August 31, 2009
There's DeMeco, Then DeLittle Else
by Keith Weiland
If Monday night's turf wrestle with the Vikings was the regular season's dress rehearsal, then maybe it's time to check the closet one more time before the season kicks off in earnest. And if someone can check the hem on quarterback Matt Schaub's seams, that would be good, too.
The Texans were gashed from the first play from scrimmage by running back Adrian Peterson en route to a 17-10 defeat in front of a primetime national audience.
Schaub, hoping for his first healthy 16-game season in Houston, suffered a sprained ankle in the second quarter and looked both frustrated and determined to return to action. He finished a touchdown drive after suffering the injury scrambling out of bounds, then later returned for the final series of the first half. Schaub rested his sore ankle for the second half while Texans fans everywhere were hoping 13 days will prove long enough for his tender ligament to mend.
Defensively, the Texans showed a mixture of heart and holes, with linebacker DeMeco Ryan displaying most of the former and more than a few usual suspects showing off most of the latter. After allowing Peterson to run off tackle 75 yards for the game's first play, the unit held the Vikings offense in check for the most part.
Missed tackles and poor reads were still abundant though, particularly in the two touchdowns allowed. On Peterson's scoring run, linebacker Xavier Adibi overran the play and safety Dominique Barber took a horrific angle. Peterson's backup, Chester Taylor, scored late in the second quarter on a 28-yard reception, busting through a weak arm tackle from safety Eugene Wilson and another poor effort from Adibi.
The two touchdown plays sealed the win for the Vikings, but the game was very well within reach for the Texans into the second half. Schaub's backup, Dan Orlovsky, entered the game in the third quarter down 17-10 with most of the starters still on the field. On a play where deep coverage was blown on both sides of the field, Orlovsky nailed a long pass to Andre Johnson, a play that went for 46 yards after a booth review showed Johnson put a toe on the sideline.
Orlovsky was in business and threatening to tie the score from inside the redzone. But the former Lion did what so many young quarterbacks do, forcing the action and making a bad decision. Orlovsky tried to squeeze a ball into a tight slant run by Johnson, the ball bouncing off a Viking cornerback cutting in front of the route before safety Madieu Williams pulled it down for the interception.
Linebacker DeMeco Ryans made plays all over the field for the Texans. Yeah, maybe he did it because he's so awesome and playing for a new contract, but he also did it because he had to cover up for his partner. Ryans, who recorded 12 tackles (most of which coming in the first half) played what seemed like all three linebacker positions to cover for the mistakes by Adibi and Zac Diles, not to mention whatever safeties the team played behind him. While the hopes of the team's 2009 season rest squarely on the health of Schaub, it is frightening to imagine how this defense would perform in the event Ryans was ever unavailable.
Worth honoring here are a few other players, as the night was not nearly the complete disaster it was against the Saints the week prior. Left tackle Duane Brown performed admirably in pass protection, often negating the villainous Viking end Jared Allen one-on-one. Tight end Owen Daniels was a favorite target of Schaub's, pulling down four passes, some rather dramatically. And a few pieces of the defensive line, like Mario Williams, Shaun Cody, Connor Barwin, and even Amobi Okoye, showed up from time to time to make some amends for last week.
19 rushes, 47 yards, 2.47 average
Texans running backs found no room to roam against the league's best rushing defense. While no one should have expected Steve Slaton and friends to run rampant over the Vikings defense, they at least needed to show themselves to be something of a threat to help Schaub pull of his naked bootlegs. Instead, the Vikings ripped those playcalls out of the book, turning what should be one of the league's best offenses into a stunted nub of its true self.
So will the Texans repair the ground game in time for the real season? And will the Texans sweat out the mending of Schaub's swollen ankle? We won't know until the Jets visit on September 13 as the fake season draws to a merciful close on Friday as most of the starters will watch from the sidelines in Tampa. Hopefully the not-ready-for-primetime players will be ready when it comes time for the regular season to begin.
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