Another year, another win over the Raiders. Clichés can certainly be annoying, but one that I think is most often true is that road wins in the NFL are always tough. Of course, not always – but the Texans aren’t yet the type of team that can go into a city and slap teams around in front of their own fans. I look forward to that day, but today definitely wasn’t it.
The Texans had a lot to overcome against a tough Raiders group. They were without their best offensive player, Andre Johnson (ankle), Duane Brown (suspension), arguably their best defensive player, Brian Cushing (suspension), and Arian Foster missed the first quarter and a half due to a disciplinary action.
The pass rush returns after taking their bye week early against Dallas
The Texans gave Oakland fits all day with a relentless pass rush. Of course, with the secondary being what it is, Bruce Gradkowski was still able to complete quick passes and burn the defense with precision at times, but the front four showed up today. Mario Williams notched another sack, and got constant pressure. Antonio Smith was all over the place, and picked up two sacks. Earl Mitchell made the most of the snaps he got, getting decent pressure and playing the run well. Frank Bush dialed up some nice blitzes, including a nice corner blitz by Glover Quin that resulted in a key intentional grounding penalty, and even DeMeco Ryans was allowed to get into the act. I love it when Bush does what he can to get DeMeco chances to rush the passer.
Texans get the running game revved up somethin’ serious
The Texans piled on 249 more rushing yards to their NFL-leading total on Sunday. In addition to Arian Foster’s 131 rushing yards, Derrick Ward very slowly racked up 80 yards on 12 carries, and Steve Slaton added 37. Foster is the real deal. He’s a difference-maker, and I am absolutely taking nothing away from him when I say – the offensive line was the star of the rushing game today. I say that mainly because Ward looked slow during most of his 80 yards, but he did hit the hole with some authority. Slaton looked a little bit like his old self at times, but I still see a guy who isn’t close to what he used to be (and I think that’s obvious to everyone at this point).
The team withstands Schaub’s struggles
Matt Schaub certainly did not have his best game today, but when your team has a legitimate rushing attack as the Texans now do, you can get away with such things. Schaub was fortunate to not spend as much time getting knocked around this week as he did last week, considering he seemed to be holding on to the ball entirely too long on what seemed like almost every single passing attempt. I know Nnamdi Asomugha is the best cornerback in the NFL, and that Andre Johnson wasn’t playing – but there’s no way the Raiders were locking the Texans’ receivers down well enough for Schaub to hold the ball as long as he did. Luckily the Texans’ offensive line manhandled the Raiders, and Schaub didn’t end up paying for it.
Gary Kubiak punishes Foster, team with benching
When Steve Slaton and Derrick Ward alternated carries in the first offensive series, you knew something was up. My first reaction was that Foster missed a team meeting or was late for a practice, and that’s exactly what ended up being the case. Foster missed a meeting and was late for another both within a little over a week.
A lot of people were killing Kubiak for the benching, long before any of us knew what exactly happened to cause the benching. Me? I’m fine with it. One missed meeting, and then late for another? Unacceptable. Now, where I do differ with Kubiak is that I would have limited the “mini-suspension” to one quarter. Why it had to last until well into the second quarter, I have no idea. What Foster did, in my opinion, is definitely a big deal. It also plays right into what Foster detractors listed as one of his problems coming out of college – that he would be a character concern when it comes to handling success. (Of course that had nothing to do with why he went undrafted… it was of course the injury problem).
Slaton sure has fallen far. Derrick Ward got 12 carries and a TD, to Slaton’s five carries – and Ward didn’t look impressive doing it. I’m seriously starting to wonder what Slaton can even do for this team going forward since the Texans don’t seem keen on making him a true third down back like he seems to have the ability to become. A run here, a screen there (by the way – they should call a LOT more screens for both Foster AND Slaton) that seems to be it for poor Stevie.
Speaking of questioning roles, let’s talk Jacoby Jones
Another bad drop for Jacoby against Oakland. He seemed primed to make a huge leap as a receiver this season, and with Johnson out today, he had a golden opportunity. If Jacoby can’t do something as simple as catching the @!#& ball, then his main value to this team is as a punt returner. Right now, the Texans have absolutely NO reason to have any interest in re-signing Jones when his contract is up at the end of this season. Someone is going to throw a lot of money at Jacoby in the upcoming offseason, and if he wants the Texans to be one of those teams, he has a lot to prove. Presently, to me it seems like he has taken a step backward from last season.
The secondary continues to struggle
The Texans’ secondary didn’t give up numbers as ugly as they did in other games this year, but a lot of that (all of it?) had to do with the level of competition. One huge bright spot was free safety Troy Nolan, who got the majority of the snaps in place of the injured, er… completely ineffective Eugene Wilson. Nolan picked off two passes Sunday (the first two interceptions of the season for Houston). People will be quick to point out that one was off a tipped pass, and the other was off a deflection. So what? Sure, it doesn’t mean he was great in pass coverage – but part of being a good defensive back is taking advantage of opportunities when they come to you, and being in the right place at the right time.
Nolan showed good awareness, and made a play. Two of them, actually. Which is two more than Wilson has made in three games prior. I don’t even need to know how good or bad Nolan was in coverage to know that the free safety job now belongs to Troy Nolan, and Troy Nolan alone. If that changes, then Gary Kubiak needs to have a lobotomy (barring an unforeseen total collapse in Nolan’s ability).
It hasn’t been pretty, but the Texans are 3-1 with reinforcements on the way
Brian Cushing can now rejoin the team, and the defense certainly isn’t going to get any worse for it. I half expect that Cushing could lead the team in interceptions this year with the way the secondary has played, plus Cushing’s penchant for playmaking.
There’s no reason the Texans shouldn’t win their next two games, leading into the bye week. The Texans host the Giants and Chiefs, then have two weeks before heading to Indy for a Monday Night rematch with the Colts. The Texans proved they weren’t an elite team last week when they crapped the bed at home against the Cowboys. But they also proved they can still be a playoff-caliber team by the way they handled their business on the road against Oakland, facing some serious personnel issues.
If they want to get back on track to establishing themselves as one of the best teams in the league, they need to do two things. Um – FIX THE AWFUL SECONDARY!!!! for starters. Secondly, become a dominant home team. Win the games at home that you are supposed to win. Sure, the Giants are dangerous. Yes, the Chiefs are better than most expected – but none of that should matter. We SHOULD be able to talk about how much trouble THOSE teams are in, coming to Reliant. Instead, there’s the real possibility that the Texans could lay another egg at home in front of their fans, who want SO BADLY to believe that this 3-1 team is going somewhere that ends on the other side of slightly above-average.