owner wouldn't make any impact on the field and taking away a draft pick would be too harsh. A significant fine ($500,000?) that would be donated to one of the league's various charities or a substance-abuse awareness or treatment program is the best course of action.
Ganguli: The commissioner could do nothing and get away with it. After all, he technically works for the owners. But maintaining credibility is important. Irsay's situation should be handled with a proportionate response to how a player's situation would be handled. It can't be the same just by virtue of the differences of their jobs. At the same time, it's important in dealing with such a situation -- with executives or players -- that the league is sensitive to what it means to have an addiction and what it takes to move past it.
Legwold: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has made personal conduct by everyone employed by the NFL or one of its franchises a hallmark of his tenure. He has consistently said the higher the authority of the person involved, the higher the standard. By that standard he has no choice but to punish Irsay. In 2010 he fined Detroit Lions president Tom Lewand $100,000 and suspended him for 30 days after Lewand's guilty plea for driving while impaired. A franchise owner is even higher on the corporate flow chart than a team president, so Irsay's punishment should fit that if Goodell sticks to the framework he's put in place. One thing is certain: A large group of players who haven't always been supportive of Goodell's discipline standards for them is watching closely.
Wells: Late Tennessee owner Bud Adams was fined $250,000 for giving some fans the bird in 2009. Not that money is a major issue to Irsay, but Goodell should fine him at least $1 million and suspend him for at least eight regular-season games. The latter part will really hit home to Irsay because he loves the game so much. He has a serious problem and Goodell needs to send a serious message to him and the rest of the NFL that breaking policies or the law will not be taken lightly. The rest of the league, especially the players, will be paying close attention to see what actions Goodell takes. A minor slap on the wrist will not sit well with the players, especially because the rules are made for the players and front-office officials.
@MikeWellsNFL $500,000 fine and half season suspension. No contact, similar 2 Sean Peyton suspension.- Bob Borden (@Rmb7884) March 25, 2014
Should the league add playoff teams?
DiRocco: Sure, and let's give every team that didn't make the playoffs a trophy at the end of the season for trying really, really hard as well. Twelve of the league's 32 teams -- roughly 38 percent -- already make the playoffs, and that's enough. The argument that good teams sometimes miss out because they play in a tough division doesn't make sense to me. The Arizona Cardinals were playing pretty well at the end of the 2013 season but didn't qualify. Too bad. They should have played better in September and October. Making the postseason is a reward for the teams that have played the best throughout the season. It should be hard.
Ganguli: The more teams with something at stake late in the season, the better. But you don't want to dilute the accomplishment of making it to the playoffs. Further, the margin for error is so small in the playoffs, the chances for upsets in the early rounds are high. I'd hate to see football's regular season diluted that much. Two more teams might be fine, but any more than that and then you get to the point where half the teams make it. The playoffs are, and should be, a reward for all the work that came in the months prior.
Legwold: This looks suspiciously like a trade-off. Goodell dislikes the look of preseason football and has floated the idea of an 18-game regular-season schedule for some time. But there has been little support for the idea of an 18-game schedule among the players. So, in terms of television revenue, which would have increased with an 18-game regular season, the next best thing is two more teams in the playoff field. The format would award just one team in each conference a first-round bye. But it's unnecessary and waters down the postseason field enough that 43.8 percent of the league's teams would make the playoffs.
Wells: Leave it alone. That's the easiest way to put it. Expanding the playoffs sets the stage for possibly having teams with a losing record making the postseason. It was embarrassing when the Seattle Seahawks made the playoffs with a 7-9 record in 2010. You'll have some teams with strong records -- New England (11-5) in 2008 and Arizona (10-6) last season -- miss the playoffs, but that doesn't happen as often as we would see teams with a losing record make it if the format were to change. Every game is important with the current playoff format; there's very little wiggle room for mistakes. Only one team in each conference would get a bye in the first weekend of the expanded playoffs compared to two in the current format. That's not being rewarded.
How should the league deal with racist, discriminatory and profane language on the field?
