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September 27, 2009
Defense, Turnovers, Refs... Blech!

by Keith Weiland

The components typically en vogue on winning football teams - run defense, run offense, positive turnover ratios, and a disciplined lack of penalties - were once again missing from the Texans on Sunday as they fell 31-24 to the Jaguars at home.

Running back Chris Brown fumbled at the goalline with two minutes remaining in the game to score what might have been a game-tying touchdown pending the extra point. After extensive replay reviews upheld the ruling, the Texans defense forced a fourth down only to see the game clock wash away following a horse collar tackle penalty by defensive end Mario Williams.

Offensively, the Texans were productive. Quarterback Matt Schaub completed 74 percent of his attempts for 300 yards and three touchdowns. But most of that output came in the first half as the Texans scored only three points after halftime.

The Texans defense initially did well in their Battle Red ketchup pants to bottle up running back Maurice Jones-Drew, but the squibbly bowling ball of a runner rolled free up the right side for a 61-yard touchdown run midway through the second quarter. The score gave the Jaguars a 17-14 lead with less than four minutes in the first half.

The offense responded just before the halftime whistle though, as Schaub located his tight end, Owen Daniels, in the endzone for a 2-yard touchdown pass and the 21-17 advantage. The play was made possible by a fourth down conversion earlier in the drive, an 11-yard pitch-and-run by receiver Kevin Walter to the Jaguars 5-yard line.

Jacksonville regained the lead with their first possession of the third quarter. The 10-play drive ended with Jones-Drew scoring from a yard away. A field goal converted by Texans kicker Kris Brown evened the score at 24-24 before Jones-Drew went to work again on the Texans defense. On the ensuing drive, he scored for the third time in the game, giving the Jaguars the decisive 31-24 advantage with fourteen minutes remaining.

Following two failed offensive possessions by the Texans, cornerback Dunta Robinson gave the offense new life when he forced receiver Mike Sims-Walker to fumble a reception near midfield, the ball recovered by linebacker Zac Diles.

Schaub nearly capitalized on the turnover, throwing what appeared to have been a 1-yard touchdown to tight end Joel Dreesen with just under three minutes to play in the game. An offensive pass interference penalty called on Walter nullified the score, leading to what would become the game's most crucial play.

Key Play

Following a 9-yard reception by David Anderson to move the Texans offense back to within two yards of tying the game, head coach Gary Kubiak once again kept starting tailback Steve Slaton on the bench in favor of his chosen short yardage reserve, Chris Brown. Slaton, who had started the year running slowly and ineffectively, lost the opportunity to carry near the goalline in the preseason and failed to impress upon his coach to return the responsibility to him with a few fumbles lost in the regular season's first two games.

On the final play before the two-minute warning, the Schaub handed off to Brown, who pushed through traffic to nose his way toward the endzone. Brown's handle on the football loosened though, and the ball tumbled past the goalline before he could carry it across. Linebacker Daryl Smith fell on the ball for a touchback, and no replay angle gave the officials ample evidence to overturn the ruling on the field.

Game Balls

Walter, in his first game back from battling a hamstring injury, proved why the offense missed his presence with a solid performance, seven receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown, plus that crucial fourth down run that set up the go-ahead touchdown at the end of the first half. His interference penalty, however, negated the possible game-tying score in the fourth quarter, though from appearances it seemed like a really quesitionable decision by the referees against a zone quarter defense.

Robinson did not have a terrific performance in coverage, but he once again separated himself as a playmaker. The forced fumble gave the offense the ball back at a time when the Jaguars were looking to churn some time off the clock.

Key Stat

31-184, three touchdowns

Until the Texans figure out how to play better against the run for all four quarters of the game, they will continue to struggle to find consistency on defense. For the fifth time, including twice in the preseason, the defense allowed a running back at least one huge scoring run in a game. The time to stop saying, "Well, if it weren't for that one big run..." has been long over.

This is a defense that needs tight containment and solid play from the safeties to prevent these long runs and get the defense off the field, but the reality is that the Texans lack the personnel necessary to pull off this scheme. Making matters worse is that the coverage in the secondary rarely presses if ever, giving opposing quarterbacks ample options for receivers even on those few occasions where the pass rush forced a throw.

So that's the bad news. The really bad news is that next week's opponent will bring yet another solid running attack to Reliant Stadium, which by the way is a home field where the Texans have yet to win a game in four tries this year, including the preseason.

As encouraging as last week's inspired road victory was in Nashville, Sunday's loss to the Jaguars essentially negated that achievement. Until the Texans figure out how to do the things that winning teams do on a regular basis, another season of mediocrity awaits.

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