The Houston Texans will make their Thanksgiving Day game debut this Thursday as they hit the road to take on the Detroit Lions. The Texans enter the game at 9-1 following their thrilling overtime victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars while the Lions are 4-6 following two straight losses. On a short week, both teams must game plan quickly in preparation of Thursday’s contest.
While the Texans offense seems just fine after Sunday’s monster performances from QB Matt Schaub and WR Andre Johnson, the defense is another story. They allowed the pathetic Jaguars offense to rack up 37 points and nearly 500 yards of total offense. NFL defenses can hit slumps every so often, but if this is the time the Texans decided to hit theirs they chose a poor time. The Lions may be struggling and a team on the immediate decline, but one thing they can do and do well is throw the ball. After seeing what Jags backup QB Chad Henne did to the Texans D on Sunday, there is major reason to be concerned going up against QB Matthew Stafford, WR Calvin Johnson, and Co.
This week’s key matchup is going to be the Texans’ pass defense against the Lions pass offense. As with everybody else in the NFL, the Texans are going to have a tough time matching up with Johnson, perhaps the league’s top wide receiver. It’s going to require double teams and constant attention to make sure Johnson doesn’t go off and have a huge game.
Most probably figure that the Texans’ coverage was the problem Sunday and will be put to the test once again on Thanksgiving. Those people are only half right, maybe less. The key to most dominant defenses in the NFL is the ability to rush the passer. The Texans have had problems the past two weeks getting to the quarterback and aside from DE J.J. Watt, they’ve been downright atrocious all season long. When you give a quarterback all day to throw the ball, as the Texans allowed Henne, even mediocre QBs can have big days. Stafford is far from a mediocre QB, but he can be rattled if you put consistent pressure in his face. Otherwise, he’ll deliver the ball to his myriad of weapons.
The Texans need improved play from several of their primary pass rushers. Watt has been dominant, but is now gaining more attention and facing more double teams. The double teams have been working too, granted it’s easier to be double teamed when you’re an interior D-lineman like Watt is in the Texans’ 3-4 scheme. However, this should mean that other pass rushers should be coming free by beating single blocks, which hasn’t been the case. The two main culprits have been OLBs Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed. Each started the season slow, but appeared to be coming the past couple of weeks. Alas, both have disappeared back to wherever they were to begin the season. The Texans also have not gotten much pressure on the quarterback from the other interior D-linemen, namely DE Antonio Smith and NTs Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell. That’s not to say these three have played poorly, but they haven’t been overly effective in the pass game.
At this point, the pressure to perform falls squarely on Barwin, Reed, and rookie OLB Whitney Mercilus. To date, none of these three has performed to the level expected of them when the Texans decided to part ways with Mario Williams. Against a pass happy team like the Lions, it’s time for these players to make their money. If the Texans can slow down the Lions’ passing offense, they should win this game going away. If not, look for another game similar to the Jacksonville game from Sunday, but perhaps with a different result.
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