As we do every week, we talk with an opposing team's blogger/editor to get some insight on the matchups for the upcoming game. Friend and fellow writer to SB Nation, Homer McFanboy, did a nice preview piece with Steph earlier this week, so I decided to ping her with my questions as well. Like us (in 2009 at least), she spends a lot of time at training camp but prefers to attend the games as a fan. She runs a blog called "Texans Chick" on the Houston Chronicle, and she gives some great insight on my questions regarding: Are there any weaknesses along the Texans OLine Haslett can exploit, who was to blame on the Texans D for the over 400 yards passing given up, how rookie CB Kareem Jackson has fared (since most offensive schemes target rookie CBs), and why there is so much hatred between Cowboys and Texans fans?
Hogs Haven: The Cowboys had weakness along their OLine which the Redskins destroyed them on. Talk about the quality of your Tackles Duane Brown and Eric Winston and how they fare against elite defensive ends. Any one on that OL a weak link? (I see Schaub got sacked twice vs the Colts)
Stradley: The strength of the Texans offensive line is that they've been together as a group for a while, and they were specifically chosen for their agility and ability to fit the Texans predominantly zone blocking system. The system is more about players working together than it is about individual match-ups. Both Brown and Winston are former-tight ends who have a great deal of strength and athleticism. According to the 2010 Football Outsiders Almanac, last year right tackle Winston had "the tackle's version of the perfect season: 16 starts, zero penalties, zero blown blocks." Brown had a rough time his rookie season as a somewhat raw left tackle, but improved last season enough to protect for Matt Schaub's league-leading passing numbers. I'm guessing that the Texans commitment to the run this season will also help their passing game because teams won't be able to get in pass-rush only mode.
The pass protection for Schaub last season was pretty good given injuries to the line and the percentage of time they threw the ball.
With the tackles and center returning and healthy, really the off-season question on the line was mostly about the guard position. The nice thing about that competition is that at the guard position, the backups have also have starts in the league.
Schaub was very good against the blitz, so the key to slowing the Texans is to disrupt his rhythm without selling out to do so, or only doing it on a very selective basis. If the Texans offense gets into a rhythm, they are deadly.
Hogs Haven: The Texans gave up a TON of passing yards to Peyton Manning (419). I didn't get a chance to watch the game. Why was that? (Peyton being Peyton? Serious flaws in your secondary? Weak pass rush allowing him time)? Hopefully all the above!
Hard to pinpoint one reason for that many yards. It wasn't a lack of a pass rush. Manning was hit all day, hard, and had to get rid of the ball quickly. At one point in the game, the ref went to go speak to him as he was laying prone on the ground flat on his stomach. He had very little help that game and that he got that many yards was him trying to find a way to win in garbage time. His offensive line was collapsing around him. The running game was non-existent, worse than usual. His receivers kept dropping balls at critical times in the game. A Colts offense that is usually efficient on 3rd down only converted 33% of the time. Their special teams was an abomination. His defense couldn't get him back on the field because the Texans were running at a record-breaking pace. Peyton Manning pretty much on his own was trying to keep the game close, and he kept it pretty sporty late. A huge chunk of those passing yards came from one broken defensive play where he caught the Texans off-guard when the game was mostly out of reach that resulted in a 73 yard touchdown pass.
The Colts offensive line was not healthy at all. Neither was the Cowboys offensive line that got similarly abused by the Texans first teams in the preseason. In past years, the Texans defensive line has struggled to apply pressure, but in limited time in 2010 they've look pretty dominant. Mario Williams is healthy, and DT Amobi Okoye had one of his better games against the Colts. Defensive end Antonio Smith is now understands the defense much better in his second year and is just playing and not having to think so much. The loss of second year DE Connor Barwin to a gruesome ankle injury is a blow to the team because there were some special packages he was involved in were designed to help with the absence of SLB Brian Cushing to league suspension.
I think the game plan against the Colts was unusual because the Colts are an unusual team, and I think the game plan against the Redskins will be a little unusual because the coaches know each other so well.
Piggybacking that last question, Kareem Jackson, the rookie CB out of Alabama, for sure will be tested by Shanahan squared. How did Kareem do? (Who'd he matchup against most? Any stats, penalties, etc stand out)?
