The Texans weren’t at full strength for their trip deep into Raider Nation, yet despite missing Andre Johnson for the entire game (ankle injury) and Arian Foster for half of it (coach’s decision), they emerged with a 31-24 road victory.Â With the Indianapolis Colts losing to Jacksonville, the 3-1 Texans now sit alone atop the AFC South.
What Went Right
Arian Foster, already the AFC Offensive Player of the Month, is making an early case for MVP.Â Fans and commentators alike were surprised to see Foster on the sidelines for almost the entire first half, especially since Houston’s other big playmaker, Andre Johnson, was already ruled out of the game due to injury.Â So far, all that’s been said is that it was a coach’s decision, but commentators have speculated the league’s leading rusher was receiving disciplinary action for reasons still unknown.
However, Foster made up for lost time, taking his first touch of the second half for a 74-yard touchdown.Â Â Later, on a short pass play, he hesitated, causing a defender to miss tackling him, then cut past another defender to turn what should’ve been a small gain into a big play.Â Foster emerged from the sidelines with a chip on his shoulder and made the mysteries behind his benching irrelevant as he ignited the Texans stagnant offense.Â However, had the Texans lost this game, Foster’s absence would be dominating the headlines.
The Texans offensive line also deserves credit.Â In last week’s column, I wrote that Schaub being on the ground so often was reminiscent of the David Carr era, but the line kept Schaub on his feet today and Foster easily broke through the line of scrimmage untouched on several occasions thanks to the gaping holes opened for him.
What Went Wrong
The defense is still terrible.Â Yes, they got the win today and should feel confident after recording four sacks and their first two interceptions of the season, but no one should brag about stopping Bruce Gradkowski and a nameless receiver corps.Â In all honesty, the Texans can’t really brag about stopping Bruce Gradkowski because he threw for more yards than Schaub and was on his way to a potentially game-tying drive before Oakland receiver Troy Murphy turned a wide-open reception into the game-deciding interception.
The Texans simply cannot get a two-score lead late in the game because it forces the other team to pass and they cannot keep up with receivers or even tight ends, as Zach Miller’s 122 yards receiving proved.Â They held Gradkowski under 300 yards, but Gradkowski is not an elite quarterback, and we’ve seen what elite quarterbacks have done to this secondary.
The easy answer here is to say when Arian Foster entered the game.Â While that was a turning point, I think the true turning point between these two teams occurred at kickoff when the Raiders looked up at all the empty seats in their stadium.Â The plight of the Raiders highlights the job Texans owner Bob McNair and his staff have done building the team from a lowly expansion squad to legitimate contenders.Â Since their debut in 2002, the Texans have shown steady improvement; while in that same span, the Raiders have fallen hard.Â In 2002, Oakland had the NFL MVP in quarterback Rich Gannon and made it to the Super Bowl.Â They lost that game to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who were coached by former Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who was essentially traded to the Bucs due to an alleged personal and professional falling out with owner Al Davis.
Davis is routinely criticized for running this once proud franchise into the ground.Â He has made the mistakes the Texans have luckily avoided, like drafting high-profile prospects only to have them underachieve (i.e. JaMarcus Russell, Darren McFadden), and recruiting questionable coaches (Lane Kiffin, Tom Cable, Art Shell for his second tenure).Â The Texans, on the other hand, used their high draft picks on less hyped players who have become cornerstones and acquired talent that others didn’t properly value (i.e. trading for Matt Schaub and signing the undrafted Arian Foster).
The Texans and the Raiders are two teams headed in opposite directions, and though the Texans weren’t perfect against them, their team’s overall trajectory helped propel them to a victory.
Work on It
The Texans need to his the trainer’s room and get healthy.Â As mentioned, Andre Johnson is nursing an ankle injury, but his replacement, Jacoby Jones, left today’s game with a leg injury.Â The severity of the injury is not yet known, but the Texans need both receivers healthy.
Next week, the Texans host the Giants, who, like the Cowboys, are underachieving and may be looking for a momentum-changing win against a secondary that has offensive coordinators salivating.
Numerical Indications of Athletic Achievement
Schaub: 16/29, 192 yds, 2 TD
Foster: 16 rush, 131 yds, 1 TD; 3 rec, 56 yds, 1 TD
Dreessen: 5 rec, 73 yds, 1 TD
Nolan: 3 tackles, 1 assist, 2 INT
Rackers: 1/2 FG, 4/4 XP