On a short week, there are not as many days to let seven thoughts build. Instead of the seven for Sunday, let's wrangle up three thoughts for Thursday's week 13 match-up between the Houston Texans (5-6) and the Philadelphia Eagles (7-4).
Going from seven to three thoughts on this game also makes sense because there is a real lack of variety in storylines for this week's lopsided game. Yes, I said lopsided because every expert at Yahoo, CBS, and ESPN is picking Philadelphia. As the link shows, 95% of Yahoo Pick 'Em League users are taking the Eagles, and users who are in confidence points leagues are throwing nearly 11 out of 16 points on the game.
I understand the line of thought shown by everyone picking Philadelphia. The Eagles, despite their hiccup against the Chicago Bears, are a very fast and dynamic team who lead the league with 15 offensive plays of 40-plus yards. Against a similar low-rated defense, Washington's, Philadelphia put up 592 yards and 59 points. Even Battle Red Blog is filled with pessimism about Houston's chances on Thursday night. If the Texans are to have any chance of winning then it has to start with...
1) ...Texans running back Arian Foster. Foster, the league's leading rusher, is coming off a 39 touch, 218 all-purpose yard performance against Tennessee. As noted by Battle Red Blog's Deep Steel Blueprint, Foster's been factored heavily into the two most dominant wins of the Texans' season.
Based on per game averages, defensive line short yardage statistics, and DVOA, the Eagles don't have a stonewall defense. On top of that, the Eagles have, according to Football Outsiders, the worst pass defense against running backs. If you're Gary Kubiak, it should be painfully obvious to use Arian Foster, Derrick Ward, and, maybe even, Steve Slaton against the Philadelphia defense. On Sunday, Texans running backs had 49 combined touches which was a big reason why Houston held the ball for nearly 40 minutes.
The more Kubiak emulates this gameplan, the less he'll have to worry about...
2) ...Eagles quarterback Michael Vick. After serving his time in jail and on a bench, Vick is having a dream season. Actually, I don't think Vick could dreamt about this kind of season while he was incarcerated.
Three missed games aside, Vick has been electric for the Eagles. The former Falcon averages 295 total yards and 2.25 touchdowns per game. The big difference in Vick's performance is that he's a much more efficient quarterback than he was in Atlanta, as evidenced by his one interception, league-leading 106.0 QB Rating, and career-high 63.4-percent completion percentage.
Michael Vick is the reason why people are jumping on the Philadelphia bandwagon because he's such a unique weapon. Most of the big plays come from Vick extending plays with his legs while looking for DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin downfield. In a sense, Vick makes the Eagles nearly indefensible. Even though the Chicago Bears dominated their game on Sunday, Vick still put up 377 total yards and two touchdowns. I don't blame you if you're scratching your head about how the Eagles lost on Sunday.
While I wouldn't say it was a reason why Philly lost, one thing the box score does reveal is that the Eagles ran for two-thirds their per game average, which is third best in the NFL (146.6 YPG). If that's the case then...
3) ...the Houston defense has to at least emulate that part of their Sunday performance. While you can only play against who is on your schedule, the Texans defense isn't getting too much credit for their performance on Sunday. They beat a rookie quarterback making his first career start. People are saying they should have performed that well if they're true professionals.
While that is a debatable point, the Texans deserve credit for limiting All-Pro Tennessee running back Chris Johnson to a career-low five rushing yards and seven all-purpose yards. As noted by the esteemed Lance Zierlein, the Texans front seven had a phenomenal game. Defensive tackles Amobi Okoye and Earl Mitchell were disruptive, according to Battle Red Blog's Post-Game Breakdown, Texans Bull Blog, and Pro Football Focus. PFF and Zierlein also threw a lot of love Brian Cushing's way for his performance, which included four tackles for a loss.
Any Texans fan will tell you that Sunday's defensive performance was Houston's best tackling effort of the season. They stayed disciplined in their gap assignments, they wrapped up, and all gang-tackled. I'm not sure how the secondary will perform against the speedy Jackson and Maclin, but the front seven showed what it is capable of on a good day. Those seven need to bring a similar effort against LeSean McCoy and the scrambling Vick if Houston is going to keep their playoff chances alive.
Yes, I said playoff chances. After last week's slate of games, the Texans sit one mere game behind division leaders Jacksonville and Indianapolis. The Jaguars are playing a Tennessee team who beat them 30-3, a game where Vince Young left injured. Meanwhile, the Colts will take on the improving Dallas Cowboys. If the Texans can find a way to win on Thursday then they could be tied for the division lead come Monday. For those who think I may be a bit too optimistic, remember that the Texans were supposed to get stomped by the New York Jets. We all know what happened then, and short weeks can be pretty unpredictable.
All that said, I haven't seen the Texans put two good halves together, let alone two good games. The Philadelphia speed may be a bit too much for an inconsistent Houston team. I think it'll be closer than the Washington blowout, but it'll still be Eagles 34, Texans 23. As I said before the Jets game, I would love to be wrong.
For more on the Texans, check out Battle Red Blog.
For more on Houston @ Philadelphia, check out SB Nation's match-up page.