How do you even begin to describe what we saw yesterday in Nashville? While I realize that some of the bolder among us might have called a win (not me, of course; I thought we were doomed), yesterday was a game that the Texans historically do not win. Going on the road against a playoff team/divisional rival is generally a recipe for disaster (see, e.g., the lifetime records at Indianapolis and Tennessee). Prior to the game, if someone had told me that Chris Johnson was going to rush for 197 yards and 2 TD while adding another 87 yards and a third TD through the air, I would've figured the Texans made it two eggs in a row. And I would've been wrong. Very, very wrong.
Your Houston Texans are far from a flawless team. The running game has been almost totally nonexistent, there are still far more questions than answers on defense, and every Jacoby Jones return is akin to playing Russian Roulette, except with three bullets in the chamber instead of one. In that respect, I'm in agreement with BFD that the 2009 version of the Texans has not looked much different than the 2008 Texans.
I would note, however, that the 2008 Houston Texans do not win the game the 2009 squad did yesterday. No way, no how. It just doesn't happen, chiefly because the 2008 Texans defense does not bow up in the second half like the 2009 version did yesterday. Whether that newfound resoluteness is the product of Frank Bush, Brian Cushing, or a defensive scheme that actually adjusts to what the offense is doing is not for me to say. What I will say is that there's an awful lot to like about what we saw yesterday, and that's infinitely more than what I could've said a week ago. Onto the specifics:
1. Matt. Freaking. Schaub. We can debate whether yesterday's performance or last year's beauty at Green Bay was more impressive, but we can all agree that Schaub was simply excellent. Remember--Schaub was missing his No. 2 WR (Kevin Walter) and No. 3 WR (Apostrophe Davis). No matter. Schaub stood tall, found Andre Johnson deep, and killed the Titans in the middle of the field via the TE. Something you might not have seen on TV...Schaub getting visibly pissed and yelling at the sideline after futile running plays. He wanted the ball in his hands, people. Just outstanding.
2. Schaub's success, of course, was due in large part to the offensive line's pass-blocking. After getting manhandled the week prior, Alex Gibbs' charges answered the bell in memorable fashion, giving up zero sacks and creating a pocket for Schaub to pick apart the opposition. As LZ astutely noted, Schaub isn't the type of QB who will reguarly make plays if the defense is in his kitchen. Give him time, though, and he can pick you apart. The OL gave him that time, and The Schaub did what The Schaub can do.
3. As good as the OL looked in pass protection, they still seemed unable to consistently create holes for Steve Slaton. They were better than the week prior, but it still looked nothing like what we saw last season. That running game needs to get fixed, and quick, or we'll soon see teams selling out to defend the pass. And if the Texans can't make them pay for that, the offense becomes completely one-dimensional and that much less effective.
4. Although the OL didn't do him any favors, Steve Slaton still looks off. I don't know if he's anticipating that first hit, or if the extra weight is slowing him down, or what it is. While Slaton looked considerably better blocking this week, he only looked like the Steve Slaton of old on one of his carries yesterday--the one that went for 12 yards. On a fantasy-related note, he should be brought up on charges for first-degree murder of his owners (of which I am one) the past two weeks.
5. I thought Kubes going to Chris Brown during the fourth quarter was pretty telling. Most important snaps of the game, and Slaton's standing on the sidelines. Seems to me that it was a thinly veiled reminder to Slaton that you have to hold onto the football to play RB for Gary Kubiak and Alex Gibbs. Unless you return kicks and punts, in which case you can cough up the ball whenever you want without fear of retribution. More on that momentarily.
6. Andre Johnson got all the attention (and deservedly so; he's a witch), but Owen Daniels and Joel Dreessen quietly had monster contributions, particularly on third down. OD was virtually invisible in Week One; that definitely wasn't the case in Week Two. Nice to see Schaub re-discover the TE as a viable option when 'Dre is covered.
7. Jacoby Jones' touchdown catch was as good a grab as I've ever seen. I honestly could not have been more surprised. The potential and athleticism he showed there are the only reason he's still employed. Because...
8. He's a complete liability on special teams. There is not a Texans fan alive who feels good about seeing Jacoby back there on kick or punt returns. You're just constantly waiting for him to put the ball on the turf. Which he predictably did, only to be saved from himself by a ridiculous and archaic rule. If that fumble had stood, we're likely 0-2. For someone allegedly obsessed with protecting the football, there's a real double standard in the way that Kubes treats Jacoby as opposed to every other player. It's reached the point where it really is inexplicable for Jacoby to be fielding punts or kicks. Please, Kubes--put someone else back there. David Anderson, Glenn Martinez, J.J. Moses, your mother...anyone but Jacoby.