DiRocco: For better or worse, profanity has been, and always will be, a part of football. Trying to police that would put an additional burden on the shoulders of an already overloaded group of officials. Racist or discriminatory comments, however, are more serious. Those should not be tolerated. However, most of the Jaguars players I spoke with about this topic last season said they rarely encounter that on the field. But again, how do you enforce that? Is saying the N-word worse than using a gay slur? If one black player calls another the N-word, is that less serious than if a white player does it? Bottom line: Let the players police these themselves during the game. If an official hears something from the sideline or players are screaming at each other after a play has ended, then a fine is warranted.
Ganguli: The competition committee made it clear Wednesday that this would be a major focus for 2014. It wants professional athletes to set a better example for younger athletes. I wouldn't necessarily include racist, discriminatory and profane language all in one category. The nature of profanity in the English language, and what exactly is considered profanity, changes constantly. Whose standard are you using? Racism and other forms of discriminatory language should be regulated with a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. This isn't about regulating thoughts. It's about making it absolutely clear that the NFL does not tolerate expressions of hate.
Legwold: As those on the league's competition committee pointed out last week, the rule to enforce a ban on the N-word or other discriminatory language is already on the books. And officials will be told before the season to throw the flags if they hear those words used during games. The decision has been made and officials will be "empowered" to throw the flags, as St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher, a co-chairman of the league's competition committee, has said. It has caused some to wonder why the league hasn't been nearly as aggressive with "Redskins," but it's clear the league's decision-makers want to address the N-word and other slurs based on sexual orientation and have put it in the hands of the officials to do it.
Wells: Let me get this out of the way: There's no place in the game for racist, discriminatory and profane language. But at the same time, officials already have a difficult enough time throwing flags. How many times have you watched a replay and noticed they made the wrong call or missed a call? And now you expect them to be watching the play while also listening for bad language during the game? That's asking them to do too much. Can you imagine the players informing the officials that an opposing player used inappropriate language?
The whole key here for the Texans is just not missing. This organization can rebound quickly if they land the right player with the first overall pick, whether that is Jadeveon Clowney or their choice of the top three quarterbacks.
If it is Clowney, he needs to be a dominant player, which of course is very possible, and team with J.J. Watt, the league's best defensive player, to form a simply nasty defensive front. If it is one of the quarterbacks, that player doesn't necessarily need to develop into a future Hall of Famer, but he does at least need to be a franchise quarterback on the Joe Flacco/Tony Romo tier of NFL signal callers. Also, do not forget that after round one, the Texans own the subsequent selection … and there are going to be plenty of great prospects to consider in just a loaded draft class.
That 33rd overall pick could be a great bargaining chip.
Whom does McShay have the Texans drafting at No. 3? Let's take a look :
Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman doesn't have exactly the same problem the Texans do, being about $20 million under the salary cap. But his franchise is saving money for upcoming contracts he'll have to work for quarterback Cam Newton and inside linebacker Luke Kuechly, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year. They offered several inexpensive one-year deals last year and might do the same again this offseason.
Money wasn't plentiful for free agents last season, and as Gettleman sees it, it won't be again.
"The problem is the middle class has been completely squeezed," Gettleman said. "You got guys making big money and you got guys making small money. What's happened is 2009 the cap was $129 million. It's 2014 and we're all gonna jump up and cheer if it hits $130 [million]. What hasn't happened yet is the agents and the players don't understand the money isn't there like it used to be. You aren't getting the five to seven million dollar spikes like you were."
"... You're constantly pressing your fanny up against that cap wall. How nice would it be to roll into Indianapolis $25 million under the cap. I'm not saying we're going to be there tomorrow. We're not. But if you're constantly up against the wall, you can't maneuver."
Theoretically you can, it just takes some more creativity.
Kubiak might have felt the pressure of his job status tightening more and more, but he didn't come to work on Friday thinking he had lost it. He spent the morning as he normally would, planning the next week with his staff before being let go.