At this point, it is too early to make too many predictions about the Texans young secondary because we haven't seen them much. In general, young corners get very few calls going their way, so pretty much any Texans corner the Redskins go after is going to be a first or second year player who will get very little benefit of the doubt. The pluses for Kareem Jackson has been his very physical play and that he goes up against some very good receivers in practice and holds his own. The minuses for Jackson is that he's a rookie who has had some up and down play with the limited time we've seen him in games. So far, he hasn't been too exposed because the pass rush and hard hits to receivers have made third down conversion difficult for opponents. For example, in the Cowboys preseason game, he got an interception after a hard hit by safety Bernard Pollard popped the ball out and for the night, the Cowboys only converted 30% of third downs.
Both the Colts and Cowboys games were at home so it will be interesting to see what this very young Texans team does on the road. As old as the Redskins are overall, the Texans are young. Out of the Texans offensive and defensive starters, they only have one player who is 30 or over--starting free safety Eugene Wilson at 30. They do have a lot of returning starters, however, and this is the first year where they are not depending on rookies for multiple key positions. Many of their backups have been starters for the team in years past.
I'm still trying to figure out why in the hell the Chiefs cut Bernard Pollard.
Here's a good article from FanHouse that talks about this some, claiming that the Chiefs tried to have him blackballed from the league. The belief is that he had gotten a reputation with the incoming staff as being a bad lockerroom guy, and the Chiefs had some depth at safety. I'm certain that Todd Haley's style was a culture shock to a player drafted by Herm Edwards. Edwards has had nothing but good things to say about him, and since he has been a Houston Texan, he's been a model citizen. His teammates love him, voted him a captain this year, and was the key to the Texans defensive turnaround last season. Current secondary coach, David Gibbs used to be with the Chiefs and was one of the people responsible for getting the Texans to acquire him.
He is a very intense guy on the field as evidenced by this YouTube clip (NSFW language warning) and may be one of the hardest hitters pound for pound in the NFL. He said in his radio program that he likes to make guys squeal...like when he hits them hard enough that they make a noise that men normally do not make. When you watch him at practice, it looks like he is trying to destroy the blocking sled. He makes growling, barking noises during drills. Interestingly enough, at fan events, he couldn't any nicer, particularly to children. Very personable and charming. There used to be the Bernard Pollard Fan Club t-shirts that were put together to honor his season-ending hit to Tom Brady, but really, Texan fans are true fans of the guy--he's been a key to the increased physical nature of the defense.
I don't think a lot of Redskins fans know just how much the Texans and Cowboys fans hate each other. Can you elaborate on why that is? Origination? As a Redskins fan, beating the Cowboys your first game ever was pure comedy for us.
Oh man...how great would it be if Jerry Jones and all the Cowboys fans had their city taken over in February for a Texans versus Redskins Super Bowl?!
Houston and Dallas are roughly 250 miles apart and very different cities. So expecting a Houstonian to be a fan of a Dallas team is like expecting Eagle fans to be Steeler fans because they are in the same state. Some Texan fans are fans of both teams--Texans are their AFC team, Cowboys are their NFC team. Many hardcore Texan fans can't stomach the notion of that because they can't stand the worst of the Cowboys' fanbase. There are a lot of Cowboy fans who have no connection to Dallas but are fans of that team because of their success in the last century. I have a number of friends that are Cowboy fans who are decent folks, but then I know lots of non-Dallas Cowboy fans who are the worst sort of bandwagoners--unpleasant braggarts who you work with, you hear on the radio, you see trolling blogs. Cowboy/Oiler/Texan fights can go back to schoolyard times. Many Cowboy fans are embarrassed by the excesses of their fanbase, but because it is so large, basic math suggests that you have a greater likelihood of running into an annoying, humorless variety of Cowboy fan who won't shut up.
The Cowboys are a team that you either love or hate, and for people in Texas who don't want to be associated with being that kind of fan, the Texans are an easy choice. There are also former-Cowboy fans in the Texans fanbase who stopped following the team after Jerry Jones took it over.
Really, the only way to get Houston-based Cowboy fans to be quiet and stop being loudmouth, braying embarrassments to Texas is for the Cowboys to have terrible things happen to them. Texans players hear all the time how they have to beat the Cowboys on week 3 to get Cowboy fan to just shut up. If the Cowboys win against the Texans in the regular season, my site will turn into blogarmageddon and you should send prayers in my general direction.
Thanks for inviting me to answer these questions. I adore Redskin fans because they hate the Cowboys with the special hate that I do too. If your readers have any additional questions, they can comment on my Houston Chronicle blog or ask me on Twitter @StephStradley. If I don't have an answer, I likely know where to find it. Hope it is a good game with no injuries, and that you beat the crud out of the rest of the AFC South.