Know Your Enemy: Houston Texans

The below is content originally posted on my other part-time venture, TitansBlog. I post it here because making my readers click twice is just plain rude. Enjoy.

There are two rivalries in the National Football League that transcend what happens on the field. You have Browns/Ravens, which is actually Browns/Browns. Maybe Cleveland fans don’t hate Baltimore fans since Baltimore fans know what it’s like for their team to abruptly leave town. Since I’ve been to a few dozen Titan home games, let’s just say that the average fan isn’t that cerebral.

The second one is Texans/Titans. Two years ago the Titans wore Oilers throwbacks, which trust me, the Ravens don’t do. They didn’t choose to wear the throwbacks for either Texan game, and for good reason. I wore Oiler gear to the Titans/Texans game in 2009 and when the Texans won, the fans pointed me out.

Let’s face it, there are some deposed and even dead despots from the Middle East that Houstonians would gladly have in their house before Bud Adams. There is dislike for that man. Titan fans accept Uncle Bud, kind of like the free suit that comes with that faint odor of old man and skunk. It’s not coming out, not matter how much you scrub.

The rivalry has finally matured on the field as well. The Andre Johnson-Cortland Finnegan throwdown last year was classic. The first and only Rusty Smith start in Houston was the sole bright spot for a traditionally terrible Texan D. Thanks to Wade Phillips, the Texans finally have a "big boy" defense.

This year the game is for reals. The Colts are toast. The Jaguars had one good half of football in them this year. It’s Texans/Titans this Sunday, and for once, it matters.

For this week’s Know Your Enemy, I’m stepping up. I invited Steph Stradley of the fabulous Houston Chronicle TexansChick blog to answer some of my questions leading up to the big game. If you don’t know Steph’s work, slap yourself in the face. Then read her post about Judas Priest. Or check out her use of “Street Spirit” by Radiohead to describe her feelings after last week’s loss to the Ravens.

The schedulemakers did the Texans no favors in racking up the Saints, the Steelers, the Raiders, the Ravens, and the Titans in a row, the last two coming off a bye week. It makes one think that Bud Adams was behind it.

Since Titan blue looks a little like Oiler blue, I’m putting my questions in black and her answers in normal text.

Wade Phillips has been a huge upgrade. What does he do to mitigate the loss of Mario Williams?

Mario Williams had some special packages designed to take advantage of his special skill sets that he had with the combination of his size/speed. With his absence, rookie Brooks Reed immediately gets more reps in a more traditional form of Phillips’ defense. Losing a playmaker like Williams’ reduces the Texans margin for error. They would be in serious trouble if they lost any more linebackers.

Can Jacoby Jones shed his almost permanent “sleeper” tag to become a major playmaker on offense, especially with Andre Johnson out of the lineup?

The Texans offense is a system designed to go to the open player. Because they had a special player in Andre Johnson, they moved him around to see if they could get matchups of him as their featured option, and then if not, whoever the open guy was.

Because there are so many targets in this offense, the receiver who gets the most receptions may change from week to week depending on what the defense is doing. Sometimes that means the TEs and RBs getting more attention. Sometimes that means WR.

So in other words, I think Jones will continue to have feast/famine days but the system really isn’t designed to make him the week-to-week featured guy. I don’t think he has the ability to be that dominant, nobody can cover him one-on-one player like Johnson is.

When Texan fans get the NFL schedule, are the Titan games the ones they want to win the most? What I’m asking is has this become a rivalry outside of the whole Titans used to be in Houston aspect?

I think the fanbase wants to win every division game. For many, beating the Titans is extra special because the animosity that remains towards Bud Adams. An added bonus in recent years is beating the Titans because your players are seen as scumbags, with Cortland Finnegan seen as scumbag number 1. It was stunning to me how much I heard from fans league wide who were happy that Andre Johnson gave him the what for. Finnegan is not a popular player among NFL fans in general.

Matt Schaub had an MRI on his hip and Matt Leinart’s getting extra practice reps. Is there reason for concern?

Yes. Schaub is a tough player and has played through injuries before, with varying results. But with the loss of Mario Williams for the season, Andre Johnson for an unknown time, and Arian Foster trying to regain his mojo, the Texans can’t get Schaub hurt too.

The Texans are on pace to give up the most sacks that Schaub has ever taken. If they don’t get their running game together, he will likely not break that sack record because he won’t get through the season.

I really do not want to see what this offense looks like with Matt Leinart running it.

The run game’s struggling a bit this year compared to 2010. Was Vonta Leach a big loss or is it just Arian Foster recovering from the hamstring injury?

I think it is a combination of things: 1. Coming back from hamstring injury; 2. Losing Andre Johnson; 3. Losing replacement fullback James Casey; 4. Transitioning from using Vonta Leach. At times the running game has been very good without Leach but without attention paid to Johnson, teams can pay more attention to the run.

Even with his struggles so far this year, are the Texans still going to key on Chris Johnson and shutting down the run game?

Oh. Yeah.

Will you miss seeing Jeff Fisher and his amazing mustache on the sideline?

Not really. It’s hard to see Mike Munchak and Bruce Matthews coaching for Bud’s team though. It’s just wrong. Bud ends up finding ways to ruin everything. It is his special talent.

Thanks, Steph, for the responses and the candor. I don’t have a solid feeling on this game because of the bye week, the new coach, and the strange inability of Chris Johnson to find the hole.

Read everything Steph Stradley produces on her TexansChick blog. Follow her on Twitter.

As usual, good luck next week.

Find more Zachy blog goodness at Zach Law Online, home of the weekly interview series Ask Your Fantasy Football Expert.

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