Now we turn to a coaching search. The work for it has already begun behind the scenes and you readers have plenty of questions about it. That and more in today's mailbag:
Without head coach Gary Kubiak, who suffered a mini stroke at halftime of Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts, the Texans aren't the same team. Interim coach Wade Phillips will continue to run the defense from the sideline but now offensive coordinator Rick Dennison will take over the play-calling duties. But it goes beyond the coaching personnel.
"Once you have a different playcaller, that's a change," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "There are no tendencies. You have to throw all of that out the window and just play the offense the way it's designed to be played. Defensively, you play your defense.
"There's nothing that we have on Rick Dennison other than a half of football."
While the Cardinals scrambled to adjust their game plan and rework their game film, the Texans are trying to focus on Sunday despite a few hectic days. Fortunately for them, Kubiak left the hospital Tuesday morning and returned home, putting their minds at ease for the time being.
But halftime Sunday was nothing short of chaotic.
Phillips, whose coaching resume now includes three stints as an interim coach to complement his three head coaching jobs, said immediately after the Texans' loss that he didn't think halftime had an impact on Houston's second half. But as he spent more time thinking about it, Phillips now believes it did.
"Even I, along with everybody else, was kind of at halftime [wondering] ‘What's going on? What happened? Where is he? Is he OK?'" Phillips said. "We didn't even know those things during the ball game in the second half. You always certainly have concerns for people that you care about and that's one that everybody cares about with our football team, our head coach.
"There were a lot of unknowns. You still have to play football and you have to do what you have to do, but there was certainly kind of a haze there as far as what was going on."
Phillips listed off the types of decisions a head coach has to make compared to a coordinator, and it could be overwhelming to someone who hasn't been in that position before. A lot of the decisions made by a head coach are based on situations, Phillips said, and most of those are based on offensive strategy. There's deciding whether to go for it or kick a field goal or punt, when to use time outs, or when to slow down or speed up.
But if there's one person to assume those responsibilities, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt feels comfortable with it being Phillips.
"You never want to be in a situation like this but when you are put in a situation like this, it's good to have a guy who has head coaching experience and a guy like Coach Phillips, who has been around the game for a long time and is knowledgeable and knows how to handle the situation," Watt said.
Watt has texted with Kubiak, who's stayed in touch with Phillips and Dennison.
Even without Kubiak, it's business as normal in Houston. The Texans are trying to snap a six-game losing streak, which means more practice, more film study, trying to find a way to "get the ball rolling," Watt said.
And while the Cardinals are spending their time figuring out a way to defend a Dennison-coached offense, the Texans are just as focused.
"Obviously, you think about your coach and it will always be on your mind but we're professionals," Watt said. "We come in here and we know we have a job to do."
ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli discuss Sunday's game.
Teicher: After the collapse against Seattle, blowouts the past two weeks, explain Gary Kubiak’s thinking in starting Case Keenum over T.J. Yates, give a little description of his strengths and weaknesses and how ready to do you think he is to play against one of the NFL’s better defensive teams in a difficult stadium for visiting teams?
Ganguli: He wants a spark. It’s as simple as that.
Coming out of Kevin Sumlin’s offense at the University of Houston, Case Keenum had a lot to learn on the NFL level. He didn’t do too much talking in his college offense and had fewer responsibilities in running the plays. He also had to transition to playing under center like so many shotgun spread quarterbacks do. Yates beat out Keenum for the backup job at the beginning of the season, but they were close. Keenum has a very nice deep ball, which isn’t something we’ve seen out of the Texans very much this year. You ask a great question about his readiness to face Kansas City’s defense on the road. That’s not easy for veterans to face. And it won’t be an easy beginning for Keenum.
What do you think have been the most important factors in the Chiefs’ fast start this season?
