In this third installment of our Week 6 Preview, we take a look at two teams trying to just break even. The St. Louis Rams will be deep in the heart of Texas to play the Houston Texans this week. Both teams are 2-3 and looking for some answers to the questions posed by that record. Can they pull it together and net enough wins to make a showing in the playoffs? Do they have the personnel on hand to do so?
After two straight losses, Texans’ coach Gary Kubiak had to step up and defend much-maligned seven year veteran quarterback Matt Schaub. During the loss to the Seattle Seahawks, fans burned Schaub’s jersey in the stadium parking lot. After the second loss to the San Francisco 49ers, one fan was offended enough to approach Schaub at his home to tell him off.
Texas football fans are among the most outspoken in the league but this anti-Schaub campaign is far against the grain. One fan’s Bench Matt Schaub Facebook page gained over 13 thousand likes in just over two weeks. Schaub deleted his Twitter account earlier this month and one can only hope he has a solid support structure around him to deal with the strain of so many displeased fans and media critiques.
As with any team, the machine that is the Houston Texans has many parts, and Schaub is but one of those parts. Quarterbacks are not always solely responsible for their own stats. It is a team effort. Receivers and rushers, blockers and defenders must all come together to put together a smooth display of athletic prowess and strategic intelligence. The success of one depends upon the success of many, and teams must find that zone of awareness in order to bring out the best in each other and win games.
This has not been happening consistently in Houston. After the loss in San Francisco, Schaub is now the only NFL quarterback in league history to have a pick-6 in four straight games. Having pointed this out, the numbers somewhat contradict the record. Schaub completed 63.7 percent of his passes and has only lost 95 yards on sacks. When it comes to scoring, however, the Texans cannot seem to keep up if they fall behind. They must get ahead and stay ahead if they hope to balance out their season.
Kubiak pulled Schaub in the fourth quarter against the 49ers, making the “tough decision” to go with his backup T. J. Yates. Kubiak, adamantly denying plans to bench Schaub, has reiterated that Schaub will be the starter against the Rams in Week 6.
Schaub took this substitution well, stating, “We need to be crisper and sharper.” Whether or not Yates can deliver remains to be seen. The game was already lost by the time he stepped in. His experience is minimal but he does have talent and presence on the field.
After getting booed and otherwise harassed by his fans, one can only believe Schaub would welcome a break from the spotlight. Whether Schaub bows gracefully out or Kubiak concedes to pressure from higher-ups, taking some time off can only do Schaub good.
For the Rams, this will be their first visit to Reliant Stadium since 2005. Quarterback Sam Bradford is experiencing the best five-game start of his career, managing 200 or more yards passing in all but one game this season. Week 5 saw the Rams gain a win (34-20) against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but of course, everyone has beaten the Jags this year, so it really cannot be considered a benchmark win.
Granted, the Rams made obvious corrections to their offense against the Jags, striking a balance between runs and passes. The increased focus on rushing netted a season high 143 yards. Those yards come in no small part on the legs of running back Zac Stacy who will get his second start in a row on Sunday. He had 13 carries for 78 yards.
The Rams are facing a top ranked defense in Houston. The Texans have held their opponents to a collective 260 yards, including 143 in the air. This is not going to be a walk-in, walk-out game for the Rams.
The Rams must take care to pay close attention to defensive end J.J. Watt. Since his entry into the NFL in 2011, Watt has become a premier defensive player, leading the league in 2012 with 20.5 sacks. This season he has 3.5 sacks in five games, and 28 tackles of which only eight were assists.
Watt is ably assisted by inside linebacker Brian Cushing who has 39 tackles with nine assists, 1.5 sacks and one forced fumble. The Rams O-line must be prepared for this aggressive, relentless defense that gives no quarter on the field.
With this match-up the odds weigh most heavily in favor of the Rams. Schaub has to focus his considerable skill and get his mind right. Physically, there are no obvious indications that he is fading, but his hit-and-miss game play makes for far too much crow pie in Houston this season.
If Watt and the defense continue to be as effective as they have been in previous weeks, it will bring balance to the Texans at least. With so many “ifs” on the Texans’ ability to gain and maintain a lead, we must lean towards the Rams on this one. Being born-and-bred in Texas, we secretly hope Houston has some stops to pull out that the Rams have no answer for.
Written by: Brandi Tasby