Heading into their bye week, the picture couldn’t have looked rosier for the Houston Texans. They moved to 7-3 with a comfortable win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as their top ranked defense was continuing to flourish despite the loss of Mario Williams, and their running game had overwhelmed an opponent for the second week in a row. With a favorable schedule and Andre Johnson’s return expected after the bye, everything seemed to be falling into place – and then news broke that Matt Schaub is likely to miss the rest of the season with a foot injury.
That news totally overshadowed this win, with the Texans much too strong for the Bucs on the day. Whether they can still play like this with Matt Leinart replacing Schaub becomes the big question (and something Khaled explores here ). As for the Bucs, although this was a disheartening performance, they aren’t necessarily out of the race at 4-5, so they’ll have to do their best to regroup over the next few weeks.
Let’s look at some of Sunday’s most interesting individual displays.
Houston – Three Performances of Note
Into The Myers
Unlike last week, although Houston’s running game controlled the game with 185 yards, this was not really reflected in the run blocking grades for the offensive linemen. In fact, the league’s top ranked Center, Chris Myers (-1.1) ended up with just his second negative ranking of the year, although that was in large part due to him surrendering a sack and a pressure and also being called for a hold. The running game lacked the consistency of last week, with battles being lost at the point of attack to lead to several plays being stopped for a short gain. However, they also won their share of these and it often led to a long gain due to the playmaking ability of their backs. Myers had seven positively-graded run blocks in the second half alone, but was uncharacteristically beaten at the point of attack several times as well.
As noted above, this week it’s the running backs who deserve most of the credit for the running attack. As usual, it was Arian Foster (+4.6) who handled the bulk of the workload, averaging just under five yards on 17 carries. He also added 102 yards on four catches, most of which came on his 78-yard catch and run that saw him hit paydirt with a open field move on Aqib Talib and Sean Jones. Ben Tate (+1.8) did a great job backing up Foster again, with four broken tackles helping him accrue 68 yards and a score. This week, Derrick Ward (+0.6) got into the mix as well, with three broken tackles helping him to 36 yards and a touchdown. You’re going to struggle to stop a team when their backups are combining for seven broken tackles on 24 touches.
Head coach Gary Kubiak has attributed the Texans’ ascension to the top of the defensive rankings to their acquisition of Jonathan Joseph (+3.6) at cornerback. It’s difficult to argue with that when Joseph turns in performances like this. He only gave up one catch and broke up the other two passes thrown his way, including one where he knocked the ball out of Kellen Winslow’s grasp with a big hit that caused the ball to ricochet right into Brian Cushing’s arms. There was also at least one occasion where the Bucs looked to pass in his direction, but his coverage was so tight that they elected to throw the ball away. Joseph now has the second best coverage rating on PFF and is third overall for cornerbacks.
Tampa Bay – Three Performances of Note
One of the big stories in the week was Tampa’s new signing, Albert Haynesworth (+0.9), and he made his debut for his new team here. Hayneworth recorded five solo tackles, surpassing his entire production in six games as a Patriot, but that doesn’t really tell the whole story, because he had actually performed pretty well as a pass rusher in New England. He was in for 47 snaps, a season-high and more than double his average in New England. With the Texans not passing much, this translated to his best run defense grade of the season (+1.7) as he was too strong for Wade Smith, but also got the better of Myers to stuff a run on one occasion. Haynesworth also contributed a blocked extra point and one pressure, but was flagged for a neutral zone infraction. So far, Haynesworth seems like a good fit in Tampa, but it will be interesting to see whether he can keep that up.
On offense, the Bucs struggled to get anything going and were hampered by an uneven performance at guard from Jeremy Zuttah. Zuttah (-2.1) had the best run blocking grade on the team, but gave up two sacks, a hit and three pressures in pass protection and had a false start penalty and a hold on consecutive plays early in the second quarter. He drops to 55th out of 72 guards in terms of Pass Blocking Efficiency for guards and has now had two poor games in a row after a relatively decent start to the year.
The biggest issue for the Bucs in this game was their tackling. Although nobody had more than two individually, 10 different players missed at least one tackle, as the Bucs missed a total of 14. Most of these came from their back seven, as the Bucs took bad tackling angles. Schaub’s 80-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones on the game’s first play saw safeties Sean Jones (-3.3) and Tanard Jackson (-3.3) miss tackles and Foster’s 78-yarder saw Jones and Aqib Talib miss tackles and Jackson take a bad angle. However, there were also plenty of missed tackles in the running game, including one by Geno Hayes on Tate’s late touchdown run – another play where Jackson took a poor angle.
– In the second half, Schaub threw just three passes, completing two for 20 yards. Perhaps that bodes well for Leinart in terms of not being relied upon to do too much.
– The Texans recorded five sacks, a QB hit and 10 pressures. Apart from one pressure by backup Tim Bulman, all of this came from their starting front seven.
– Josh Freeman (+1.5) continued to underwhelm at the helm for Tampa. His injured thumb must be affecting his accuracy, although the six dropped passes didn’t help matters.
PFF Game Ball
With almost 200 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns, Arian Foster is a no-brainer to pick up another game ball here. If he keeps this up, maybe the Texans can keep winning, even without Schaub.
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