Having everything to prove to themselves and the league, the Texans went to Cincy with an agenda.
From Matt Schaub showing his ability to lead his team to victory to Brian Cushing proving he was the best USC linebacker taken in the draft, the Texans met their objectives. The boys in Liberty White went to Ohio, and when it was all over, they left with nearly everything being crossed off their list.
I've been high on Steve Slaton from the moment he was drafted and my interview with John Antontik solidified my expectations. Even though it took Steve a few weeks to get going last season, he didn't disappoint. By year's end, he held the rookie rushing title (1,282), and captivated the hopes of the Texans faithful.
In his sophomore year, with the weight of expectation (and 10 lbs. of added bulk), Steve has undoubtedly struggled. Sunday, he did his best to change all of that. Even though his rushing yards from scrimmage were forgettable (19 carries for 43 yards), he did show flashes of a rookie rushing leader. He slipped tackles, moved piles, and most importantly, was a viable option underneath and in the flat. He took six receptions and turned them into 103 yards and six points.
I won't be convinced that we've solved our woes at running back until Steve can actually run the ball from scrimmage. That being said, I still have the utmost confidence in Slaton's abilities, and think that he is poised to break out of his sophomore slump.
When a team lets a couple of games get away in the final minutes, the quarterback is going to take a brunt of the criticism - and rightly so. But you can't put the lack of a short yardage back squarely on Matt's shoulders. Fact of the matter is that Matt Schaub has put his team in a position to win in two of the three games the Texans have lost.
However, ifs and buts don't win football games. What wins football games is a quarterback who can make smart decisions with the ball and keep his team moving down field. That is exactly what Matt did on Sunday. With four touchdowns and 392 yards, Matt played one of the best games of his career. He threw the ball away when he was pressured and checked down when it was necessary. Any Texans fan worth is salt can recognize the growth in Matt Schaub.
When Matt became the "new #8," he had a bad habit of forcing plays. Now in his third season as the Texans QB, he looks like he's finally learned to avoid the sack - and the ill-advised throw. His ability to avoid pressure, roll out of trouble, and when necessary, throw it to the sideline has certainly been key to being the league's leading passer (at present). [With Big Ben's 417 yards, Matt had since dropped to second on the list - Solis]
Take away the interception before the half, and Schaub's performance on Sunday would have been perfect. But Matt is not perfect. As Texans fans, we have should have come to accept that, but I think we can all agree he is pretty damn good. Sunday he made his case to all those concerned.
Can't talk about their success without mentioning Jacques Reeves. He was present on a couple of drive-stopping plays and was a reliable defensive presence. The fact that most of the plays were in front of him helped keep his eyes on the ball, but that's neither here nor there. Why take it away--Frenchy played well.
Dunta Dunta Dunta. Once the most popular player on the Texans, hands down. Now he's been relegated to a punchline/whipping boy. Now, personally, I still like Dunta, and believe he's still working off the rust from both the injury and the missed offseason. I know he comes across like a spoiled brat, but dude is tryin' to make his money. I can't fault him for that. If I'm alone in his cheering section, then I'm alone.
Anyway - Sunday, he played pretty well. Dunta kept Chad-O at bay by making a tremendous play on the ball and a touchdown-saving tackle in the second quarter. Sure, the Bengals' 85 went 100+ on the day, but a chunk of those yards came when the Texans went '93 Oilers in the fourth quarter. Dunta was a big reason Ocho Cinco didn't have any Seis point celebrations.
Speaking of holdouts... here's a kid who is showing up on the stat sheet week in and week out. In a showcase showdown with his former USC teammate, Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing made his case for being the best 'backer taken in the 2009 draft. Sunday, the rookie's stats were gaudy. Cushing finished the day with nine tackles, two forced fumbles, two passes defended, and one game-clinching interception. The kid is the real deal and is only going to get better. Sorry Rey, Brian is the better linebacker - by far.
What's Left to Prove
The Texans, with six games in the books, are an even 3-3. Reverse a couple of tough losses and the Texans are looking at their most promising start ever. Take away the drumming at the hands of the Jets, and the Texans have been in position to win every game.
I think the Texans have proved that they can play with the good teams; they just have to prove that they can beat the good teams. Taking out a Cincy squad that's only lost one game (on the flukiest play I've ever seen), on their home turf, goes a long way to show that the Texans aren't going away.
Not quietly, at least.