AFC South Spin cycle: Texans' mistakes add up

Arthur Arkush
Pro Football Weekly
AFC South Spin cycle: Texans' mistakes add up

The previously undefeated Texans were served a healthy dose of humble pie, courtesy of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, in front of a prime-time audience Sunday night. Rodgers went off in a major way, tying a team record with six TD passes, and the Houston ground game was grounded by a shorthanded Packers squad. A desperate Titans team earned a win they absolutely had to have, beating the Steelers in all three phases for a 26-23 victory. After an emotional Week Five victory, the Colts came out extremely flat against the Jets, who ran all over Indianapolis en route to a 35-9 thrashing.


What we learned: The Texans were beaten thoroughly in all three phases by a Packers squad desperate to avoid falling to 2-4. The most troubling aspect of the loss for Houston was its inability to run the football, despite Green Bay missing its best interior defender and losing two starting linebackers in the first half. Houston’s offensive line continues to be inconsistent in run blocking, and it wasn’t one of their better days in pass protection, either. Defensively, the Texans played a lot of man coverage — and paid the price — as QB Aaron Rodgers tied a team record with six TD passes in a truly extraordinary effort. Rodgers was under pressure much of the game, but he deftly stepped up in the pocket and avoided sacks on multiple occasions. Houston’s special teams also continued to be a major issue, though we will touch on that in a moment.

What’s in store next: The AFC North-leading Ravens come to town, on the heels of a big victory over the Cowboys in which former Texan Jacoby Jones provided the fireworks, tying an NFL record by returning a kickoff 108 yards for a score. However, Baltimore lost arguably its three best defensive players (Ray Lewis, Lardarius Webb and Haloti Ngata) to injuries. The Texans and Ravens have developed a nice rivalry over the years, though Houston has yet to break into the win column in six tries. Baltimore’s formerly vaunted “D” was already a shadow of its former self prior to the numerous injury blows it was dealt Sunday, thus it would appear this would be an opportunity for the Texans’ running game to get off the schneid after a disappointing showing Sunday night.

What the heck?: The reigning MVP, Aaron Rodgers, is much too dangerous to give extra chances, yet Houston did just that repeatedly Sunday night. It started on the Texans’ very first defensive series, when it appeared they would get off the field after forcing an incompletion on 3rd-and-3 at their own 46-yard line. The Packers were set to punt, but Texans rookie wideout DeVier Posey lined up offside, giving Rodgers and the Pack a fresh set of downs. Green Bay struck on the very next play, with Rodgers and Jordy Nelson hooking up for a 41-yard TD to jump out to an early 7-0 lead. On the opening drive of the second half, with the Texans trailing 21-10, they again held on third down not once, but twice. A leaping penalty by Connor Barwin on a Mason Crosby field-goal attempt on 4th-and-20 led to a first down, before an unsportsmanlike penalty on Danieal Manning at the end of a stop on 3rd-and-14 again put the Pack in business. They would find the endzone two plays later and the Texans never recovered.


What we learned: Old habits die hard. The Colts still can’t consistently shut down the run, as they made plodding Shonn Greene  (32-161-3) look more like Jim Brown in this rout. Greene wasn’t the only member of Gang Green doing damage on the ground: New York piled up 252 yards on 44 carries. The Colts missed Robert Mathis (knee), and while Dwight Freeney is back, he was a nonfactor, clearly still favoring his ankle. What’s more, the Colts lost their best run defender, Cory Redding, to an apparent lower leg injury. New York’s backs were dynamite, breaking a number of tackles, but it also should be mentioned that New York dominated the line of scrimmage. The Colts need ILB Pat Angerer (leg), who has yet to make his 2012 debut, back right away to help stop the bleeding.

What’s in store next: The Colts host the Browns, who won for the first time in their past 12 games dating back to last season, beating Cincinnati, 34-24. Rookie RB Trent Richardson left the game in the third quarter after suffering an abdomen injury, though he said afterward he expects to be in the lineup against the Colts. Browns rookie QB Brandon Weeden threw for 231 yards and two TDs. In addition to their issues defending the run, the Colts again struggled to generate pressure, collecting only one sack. Improving upon that number will be key to rattling Weeden and getting back in the win column.

What the heck?: Everyone in MetLife Stadium knew the Jets were going to attempt a fake punt early in the second quarter with Tim Tebow — except the Colts. Leading 14-6 with a 4th-and-11 at the Colts' 40-yard line, New York direct-snapped to personal punt protector Tim Tebow, who dusted off his patented jump throw, finding LB Nick Bellore for a 23-yard gain. On the heels of Tebow converting a fake punt for a first down last week, the Colts’ lack of awareness is really inexcusable. Making matters worse, the Jets brought in Tebow just three plays later to convert a 3rd-and-1 by running three yards up the middle. Again, everyone in the building knew Tebow would sneak it, yet the Colts got caught on their heels. The Jets found the endzone on the very next play.


On bye.


What we learned: Being lucky is better than being good. Not to take anything away from the Titans, who showed great resolve in erasing a fourth-quarter deficit to win a game they absolutely had to have, but let’s take a quick look at the breaks they caught along the way: Pittsburgh lost its top two running backs, two offensive linemen and was already without a pair of Pro Bowler defenders, S Troy Polamalu and OLB LaMarr Woodley; Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, usually lights out on third down, misfired on a 3rd-and-7 late in the fourth quarter, forcing Shaun Suisham to attempt a 54-yard field goal that he didn’t have enough leg for. Tennessee already had been fortunate that Steelers CB Keenan Lewis dropped a potential interception on the second play of the Titans' game-tying drive. After Suisham's miss, Hasselbeck found TE Jared Cook for a 25-yard gain, setting up Rob Bironas for the 40-yard game-winning field goal as time expired.

What’s in store next: After enjoying the mini-bye, the Titans will begin preparation for a road game against the Bills, who pulled off an overtime stunner at Arizona on Sunday. It remains to be seen if the 10 days of recovery will be enough for QB Jake Locker, out the past two games with a left shoulder injury, to return. The Titans might have saved their season with the dramatic victory over Pittsburgh, but they could just as easily be back in the tank with a letdown in Buffalo. Priority No. 1 in slowing down the Bills is reeling in the dynamic dual-headed attack of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, who combined for 193 total yards against Arizona. Buffalo boasts one of the more talented defensive fronts in football, though it has been gashed on the ground this season. Is Chris Johnson capable of stringing two solid performances together?

What the heck?: The Titans have a number of explosive options in the receiving game, but arguably none more so than TE Jared Cook. That is what makes Cook’s underuse through the first five games such a mystery. No play was bigger for the Titans on Thursday than Cook’s 25-yard reception on a crossing route on the final drive, so why on earth is coordinator Chris Palmer so reluctant to get his tight end involved earlier in games? Up until the critical fourth-quarter grab, Cook had been targeted by Hasselbeck just three times, hauling in all three grabs for 29 yards. Simply put: With teammates Kenny Britt and Kendall Wright continuing to struggle with drops and inconsistency, that is just not enough.