With the disintegration of the whole AFC South, the Houston Texans are in the driver's seat for the Division title. Since we're apt to hear a lot about them, I thought I'd tap Stephanie Stradley, Texans blogger for the Houston Chronicle.
For those of you who don't know, Stephanie Stradley (@StephStradley) is a Houston based lawyer who writes a Houston Texans blog for the Houston Chronicle. She wrote about sports in general for FanHouse from 2006-2011.
Steph knows her stuff, so get your pens and notepads ready.
Here's 10 Questions with..... Stephanie Stradley of the Houston Chronicle.
1) The Texans suffered from a historically bad secondary in 2010 and it was clear from the beginning of the off-season that they would improve. They added a pair of defensive backs in the draft, Johnathan Joseph in free agency - Wade Phillips is trying to turn it around. What are your thoughts on all the new moving parts and how they fit together to improve this defense?
The Texans are built on the salary cap model of a system offense and put draft resources on defense. Unfortunately, the high draft picks on defense were sometimes wasted because the team had two first time defensive coordinators who didn't have a proven scheme or philosophy. There's building through the draft, and then there's just being crazy young. The Texans since 2006, have had 5 of the 8 youngest defensive starting rosters in the league, and youth + an inexperienced coordinator meant mostly unwatchable defense. They played hard, but not terribly smart.
Wade Phillips had a clear plan for the defense. He immediately let some players know they weren't coming back. He targeted who he wanted in the draft and free agency. Just about every move they did in their short off season make sense. Before the lockout, he gave the defensive players their assignments and tape of previous defense/players he coached. I think there's just relief by players that they don't have a defensive coordinator who is learning on the job. Gary Kubiak as an offensive-minded head coach finally has a DC he can just hand the keys to and let him do his business.
2) Speaking of Wade Phillips - which the swap to a 3-4, moving players around - Phillips is effectively starting from scratch. While the Colts without Manning aren't much of a test, so far so good. What are your thoughts on how the new style defense looked Sunday and going forward?
I'm not sure that Phillips is completely starting from scratch. A lot has been made about Mario Williams switching to OLB, and though he's been taught some different technique, he really isn't dropping back in coverage more than he already was. Instead of thinking of the Texans as a 3-4 or a 4-3, it's best to think of them as a front 7. They have players lining up all over the place depending on match ups. So far, the secondary hasn't been tested too much in the preseason or first game of the season because the front seven has done a nice job of putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
What's been nice from the games so far is that the pressure is coming from multiple players. In previous years, the sacks seem to be all effort and not scheme, and Mario Williams got a majority of them which was never enough for the team as a whole. This year you can see the pressure from the entire front seven.
3) On the offensive side of the ball, Arian Foster is already banged up and missed week 1. The ground game didn't seem to miss a beat though, Ben Tate in particular as he gained 116 yards and a touchdown. Foster got the job when everyone else got hurt and is up for what could be a huge contract next year - do you foresee a bit of a running back controversy when he comes back or will he walk back into his job regardless of Ben Tate's play?
The only running back controversy will be in the fantasy community. This is an extremely unselfish team, led by the example of Andre Johnson. Whichever running back practices the best will get the majority of the carries. If the Texans are playing the kind of ball they want to play, there's plenty of carries for sharing. I think Foster's vision is special, and if he's healthy, he gets the majority of carries. Kubiak has let players earn their contracts through their play in the past, such as Owen Daniels and Dunta Robinson coming off of injury. Though Tate had a nice yardage game against the Colts, Kubiak can't be happy with putting the ball on the turf. Positive yardage is expected of every play no matter what the front and ball security is at a premium.
Best news on Tate? Kubiak was complimentary of his pass protection in the game against the Colts. That's how he can get more time as a promising, inexperienced player. The ankle injury to Derrick Ward, plus the good review of his pass protection might accelerate the number of plays Tate gets on the field.
4) Speaking of Foster, he's definitely a guy who has marched to the beat of his own drummer. What's your take on him and his approach to the game? Does his almost laid back attitude with the lack of the 'trappings' of success - the contracts, the glitz, the extracurricular junk most players get into- allow him to focus more completely than many other players, some of whom might be as talented but not as successful?
I'm a huge fan of Arian Foster. The Texans value bright players, guys with light behind their eyes, and Foster certainly has that in abundance. He gets it. His size is perfect for the position, and he has all the tools you need to succeed in this offense--pass catching, pass protection, vision--valued higher than just 40 time speed.
5) What is the word on Kevin Walter's injury (I've heard 10 weeks and maybe he'll be playing week 2)? If it's long term, who takes over Walter's duties receiving and on kick returns?
The early reports from ESPN's John Clayton and PFT were wrong about a broken shoulder. He has a "badly bruised collarbone." I wouldn't trust any reports talking about his return because Texans are typically sketchy about that info. Walter hasn't been doing returns, but they've re-signed David Anderson to be the 4th WR. Anderson was released by the Texans this preseason with enough time to catch on to another team, was signed by Denver but then released after camp. He's been in the Texans offense since 2006 and knows it well. They won't have to babysit him to get him ready to play.
I haven't been very high on Jacoby Jones as a fantasy prospect because of splitting time with Walter, but given his size/speed combination plus knowing the offense, it makes him a more viable fantasy target if you need another receiver. Kubiak thought of Walter/Jones as sort of a combined #2, but Jones is going to be more that number two in Walter's absence. The argument against picking up Jones is that there's too many pass catching targets with TEs and RBs to pick up Texans wide receivers not named Andre Johnson.