Teicher: If their success can be boiled down to one factor, it’s field position. The Chiefs have started 17 possessions on their opponent’s end of the field while the opponents have started three possessions on Kansas City’s side of the field. The best starting field position for the opponent this season has been the Chiefs’ 42. So the Chiefs aren’t just consistently winning the turnover battle -- at plus-12, they’re best in the league -- they’re using it to their benefit. They haven’t put their defense in a bad position all season. Their offense doesn’t generate many big plays, so favorable starting field position is a necessity. The Chiefs have also scored a touchdown on an interception three times. They are consistently getting pressure on the quarterback even when they don’t get the sack. They’re putting teams in a lot of third-and-long situations and getting off the field.
Turnovers aside, why aren’t the Texans scoring more points? With Arian Foster and Ben Tate running the ball and Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins catching it, shouldn’t they be producing more on offense?
Ganguli: Turnovers have been a huge factor in why the Texans aren’t scoring, probably the biggest. But we can talk only so much about it. The Texans’ red zone efficiency has been a problem. On Sunday against the Rams, for example, Houston scored once on six trips to the red zone. Its goal-to-go efficiency was only 33 percent. Those kind of numbers hurt. It’s a departure from earlier this season when the Texans’ red zone offense was fantastic. Against the San Diego Chargers in Week 1 and the Tennessee Titans in Week 2, Houston entered the red zone seven times and scored a touchdown every time. Some consider the Texans’ red zone play calling to be conservative. I had ESPN Stats & Information look into it, and the Texans have run 53 red zone plays -- 28 passes and 25 runs. Of those, 10 have been passes into the end zone. That ranks in the lower half of the league as a percentage of total plays and pass plays.
Speaking of numbers, the Chiefs have put up some incredible pass-rushing numbers and have more than twice as many sacks as the Texans have. Are they as good as their numbers indicate? How can an opponent neutralize the pass rush?
Teicher: They’ve been pretty good with the pass rush. Consistent. They're disrupting the quarterback even when they don’t bring him down. And they can come at him from many places and angles. That’s maybe the most impressive thing about it. Seven players had at least a half-sack Sunday against the Raiders. Justin Houston (9.5 sacks) and Tamba Hali (7.5) are their top pass-rushers, but even taking those guys out of the picture, the Chiefs have 14 sacks from eight players. Nose tackle Dontari Poe has been the key, providing a strong, consistent inside pass rush. Inside linebacker Derrick Johnson and strong safety Eric Berry are two of the other players to watch when the Chiefs send more than four to the quarterback. The best way to neutralize their rush is to have an effective running game. Runs by mobile quarterbacks have hurt the Chiefs this season, but otherwise only one running back, Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy, has had a big game against the Chiefs.
When the Texans are on defense, there might be a lot of favorable matchups for them. Other than the obvious ones like J.J. Watt and Brian Cushing, who are some of Houston’s defenders who are playing well?
Ganguli: Outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus has played well with an expanded role this season. He was one of the most productive rookies in the league last year on a per-snap basis and leads the team with 4.5 sacks this season. Nose tackle Earl Mitchell has been solid but isn’t on the field much. Safety Danieal Manning had been playing well and was about to become a bigger part of the Texans’ return game. But Manning suffered a knee injury Sunday that will land him on injured reserve. As a whole, the Texans' defense has played well, but it could help the Texans more if it created more turnovers and committed fewer penalties.
The Chiefs’ offense has done enough given how strong the defense has played. Is that going to bite them?
Teicher: Eventually it will, perhaps as soon as Sunday. The passing game has been particularly unproductive. Alex Smith is completing just 56.5 percent of his passes, an alarmingly low number in Andy Reid's version of the West Coast offense that features a large number of high-percentage passes. Some of that is his fault, but protection has been leaky and Smith has been forced to run for his life on too many plays. Right tackle Eric Fisher, the first overall pick in this year's draft, has been lousy. Most everything the Chiefs get offensively comes from Jamaal Charles. He leads the team by a sizable margin in rushing, receptions, receiving yardage and touchdowns. I'd be surprised if he can keep this up over 16 games and maybe more, so the Chiefs need to develop other threats.
Your game-day edition of RTC begins with a message from Ed Reed about another team that has made it through the kind of rough patch the Texans are in now. Take heart, writes Dale Robertson of the Houston Chronicle.
