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Texans defense dominates again
Alright folks, I'm ready to call it; the Houston Texans are your 2012 AFC South champions. The Texans again win in dominate fashion with a 24 point victory and it really wasn't even that close; especially in the second half. I don't think they were flat, but regardless they were only up seven at halftime. Their ability to shake off an average half and dominate the second is another good sign to their overall potential. With just a few exceptions this season, the Texans will have a large advantage in overall talent compared to their opponents and that showed up on the field on Sunday. They scored through the air, they scored on the ground, scored twice on defense, and are one of the most balanced teams in the league. They're reaching the point in my mind that if they show up and play their 'A' game, there's no game they can't win.
If there's one issue to nitpick at from this win, it has to be the continued struggles from the running game. The Texans averaged 3.1 yards per carry on Sunday against a team that ranked 30th in the league against the run coming into the game. The Titans loaded up against the run for most of the game, but the Texans have to do better than 3.1 per carry. In order for this offense to perform to it's full capability, they'll have to prove they can run against eight guys in the box or better defenses will make them one dimensional. Foster has run for 380 yards and four touchdowns so far through four games which looks good on the surface, but he's averaging just 3.58 yards per carry for the season (his previous low was 4.4). The running game has been effective, but it hasn't shown any of the explosiveness this year that's made it special in the past. Foster is on pace for 412 carries this season; that's way too many for a team that has a second running back as good as Ben Tate. If Foster continues at this pace, they'll run the risk of having a worn out back by the time the playoffs start.
The passing game didn't put up the monster numbers like last week, but Schaub was efficient and I had the feeling that they could have thrown for 300 yards and four touchdowns if they needed it to win the game. Andre Johnson was held under 100 yards for the second time this season, but Schaub has a lot of options and Owen Daniels had another big game.
Despite giving up a shocking rushing total to Chris Johnson, the Texans once again made an opposing offense look much worse than their normal level of play. This would have been an 'A+' grade, but letting Johnson triple his rushing total is inexcusable. After knocking out starting quarterback Jake Locker early on in the game, the Texans defense continued to bring pressure and never let Matt Hasselbeck get into a rhythm. J.J. Watt continued his Defensive Player of the Year campaign with another two sacks. Watt now has 7.5 sacks for the season putting him on pace for a record shattering 30 sacks. Other players in the Texans front seven were disruptive with a sack/forced fumble from Antonio Smith and a batted pass from Brooks Reed. The secondary also had a big game with two interceptions, both returned for a touchdown. Included in that was a great pick by Kareem Jackson when he jumped a short route and returned it for a touchdown. When Kareem Jackson is high stepping into the endzone, you know you're team is playing at a high level.
Back to the rush defense; they have to shore up this part of their game going forward. Chris Johnson had just 45 yards over three games before Sunday and more than tripled his season total with 141 rushing yards for the game. The bulk of those came up the middle (over center) with 104 yards on 13 carries; Johnson had 37 yards on just 3.08 yards per carry on his other attempts. The Texans have struggled against the run this season giving up 4.92 yards per carry to Reggie Bush, 5.0 yards per carry to Maurice Jones-Drew, and 5.64 to Chris Johnson. It hasn't yet hurt them because they've been able to build up big, early leads that don't allow the opponent to keep running the ball in the second half. Later in the season when they face the Ravens and Patriots who they likely won't blow out, this could become a big problem.
Special Teams: B
Shayne Graham made all of his kicks including his only field goal attempt from 33 yards. Donnie Jones was solid but not great with an average of 43.2 yards per punt. The kicking game won't win many games for the Texans this year, but both Graham and Jones are solid and shouldn't lose them any games either. In the return game, Holliday averaged 28 yards per kick return, and 8.5 yards per punt return; not the type of production that put him on the roster. His judgement on when to take the kick out of the endzone also has not improved. The opening kickoff went seven yards deep into the endzone but Holliday decided to return the kick and got to the 23 yard line. It didn't hurt them on that play, but there was no reason to return a kick from that deep. This team has other options at the position with Danieal Manning, and Justin Forsett who have return experience, plus Keshawn Martin who returned kicks in college. I don't think Holliday is in danger of losing his job now, but if the Texans have an injury and need to add some depth, I wouldn't be surprised if that player was added at the expense of Holliday's roster spot.
The Texans have scored 30 or more points in three of their four games. They scored 27 in their only non-30 point game and could have scored more had the game been closer. The Texans have the highest average margin of victory this season (17.5) and have won by 20 or more points in three of their four games. They were up by 20 in the fourth quarter vs. Denver before the Ben Tate fumble led to a late game scare. The toughest part of their schedule is about to begin, but they've passed every test easily so far and still look like a Super Bowl contender.