After blowing out the hapless Colts in Week 1 and making heavy weather of the equally miserable Dolphins in the next game, this was the first real test of the Texans legitimacy as Super Bowl contenders. While the score may say otherwise, this was not a good performance from them as they failed to put away a flawed New Orleans team, when they had the opportunity in the first half. First and 10 at the Saints 11 ended in a field goal as did first and goal at the nine and first and 10 at the 14 so instead of a potentially huge lead they went to the break just six ahead.
The Saints are a difficult team to play because their offense will not take their foot off the gas. When they get in a rhythm, as they did in the fourth quarter, they look incredibly difficult to stop for a good defense never mind the distinctly average one Houston deploy. Unfortunately for them their defense is every bit as marginal as the Texans and although they made a few strides defending the run, their inability to get pressure without blitzing is becoming trickier to overcome by the game.
It’s not even as if they do it well; 31 blitzes by Scott Shanle, JoLonn Dunbar and Roman Harper resulted in a single hurry.
Houston – Three Performances of Note
1) Schaub out of sorts
370 yards, three touchdowns and a passer rating in excess of 100 may suggest Matt Schaub played well but this was one of those occasions were the stats not only mislead you but tell outright lies. He did make some nice throws early in the game but when it came down to the business end, while Drew Brees was at his best, Schaub played his worst. Nearly all his poorest throws came in the last quarter, including the forced pass on the post that Jabari Greer intercepted and the last touchdown which really should have been picked too before unbelievably bouncing to Kevin Walter for the score. It wasn’t just these throws though, he overthrew and under threw receivers, failed to convert good positions into touchdowns and generally looked, at best, the second tier QB many believe him to be.
2) Another Weapon
One of the more interesting developments from the game was the use of James Casey as a third TE, FB and even as a HB. Last week Casey played 24 snaps, mostly as a FB and only once did the Texans go without one of Arian Foster, Ben Tate or Steve Slaton on the field. This week, with Foster out, Casey was in for 73% of all offensive plays and 15 times the Texans went without any recognized halfback. This seemed to completely throw the Saints who left him pretty much uncovered on a 62 yard pass play and later left him out wide with Casillas for a 26 yard TD. Whether this is a temporary measure until Foster returns or, as a result of its success, becomes more permanent will be something to watch.
3) Secondary Struggles
Last year cornerbacks Glover Quin and Kareem Jackson allowed 924 yards each as the Texans secondary was regularly shredded by pretty much anyone. With Quin now playing safety this game showed the more things change the more they stay the same. Jackson was targeted nine times, allowed receptions on eight and was horrendously abused by Lance Moore in particular, without making a single play in coverage. It wasn’t that he made an especially poor play, just that his play said, “need a first down? Here you are”.
As for Quin, he missed a couple of tackles in coverage, completely lost Devery Henderson on a crossing route and then (despite being reasonably tight on his man to be fair) gave up a Touchdown to Jimmy Graham on a go route.
New Orleans – Three Performances of Note
1) Brees does it again
Brees threw a couple of interceptions (one of them a miss-communication with his TE Graham) but the other overthrow apart, that was it for bad plays. For the rest of the game he peppered the entire field with completions and made light of losing both his starting OC and RT (more of that later). All three of his TD passes were good throws and he also had another three passes dropped to boot. He is clearly at the top of his game and the difference between him and Schaub when the pressure increased was stark. Because of his defense he may have to play many more of these types of game before the season is over, but the evidence here suggests he’ll win a lot more than he loses.
2) Good News – Bad News
You would expect losing either one of starting RT Zach Strief or OC Olin Kreutz would hurt but to find both out of the game might be insurmountable. However, both replacement OC Brian De La Puente and reserve RT Charles Brown came in and not only did better than expected but were probably superior to those guys whose places they took.
De La Puente gave up a hit and a hurry but generally held his own in the running game against Shaun Cody while Brown gave up only a single pressure to Mario Williams on 32 pass blocks and had the better of J.J. Watt at the point of attack blocking for the run.
3) Run defense Improving
There is a lot to criticize in the Saints defense but at least the run defense of the starting defensive line was up to the task. The Texans offensive line is a very competent and well-drilled unit, but at the line of scrimmage New Orleans players not only held their own but made a statement of intent too.
As pass rushers only Will Smith with five hurries was up to the task but when it came to stopping the run, all played well.
Cameron Jordan beat up on both Eric Winston and Mike Brisiel, Sedrick Ellis got the better of an out of sorts Wade Smith (This is two weeks in a row now Smith has been under par) and Smith celebrated his return from suspension by giving Duane Brown his first problems of 2011.
Time and again the DRE got inside the LT to make crucial stops and at least make the Houston offense take note. Is this a sign of things to come or just a blip? The quality of the opposition suggests the former but Jacksonville next week will at least provide more evidence.
● As Sedrick Ellis’ snap percentage increases so does his PFF grade: W1 74.6%, -2.5; W2 82.6%, +1.1; here 88.6% and +1.9
● All three of the Texans TEs (or fullbacks perhaps for Casey) played more than any halfback. Tate had 43 snaps compared with Casey who had 51. Joel Dreessen had 53 and Owen Daniels 62.
● Mario Williams left the game injured with 2:58 left in the third. He did return sporadically but played much less than normal; 14 of 34 plays
PFF Game Ball:
Will Smith, DE, New Orleans Saints
To play this well on his first game back and provide at least some resistance in defense Will Smith just pips Brees for the honors.
Follow our main Twitter feed: @ProFootbalFocus