9. Glenn Martinez, Kevin Bentley, and James Casey were all difference-makers on special teams. Martinez in particular also threw a couple of great blocks while lined up at WR in the second half.
10. MAR-EE-O! MAR-EE-O! MAR-EE-O! In addition to the sack, he was a major reason for the repeated false starts by the Titans' OL. Which is fair, because visions of Super Mario should haunt the dreams of every offensive lineman in the NFL.
11. It's not showing up in the stat line, but Amobi Okoye has looked rather active and somewhat effective against two very good offensive lines. I think it may translate to big plays sooner rather than later.
12. Eugene Wilson is the Ed Reed of the Texans secondary. Which is to say he looks like Ed Reed compared to Dunta Robinson, Fred Bennett, Nick Ferguson, and the like. Wilson's pick was enormous, and he makes the secondary exponentially better. Curiously, that makes me both happy and very, very sad.
13. Didn't see much of Dunta Robinson yesterday, which could mean that Kerry Collins threw away from his side of the field most of the day. Why that would be, especially considering that Dunta seems to have foregone tackling like the Dunta of old in favor of diving at the shoelaces of wide receivers, I don't know.
14. What happened to Fred Bennett? At least Amobi's showing signs of fighting regression. Bennett appears to be embracing it.
15. Although the fight happened right in front of me, I have no idea what specifically brought it about. To their credit, I did see Dunta and Super Mario wade in to the scrum. Didn't see any punches thrown, but you can bet that the NFL's going to analyze the bejeezus out of the film. If hands were thrown, cross your fingers that the Texans involved are fined instead of suspended. A Mario-less defensive line is enough to give me night terrors. The Texans aren't deep enough to weather suspensions to any of their starters.
16. After he recovered Collins' fumble to ice the game, I briefly contemplated buying a Jeff Zgonina jersey. If such a creature existed, anyway.
17. Whose responsibility was it to cover Chris Johnson on the 69 yard TD reception? I've heard Dunta and Dominique Barber blamed for the gaffe. In the stadium, it was even worse. The crowd actually saw that Johnson was totally uncovered a few seconds before the snap, so there was a buzz that soon turned into a roar. Not coincidentally, I had my head in my hands at that moment.
18. The linebacker play yesterday was a study in feast or famine. They got absolutely abused by Chris Johnson, often on third down, and periodically for touchdowns. Again, I don't know who each of the prison breaks was actually on--DeMeco, Cushing, Diles, etc.--I just know they were nowhere to be found on those plays. On the 91 yard run, Eugene Wilson was the only Texan I saw anywhere in Johnson's vicinity, and he was blocked out of the play fairly easily.
19. That said, we saw a different Texans defense in the second half. The linebackers in particular took it to another level, began forcing three-and-outs (and even a stand on fourth down), and limited the Titans to only seven (7) second-half points. After giving up big play after big play and 24 points in the first half, the defense stood up and refused to back down. It even appeared like Frank Bush made adjustments at halftime, which is unheard of for the Texans.
20. I'm man enough to admit when I'm wrong. If yesterday afternoon was an indication of what Brian Cushing is going to bring to the table week after week, I was very wrong about him. While he looked horrendous in coverage (troubling for a SLB who's going to have responsibility for the TE), Cushing was all over the place on run defense. Even better, he looked to be on the field most, if not every, third down. What's more, the dude has an attitude. Maybe it was just me, but I could've sworn I saw him talking after every tackle. For a team that hasn't had any kind of mean streak, a little 'tude could go a long way.
21. The coaching staff got a lot of heat last week for how unprepared the Texans looked in Week One. While one week does not a season make, the coaches ought to get some love for instilling a sense of urgency and fight in their charges yesterday. The Texans battled the whole day. It would've been awfully easy for them to roll over when they went down 21-7 early. Instead, they beared down, righted the ship, and made us all remember why we support this team even after games like the loss to the Jets. Great win.
22. Game Balls: Offense--Matt Schaub; Defense--Mario Williams; Special Teams--Kris Brown (for another perfect day and hitting what turned out to be the game-winner).
Bring on the Jags. Not to jinx it, but your Houston Texans have a chance to equal the number of AFC South wins they had in 2008 next week, in just the third game of the season. If that doesn't get you fired up, I don't know what will.