In keeping with breast cancer awareness month, the Chronicle's Brian T. Smith revisits the journey of Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson. Jackson's mother is a two-time breast cancer survivor.
The Texans tried to stay loose during Friday's practice, writes Dave Zangaro of CSNHouston.com.
MoiseKapenda Bower of Houston Culture Map details what he feels is the real problem with the St. Louis Rams. He calls out rookie receiver Tavon Austin for not living up to the hype.
Plenty to talk about after the first Texans' loss of the season.
Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle tells us that Gary Kubiak is not psychic. He explains, Kubiak's statement that he expected to be in a defensive struggle was a self-fulfilling prophecy and that the game began as a low-scoring game only because the Texans didn't score. He has a good point. There is no reason the Texans should have accepted a low-scoring game, especially given the 43 points they scored last season. On the other hand, sometimes playcalling is a function of a coach knowing his team's limitations.
What we love most about our friend John McClain is how consistent he is. I'm talking about his use of the word "pathetic," which appears in the very first sentence of this story. He also calls the loss "humiliating," the Texans' offense "hapless" and notes that defense and special teams both contributed in "embarrassing" fashion.
Brian Smith of the Chronicle looks at quarterback Matt Schaub's troubles.
Culture Map's Chris Baldwin says the Texans were humiliated, but are on track for the Super Bowl. He notes, correctly, that a loss like this can help a team. A nicely written column begins and ends with a scene from the Texans locker room in which Reed tried to rush Danieal Manning, who was getting dressed, to catch the plane. The scene ends noting the two safeties have plenty of time. And so do the Texans.
The Ravens put together a retro-Ravens performance to beat the Texans, writes Don Banks of SI.com.
From back in Houston, CSNHouston.com's Dave Zangaro writes about the game and awards offensive and defensive heroes and zeroes.
With the stadium eerily quiet and the Ravens needing a game-changing play, linebacker Daryl Smith complied, writes David Ginsburg of the Associated Press.
We'll start with a story that isn't exactly a Texans story, but will lend some insight into the biggest storyline of the week. Jamison Hensley, whose professional career has kept him around the Ravens for years, takes a look at Ed Reed's complicated relationship with the franchise. Few would have imagined that his return to Baltimore after he stopped playing there would be as a member of an opposing team. Hensley writes that Reed caused a few headaches for the Ravens, but even more for opposing quarterbacks. His unpredictability was both an asset and a source of conflict. He was a player whom other Ravens sometimes watched with awe, knowing they were seeing one of the best to ever do it.
Like many coaches before him and many who will follow, Ravens coach John Harbaugh is quite taken with J.J. Watt's play. And count Harbaugh among those highly impressed by the two-headed Watt/Brian Cushing monster, writes Dave Zangaro of CSNHouston.com.
John McClain of the Houston Chronicle updates the Texans' injury situation in this notebook, noting that left tackle Duane Brown could play despite not practicing. He was in a walking boot Wednesday.
Peter King, the emperor of The Monday Morning Quarterback, did a video interview with Texans linebacker Cushing.
DeAndre Hopkins' spectacular catches during games are only a continuation of what he does in practice. He's impressed his coaches and teammates with that, and with what he's been able to pick up so quickly during his rookie year, writes Kristie Rieken of the Associated Press.
Inside the red zone, the Texans offense has been much better than its defense, writes John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. Offensive red zone woes contributed to the Texans' late-season lull in 2012.
CSNHouston.com's Adam Wise offers his power rankings for the NFL. The Texans rank fifth.
Randy Bullock knows he can only move forward, writes Deepi Sidhu of HoustonTexans.com. She notes Texans coach Gary Kubiak's quote that it might have been nice for Bullock to have shorter field goal tries.
The Texans made a practice squad transaction on Tuesday. They signed tight end Nathan Overbay to the practice squad and released fullback Zach Boren, writes McClain. Houston also worked out several tight ends, according to reports.
A trend over the past few seasons continues this year. The Chronicle's Brian Smith writes about the dominance of passing offenses in the NFL.