Game Preview - HOU
Posted by Tommy Lawlor
We fell off our horse. Now it's time to get right back on. That's my Texas type analogy for the situation, in honor of our guests, the Houston Texans. I'm glad this is a short week. The best way to get over a tough loss is toget right back out there and play someone. So let's talk some Eagles vs Texans.
KNOW YOUR ENEMY
The Texans come in with a record of 5-6. They shut out the Titans last week to halt a 4-game skid. I watched and re-watched parts of the game, but you couldn't take much from it. The Titans were awful. I know a lot of Eagles fans love Jeff Fisher, myself included. His team laid down in that game. They didn't tackle well. They didn't block well. That was a pitiful performance, no matter who was at QB.
Houston is a team of key players and stars. They feed the ball to their star RB. They throw the ball to their star WR. Their defense is built around their star DE and star LB. Gary Kubiak saw this work well in Denver. The difference is that the teams that won up there were loaded with all kinds of stars. They had multiple HOFers. The Texans do not.
I haven't watched a ton of the Texans this year, but schematically they look pretty simple. They seem to believe in execution over scheme. I don't mean this as an insult. I think too many teams fall in love with outsmarting opponents (right Andy?).
QB Matt Schaub - Quality pocket passer. Strong arm. Accurate. Good on play-action passes. Has 15 TDs, 7 INTs on the year.
RB Arian Foster - Big guy at 6'1, 227. Nimble, though. He's powerful enough to break tackles, but will also elude defenders. Good speed for big guy. Good receiver. Playing at a very high level this year.
WR Andre Johnson - The best WR in the AFC. Big and physical. Great hands. RAC ability. Needs to work on his punching.
FB Vonta Leach - Maybe the best FB in the NFL this season. He's having a strong year as the lead blocker for Foster.
OL --- No one player really stood out to me. LT Duane Brown is athletic, but I'm curious about how well he anchors. RG Mike Brisiel is a good run blocker, especially at the 2nd level. RT Eric Winston has allowed 8.5 sacks this year. The group does a solid job for what the Texans like to do. This isn't a huge line that will maul defenders and wear them down. They are positional blockers who are smart and use their hands well. They get the job done.
DE Mario Williams - At times Mario looks dominant, but other times he's "just" a really good player. Hasn't quite reached the point where he takes over games consistently. Productive pass rusher that will move around. Huge and powerful, but also a good athlete.
DE Antonio Smith - Veteran DE who has initial quickness and good size, but not the overall talent of Williams. Smith moves into DT on passing downs and can be disruptive inside.
SLB Brian Cushing - Set aside all the 'roids jokes. Good player. Plays hard and is very physical. Covers a lot of ground in coverage. Loves to be on the LOS and attack upfield. Had several TFLs last week. Will fight through blocks. Sets the tone for the whole defense. They feed off his big hits and emotional style of play.
S Bernard Pollard - Frustrating player. Big, fast, and athletic. Physical. Sloppy. Might remind you of a less gifted version of LaRon Landry. Pollard's highlight plays are great. He does miss tackles and make coverage mistakes and that kills the defense at times. Good run defender.
STRATEGY & MATCHUPS
Let's start with the defense. Statistically, Houston is a much tougher matchup than the Bears. That should make you nervous. There is good news. The Bears have a real balanced attack. Because they lack star players Jay Cutler spreads the ball evenly. Houston, as I said earlier, feeds the ball to their stars. We know who to shut down this week. The trick is doing it.
We need to focus on Foster. He's the engine that drives the Texans offense. When he runs well Houston can be methodical, control the clock, and keep their porous defense on the sideline. The best way to slow down Foster is with penetration. He's at his best as a downhill runner. We want him going sideways. Tackling is a major issue. Foster doesn't go down easily because he's strong and slippery. We need to wrap him up and gang tackle. Pursuit is very important.
The secondary will focus on Andre Johnson. We don't yet know if Asante will play. If he does, we run normal coverages. If he sits, we ought to consider having Dimitri Patterson shadow Johnson all over the field. I don't know if we would do that, but it's something McD should at least think about. Johnson catches his share of short passes. We must tackle him immediately, whether CB or S. We need to close to the ball quickly, but under control. Patterson is our best tackling corner so he's our best bet.
Houston's scheme is similar to Shanny's since Kubiak worked on Mike's staff in Denver for so long. The good news there is that we faced the Skins twice already. We know about their bootlegs and play fakes. The bad news is that Houston runs the offense much, much better. The defense has to limit mistakes and play well.
I think Trent Cole can have some success with power rushes against Brown. I'm hoping Brandon Graham can get the best of Winston on a few plays. We need Brandon to step up. Antonio Dixon should control the middle of their line. They don't have anyone who matches up real well with him.
Our LBs will be tested. They have to read plays well and diagnose run or pass quickly. They need to tackle well. They need to cover Foster well when he goes out on passing plays. Arian has 48 catches this year. Stewart Bradley must get to the ball and tackle better than he did last week. I don't think Houston runs many 3 and 4 WR sets. That should mean a lot of PT for Moise Fokou. We need him in this game. He's got the physical style of play to handle Foster. All 3 LBs must win battles against FB Vonta Leach. If we stuff him, Foster isn't nearly as effective.
Our offense needs to throw the ball a lot. The Texans don't rush the passer well (18 sacks). They don't cover well. They've given up 25 TDs and opposing QBs have a rating of 102.8 against them. We need to attack them vertically. Neither Safety is a gifted coverage guy. Neither CB is having a strong year. Glover Quin picked off 3 passes last week, but that was against a rookie making his first start. The other corner is rookie Kareem Jackson. He'll be a stud corner in time, but is very up and down this year. Rookie CBs are just awkward.
I'm betting DeSean Jackson gets mixed in heavily in the 1st Qtr. We'll try to go to him deep early. Whether or not that works, we still need to get him the ball creatively. He needs touches. And we need big plays.
This game should give Mike Vick a chance to get back into a good rhythm. There isn't anyone in the front seven that is quite like the guys we just faced the last couple of weeks. Williams and Cushing are the 2 key defenders, but I'm not sure either of them keeps up with Vick in the open field. I expect Mike to bust off a run of at least 20 yards at some point. He hasn't done that the last 2 weeks.
The OL should play better, but I do worry about Antonio Smith when he slides inside. His quickness could give Nick Cole fits. Mike McGlynn better keep an eye to that side. DT Amobi Okoye can also be quick off the ball and disruptive. He's another guy to watch out for.
Andy Reid was not happy with his team Sunday evening. He let them know he wasn't pleased with what he saw. I expect the team to be fired up and ready to go tonight. I'll be very disappointed if we're not the more physical team. I fully expect us to control the LOS. We need to win this game and the way you do that is by winning up front.