Hard to be a Texans fan and not be pleased with the game yesterday. Despite some lingering issues here and there, the Texans beat the Bengals in every facet of the game. I still think that the Bengals are a good team, so the fact that the boys in Liberty White were able to go into Cincinnati and get a win is impressive. Here's what I saw for the good, the bad or the significant in the third win of the season for the Texans.
Gary Kubiak/Kyle Shanahan - I wanted to start with Kubes and Baby Shan because I was critical of them in the last week. The offensive play calling was amazingly better this game. The fact that the Texans again lost the ability to run the ball after showing proficiency in the first half is disconcerting, but the offensive play calling created ways to adjust for the problems in the running game. The swing passes and screens worked extremely well especially given how aggressive the Bengals' front seven were playing. 87 yards rushing will not get it done, but at least Kubiak and Shanahan showed that they will use the weapons that are still viable if the run is not.
Matt Schaub - Matt played one of the best games I've ever seen him play in a Texans uniform. I got the distinct feeling that his ankle is still really bothering him from watching him limp between plays, which makes his performance that much more notable. If an opposing defense gets him moving laterally out of the pocket the chances of an incompletion are pretty high, but he's proving that if he can step up in the pocket he's going to make the throw whether he gets hit or not. I just wish he would quit throwing that sideline, out route throw that Johnathan Joseph almost intercepted and took to the house the same way that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie did a week ago.
Steve Slaton - Stevie Wonder looked much better than he has all season, but he is still not up to the level that he was playing at last season. One thing that I saw yesterday that I hadn't since 2008 was his ability to slip out of the first tackle and get extra yards. I would feel much better about his performance if he hadn't fumbled the ball twice. Granted, one of those he was ruled down by contact (Kubiak won a challenge!) but I would rather he not put that decision in the refs' hands and just hold on to the ball.
Andre Johnson - What can you say about this guy? He's as close to automatic as a wide receiver can be in this league. Leading up to the game I read a lot of articles lauding the Bengals for their ability to shut down elite wide receivers this year. After Andre's 8 receptions for 135 yards, I don't think they'll be writing that again next week. I hate myself already for saying this because of how superstitious I am, but as long as he stays healthy for the rest of his career I think we are watching the first future Hall of Fame inductee in Texans history.
Duane Brown - Brown is quietly coming into his own. He did give up a sack yesterday, but otherwise he was very good in protection of Schaub. What makes Brown so good though, is his ability to get out wide and block on screen plays. He made the block that sprung Slaton on his touch down reception and made several other great blocks in space throughout the game. His level of physical shape has made a huge difference this year.
Owen Daniels - Owen is proving that no matter how good Joel Dreessen or James Casey may be, he is irreplaceable. He has great receiving skills that go beyond the soft hands required to make that amazing one-handed grab in the end zone, although those are nice. There was at least one play where OD sensed the zone coverage to his right so he instinctively slid to his left so that Schaub had a chance at a completion. Not many tight ends in the league have his mix of blocking and receiving.
Jacoby Jones - I've never hated and loved one player so much. When he muffed that punt that went out of bounds, I told a buddy who was watching the game with me, "That's good. He's good for one a game, and that one went out of play so we should be good now." That's how conditioned I am to his dropped punts. On the other hand, he did tally his fourth TD of the season. Even though the dropsies are still there on punt returns, this is the most productive season by far of his short career.
Mario Williams - The lack of sacks this year is a problem (only 2), but Mario is playing the run better than he ever has. He seems much more comfortable at left defensive end against right tackles, where he played quite a few snaps yesterday. In my opinion, the Texans need a pass rush specialist to play on the right side so Mario can play on the left.
Connor Barwin - Speaking of hoping for a pass rush specialist, Barwin recorded his first NFL sack yesterday. As big as it was, he simply beat the Bengals RT with an old fashioned speed rush. Barwin shoes flashes either in coverage or on special teams, but he is still green and needs time before he can make a difference on third downs. Still nice to see him get a sack in the city where he played his college ball though.
Amobi Okoye - Yesterday wasn't nearly as good of a day for Okoye as the previous two weeks, but Amobi still let his presence be known in the middle. We tore the defensive line to shreds many a time this season, so we might as well give them credit for holding the NFL's leading rusher to 16 rushes for 44 yards. Okoye has 18 tackles in 6 games now, which is 6 short of what he tallied in 14 games last year.
Glover Quin - The more GQ develops, the more that Dunta is expendable. I by no means think that Quin is a shutdown cover corner, but neither is Robinson. Glover plays with a very similar style to Dunta as well; he may not be an absolute lock in coverage but he supports the run extremely well. He did also break up a pass in the end zone yesterday, although Cedric Benson scored a play later anyway.
Dunta Robinson - Dunta is playing better, but he is still a liability in coverage. He had two instances of pass interference yesterday, one of which was called. Carson Palmer was throwing the ball well where only his receivers could get it, but even so if the Bengals WR's hadn't dropped a couple of those passes Dunta would have been burnt a lot more. He had a couple of huge plays (blowing someone up, great open field tackle on a screen), but I still get nervous when opposing quarterbacks target him.
Bernard Pollard - To dismiss the progress the defense has made in the last three weeks since Pollard was put into the starting lineup would be unfair. He is slow to react in coverage, but he plays the run very effectively and delivers some big hits. As much as you need a complete safety in today's NFL, he's a huge improvement over Dominique Barber and John Busing who weren't playing the run or the pass very well.
DeMeco Ryans - The rookie is getting most of the attention lately, but DeMeco is still playing lights out. He led the squad yesterday in tackles (12) and had a couple of nice pressures on Palmer. What's more impressive about Captain 'Meco is how intelligently he plays the game. As Solis already pointed out, he immediately ran to Cushing after the game-sealing interception and made him go down, thus not risking any turnovers (remember Wilson's interception against Miami last year?). Why hasn't this guy been paid yet?
Brian Cushing - I've never been happier to be wrong in my life, and on the spectrum of being wrong, I was Crying Game wrong. Cushing had 9 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 2 pass breakups and a coffin nailing interception that was so nice I'm sure it made the Bengals wide receivers embarrased for all of the drops they had. For being six games into his career, this guy is a beast. My ultimate act of contrition is coming soon in the form of a #56 Battle Red jersey.
Frank Bush - As terribly as the defense played in the beginning of the year, it seems as if they're making progress. I definitely don't like that the Texans were up 14-7 with 1:35 to go in the first half and yet found themselves down 17-14 going into the break, but other than that it was a dominant performance defensively. A lot of those holding/tripping calls being called on the Bengals were due to the fact that the Texans defenders were beating them and illegal plays of desperation ensued.
The Texans defense continued a unique phenomenon yesterday; second half dominance. The relinquished 0 points and 78 total yards in the second half to a team that had thus far been known for its late game heroics. After yesterday's outing, the defense is now averaging 7 points allowed in the second half. Not everything is fixed, and I still have nightmares about good passing teams (ahem... Colts), but I was complaining about lack of progress, and the defense is definitely making strides.