I can't make this any simpler: Arian Foster is the key to success, Gary.
A news item before I delve into the DSB. Texans CB Glover Quin was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his career game on Sunday. If anyone needed that kind of day, it was Glover. Congratulations, GQ.
Another week, another tweaked version of the Blueprint. With the quick turnaround to Thursday night's game, it's hard to bust out the full bevy of stats in a manner that I see fitting. Honestly, I'm not sure I want to see a full statistical comparison between the Houston Texans and Philadelphia Eagles either.
Everyone here knows it will be a hard game. If anything, I'm glad it is on Thursday since short weeks are more about team health and attitude. Right now, the Texans look pretty good on both fronts. They're also coming off a very solid, technical effort against Tennessee. The defense was disciplined, tackled well, and didn't make many mistakes. It'll take a very similar effort to keep Michael Vick's Eagles from racking up 500-plus yards and near-50 points.
Based on what I can see from the available stats, and from recent national games, I'll lay out three big keys for Houston to shock the world on Thursday night. You just need to...jump.
1) Gary, there's nine days between Thursday's game and the Monday night game against Baltimore. Do not be afraid to let Arian Foster carry the workload.
What do Houston's two most dominant wins have in common? There was a heavy dose of Arian Foster.
In the season opener against Indianapolis, Foster had 34 touches. Last Sunday against Tennessee, Foster had 39 touches. Yes, there's also Derrick Ward, who has proven to be quite effective when Foster needs a breather, but Gary Kubiak needs to get the ball in Arian's hands early, often, and consistently.
The Eagles' run defense is statistically similar to pre-Week 12 Tennessee's, 11th in yards per game (102.5 YPG with 4.1 YPC). According to DVOA, they're actually 14th (-6.1%). Last week, Matt Forte ran for 117 yards on 14 carries, so they're not a brick wall - especially around the left side. Even if they were a top-five run defense, Foster has proven he can run against the NFL's top rushing defenses over the past month with good performances against San Diego and New York. The stats point to Foster putting up some yards on the ground.
More than that, Foster is a phenomenal receiver, as evidenced by his 48 catches and 453 receiving yards. Covering running backs is a major weakness of the Philadelphia defense, according to Football Outsiders, who ranks them dead last in the league (+39.8%). That's a good fact to know since the Eagles are 8th in sacks (30) and 1st in interceptions (19), so the longer routes may lead to more mistakes. Whether it is screens to slow down an aggressive front seven, designed plays, or finding the checkdown man, Matt Schaub needs to take what the defense is giving him - Arian Foster - and make the efficient plays. It wouldn't even hurt to see Steve Slaton get a pass or two. No? Well, that is wishful thinking on my part.
The Texans essentially have a mini-bye, so there's plenty of time to rest after the game. If the Texans are to stand any chance, they need a lot of Arian Foster on Thursday night to control the game.
2) Left, left, left, right, left.
Breaking down Philadelphia's offense, there's a marked difference in their 3rd-ranked running game (146.6 YPG; +27.1%) . Let me show you what I mean.
|Left End||Left Tackle||Between the Guards||Right Tackle||Right End|
|5.13 (6th)||4.41 (15th)||4.27 (9th)||2.79 (30th)||3.26 (24th)|
To the left side, Philadelphia is a top-tier rushing team, but on the right side? They are terrible. The Eagles are aware of this because, based on percentages, Philly only runs to the right tackle/end one out-of-five times, which falls below the league average of one-out-of-four.
Why is this? Well, Michael Vick, who accounts for around one-third of their per-game rushing yards, is left-handed. Looking to the right, rolling to the right, running to the right is going against his strong arm. Pitches, tosses, sweeps, they'll predominantly be using his strong side. The Texans need to cheat left and invite Philadelphia to the right side - the weaker side of the line, according to fans.
Another fact of interest: The Eagles have allowed 32 sacks, despite a mobile quarterback, which is 5th-highest in the league. If the Texans can get pressure from the left side and force Vick right, they'll be looking good on defense.
3) Effort and hustle will go a long way on Thursday.
This isn't a statistic, but I have noticed this while watching Philadelphia's games against Chicago and Tennessee and contrasting it with their games against Indianapolis and Washington. A healthy portion of Philadelphia's yards come from Vick continuing a play. While he's more willing to find someone downfield, Vick stretches the play out like no other player in the league.
Watching the Chicago game, I never doubted their effort or hustle. From every snap to every whistle, the Bears got after it and stuck with it. Philadelphia still put up yards and points, primarily in the 4th quarter, but Chicago had their number for most of that game. They did a good job of limiting those big plays by simply hustling, unlike Washington, who seemed to give up when Vick scrambled.
On Sunday, Houston gave a very sound effort. The defensive line got after it, everyone wrapped up and played maintain gap discipline, and the Texans are going to need to have a similar effort on Thursday when it comes to "containing" Vick. On Thursday, the Texans have to get after Philadelphia for the entire game. No one ever said it would be easy.
That's what I have for this Thursday's game. I think it's more of a winnable game than some people are thinking, but, as always, sound off in the comments with what you're thinking.
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