6) Owen Daniels is an outstanding tight end, but Joel Dreesen has played well before and James Casey moves to tight end from fullback quite often (and outproduced both Daniels and Dreesen on Sunday). Does Daniels continue to be the guy at tight end, or will we be seeing the ball move around more?
The Texans have been wanting to do more two (and three) tight end sets for years but could not because of injuries. Daniels looked great in camp, and was working with the same trainer he was when he had his remarkable season in 2009 before injury. Schaub and Daniels have a good chemistry together, and I expect for him to normally get a number of catches.
From a fantasy perspective, it is a frustrating offense because it is the Andre Johnson show and then a ton of targets. Who gets targeted depends on what the defense is showing. So Andre Johnson will get his balls even if he is double covered because he is The Andre Johnson and he is always double or more covered unless he is single covered for a play or two by dumb teams or blown assignments. But if the offense is running right, the ball is supposed to go to Andre Johnson or the open target.
If the Texans defense can put the hurt on teams, we will be seeing fewer pass catching targets due to use of the run.
For fantasy football purposes, I'm still pretty high on Owen Daniels. He looked great in camp and had the highest number of snaps the last game out of the pass catching skill players. However, James Casey had the second most snaps, has great hands, and the Texans have been wanting to use him more in the offense. I'm not sure the Texans even know how much each will be targeted in games.
7) When Matt Schaub first came to Houston, he spent an awful lot of time hurt. The last few seasons have seen him play the whole way and stay in relatively good shape. How much do you attribute to the offensive line (and different blocking schemes) and how much to him doing a better job getting rid of the ball quicker and more efficiently?
The injuries that Schaub received his early years came from very serious, +$90,000 in fined hits. The NFL changed one rule based on a hit that Schaub received to his head during a change of possession after an interception, and his knee injury resulted from two $50,000 fined Jared Allen late hits that violated the Brady rule against diving after QB knees. Not sure the injuries were preventable no matter what the line was in front of him. Notably, the refs didn't flag those hits.
I think this is more luck than a change in approach. I do think it is a benefit to the entire offense that they returned just about everybody other than fullback Vonta Leach. The offensive line that helped make Arian Foster the rushing champion and Matt Schaub a +4000 yard passer two years in a row is all back. Including some of the backup offensive linemen.
8) Looking at the division, the Indianapolis Colts are on the verge of completely imploding. Without Manning to cover the flaws of much of the rest of the team, they just don't look good. Can they turn the season around? Is it time to finally start working on a plan for the post-Manning era?
There's the old Chris Rock bit where he talks about how poor his family was and how they couldn't afford health insurance or going to the doctor. So whenever they got hurt or ill, his dad asked him to put some Robitussin on it. "Put a little Tussin on it." Manning was better than Tussin for the Colts. Great quarterbacks make everyone look better.
I think they've been trying to build for the future, but they've had some poor recent drafts. And it's always been hard to get a decent backup to want to play behind ironman Manning. I'm not exactly sure what their plan would be beyond "Suck for Luck." I do think they play enough bad teams this season that their experienced defense can make things difficult on some of them. Collins getting more rep with the offense would help. He threw some decent balls last Sunday but looked like he needed more time with the offense. The Colts aren't a special team any more, but they are still dangerous.
9) The Jacksonville Jaguars jettisoned David Garrard right before the season—much like they did to Byron Leftwitch years ago. With Luke McCown behind center and Blaine Gabbert backing him up, they don't look to be making a run anytime soon. Can the Jaguars push the Texans for the Division or should they be looking at long term rebuilding?
I think every year the Jaguars are sporting a garbage team, but they usually manage to field teams that are scrappy and difficult to beat. Ugly wins. Sort of the opposite of the Texans of recent years who seemed to specialize in style-point losses. I keep wanting to shovel dirt on the Jags. They are so dysfunctional. Yet they win despite not looking like they should. They are rebuilding. They've been rebuilding for a while but that hasn't stopped them for trying to challenge in the division in the past.
10) The Tennessee Titans have some offensive talent—Chris Johnson, Kenny Britt, and to a lesser extent, Matt Hasselbeck—but huge holes other places both offensively and defensively and aside from Britt and Hasselbeck, looked very average. How long does the hold-out hangover hold Johnson back and how precarious is this team's position going into week 2?
Fisher ball was all about defense, running the ball, and then taking shots downfield when people loaded up to stop the run. I have no idea what this Titans team is other than unwatchable right now. Lots of changes, including no more Jim Washburn magic they can sprinkle on the defensive line to make guys play their best seasons. They have a hodgepodge coaching staff that I'm not sure has a unified idea of what sort of team they want to be. Johnson is going to get his moments because he is a tremendous athlete, but I'm not sure how much help he is going to get from scheme or for anyone respecting the Titans' ability to throw the ball. Not sure what sorts of leadership they have for that team, and with a inexperienced coaching staff, this could result in a big bag of quit if they struggle.
So that's it folks - some great stuff as is always the case from Steph. If you want solid takes on the Texans all season long, she's it.
Thanks to Steph for taking time out of a busy week to answer the questions and of course thanks for you all for coming by and reading everything we do here at CheeseheadTV.
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