After last week's exquisitely painful loss at Tennessee, I must admit that I didn't know what to expect yesterday. The absurd list of players on injured reserve continued to grow, and the very real possibility of dropping to 5-8 was there. Instead, your Houston Texans defeated a playoff-bound Tampa Bay squad behind the stellar play of the defense and special teams.
That's not to say the offense didn't play admirably; it did. Sage Rosenfels & Co. did a great job taking what the Bucs gave them and controlling the clock. But to me, the story was the defense and the special teams. I mentioned this last night, and I'm sure of it today: That was the best the Houston defense has played all year, top to bottom. Holding the opposition to a 23% conversion rate on third down? Shutting them out entirely on fourth down? Shackling the opponent's rushing attack to a paltry 71 yards? Playing a game nearly devoid of penalties? BLITZING???!!!??? Any one of these things has been in extremely short supply since September, to say nothing of the last time the Texans posted comparable numbers in all those categories at once. Not suprisingly, several Texans turned in their best individual performances of the 2007 season, if not their careers, at Reliant yesterday afternoon.
With regard to the special teams, it's obviously huge anytime your return game can put points on the board. But given the timing of Apostrophe Davis' return yesterday, the entire complexion of the game changed for good at that point. Even more importantly, however, the Texans' defense slammed the door shut for approximately the last 28 minutes of the game after Tampa Bay marched right down the field after Davis' return. From the early third quarter on, the defense simply refused to let the Bucs back in the game. Let's hope we get more of the same, short turnaround notwithstanding, when Denver comes to Reliant on Thursday night for Houston's first nationally televised game of the season. For all the injuries suffered by the team, there's still enough talent here for this team to put forth that kind of game every week.
On to the recap...
- Morlon Greenwood was so ridiculously good yesterday (13 tackles and a sack) that he gets to be first. Frankly, he played like DeMeco Ryans. Which was good, because DeMeco was hampered by a bum knee and didn't have his typical impact. Greenwood was all over the field throughout the entire afternoon. I've noted before that Morlon was quietly having a great year, though he has about as much chance as getting to Honolulu in February as I do. In light of that, he'll have to settle for this: His effort against the Bucs was about as good as a linebacker can play.
- Much to the chagrin of the haters, Mario Williams should be a shoo-in for the Pro Bowl. He has taken his game to a different level and has become the very definition of an impact player. Super Mario has gone from "good DE with a lot of upside" to "name me another DE you'd rather have for the next five (5) years." I mean, did you see his sack yesterday? He chased McCown down from the opposite end of the field. And aside from the sack, Mario was in the backfield, punching RBs in the mouth and generally wreaking havoc, all freaking day long. I'll say it: Mario Williams has arrived.
- Seriously...take a minute and vote Mario to Honolulu. MDC is all over the "DeMeco to Hawaii" movement, so consider BRB the official muscle behind sending Superman to paradise. Not me, per se. But Scott will physically hunt you down if you fail to vote for the big guy.
- Fred Bennett had the best game of his young career. Eight (8) tackles speaks for itself, but that stat alone doesn't accurately measure his play. He was a demon in coverage, and his effort went a long way toward severely limiting the number of big plays Luke McCown completed to his receiving corps. Bennett ain't a lockdown corner yet, but he's as physical a DB as you'll see in the league right now. If there's a postive to losing Dunta Robinson for the season, it's been that it's forced Bennett to grow up quickly. If Dunta can return at or near the level at which he was playing pre-catastrophic injury, the Texans are going to feature a CB duo as good or better than any team.
- Will Demps has earned a shot at the starting FS job next year. Now, I'm not saying that the brass shouldn't still consider every DB with a pulse to upgrade the roster. But Demps has been big-time since stepping into the starting lineup. I'm pretty sure Ike Hilliard would agree. Once his head stops ringing, that is.
- C.C. Brown has good timing. Sage's second fumble could have been disastrous, if not for C.C. getting it right back three (3) plays later.
- 0.5 sacks does not equal vaulting over the rookie wall, but it was nice to hear Amobi Okoye's number called.
- Earl Cochran looked pretty darn good, and his sack was a thing of beauty. He just beat his man and took McCown down before he knew what hit him.
- Travis Johnson talks waaaaaaaayyyyy too much for what he contributes.
- Yet Anthony Weaver would do well to ponder whether he has it in him to reach Tr. Johnson's level of production. Perhaps I should be more clear: When you're the highest-paid player on the roster for a given season, it's fair for the coaches, team, and fans to demand more than a goose egg in the stat sheet every Sunday. The ridiculousness of his contract (thanks again, Casserly!) has become glaring by Weaver's absence from anything resembling production.
- Enough dancing around an obvious problem: What happened to Jacoby Jones? Was it the injury? Whatever it is, he actually looks like he's regressed since the preseason. And when you're a rookie, that's cause for alarm.
- Any team that doesn't have at least three (3) legitimate contributors at WR should be kicking itself that it didn't sign Apostrophe Davis. Hell, anyone who doesn't have a threat in the return game should be, too. Guys that can return kicks for 97 yards don't grow on trees. If Apostrophe hasn't earned himself some guaranteed money this offseason, there's something wrong with the world.
- Kevin Walter continues to amaze me. Funny how one of the biggest question marks going into the season has become one of the strengths of the team a mere three (3) months later. His ability to grab damn near anything in his vicinity is vastly underrated. K-Dub probably isn't the most indispensable player on the team, but I'd argue that he's worked himself into the discussion.
- Owen Daniels finished with only three (3) catches, but two (2) of them were huge (one for a TD, the other for a big third down conversion).
- Darius Walker reminded me a lot of Chris Taylor with the speed he flashed yesterday, particularly in the receiving game. If he ever learns to pass block, watch out. The good news is that we'll get to see more of him on Thursday. The bad news is that we'll probably see less of the most consistent running threat we've had all year, one Ron Dayne.
- Re-read that last sentence again. Wow.
- Welcome to the NFL, Mike Brisiel. Helluva job. As Eric Winston correctly observed in that article, the silver lining to all of these injuries is that it allows the team to see what the young guys bring to the table. Winston showed he was legit last season when Wiegert went down; we can only hope Walker, Brisiel, or anyone else makes a similar claim these last few weeks.
- There is not another WR in the world that I would rather have than Andre Johnson. He's that unbelievably special. Nine (9) catches, seven (7) of which were for first downs. Mike Sherman and/or Kubes must love him/them some BRB (see Point Six).
- Ephraim Salaam may as well have put a red carpet down for Greg White yesterday. Ouch. I'd complain more about it, but it's not like the Texans have an alternative at LT.
- Sage played a very, very good game. Three (3) TD passes and zero (0) INTs are proof of that. But don't tell me that he's a better QB than Matt Schaub. A less fragile QB? I can't argue with that right now. But better? No. I'll have a longer post on this up later this week.
- Fake Game Balls: Offense--Andre Johnson. Defense--Morlon Greenwood. Special Teams--Apostrophe Davis. And a hearty "Attaboy!" to the entire Houston coaching staff. Great game plan.
Oh, and the answers to those questions are yes, yes, and yes.