Yesterday Texans 101 broke down the first four games of the Houston Texans’ season, ultimately predicting that the Texans would start the season off 4-0. Bold perhaps, but completely reasonable given the favorable matchups to begin the year.
Now lets move on to the second quarter of the season, weeks 5-9, which includes the Texans’ bye in week 8. Here is the Texans’ second quarter schedule:
Week 5: @ New York Jets – Mon. 10/8, 7:30 PM CDT
Week 6: Green Bay Packers – Sun. 10/14, 7:20 PM CDT
Week 7: Baltimore Ravens – Sun. 10/21, 12:00 PM CDT
Week 8: BYE
Week 9: Buffalo Bills – Sun. 11/4, 12:00 PM CDT
This second stretch of games presents more of a challenge for the Texans in terms of the talent level of the teams they’ll be facing. Fortunately, three of these games will be at home and the Texans will have their bye week following what could possibly be the most physical game they play all season.
Week 5: @ New York Jets
In their third year under the exuberant and boisterous Rex Ryan, the Jets took a big step backwards. Following two straight AFC Championship Game appearances, the Jets finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs. The defense is still formidable, but also took a slight step backwards in 2011. The offense is where the Jets truly struggled, a team that used to pride itself on pounding the football on the ground finished just 22nd in the league running the ball last season. It appeared the Jets gave more responsibilities to QB Mark Sanchez, who turned in a decent statistical season, but couldn’t help the Jets to wins with his arm.
Ultimately, the Jets’ successes and failures will revolve around their ongoing circus and whether they can play past all the distractions they’ve created for themselves. There is currently talk of newly acquired QB Tim Tebow replacing Sanchez as the starter, talk that will only intensify as the season progresses unless Sanchez plays like a Pro Bowler. CB Darrelle Revis is also poised for another holdout. And one can be sure that although Rex Ryan hasn’t come out and publicly said something stupid, it’s inevitable.
When it comes down to it, the Texans are simply a better team than the Jets are right now. They play similar styles of football, the Texans just do it better and with better players. Plus, given the Jets’ tough early schedule, this could be the point of their season where everything starts to break down. There is as good a chance the Texans face Tebow and not Sanchez by this point. The Jets defense will probably be able to limit the Texans on offense to a degree, but Houston should be able to run the ball and score enough points. Defensively, the Texans are going to hound whoever is at QB and make life miserable for the Jets offense. This is another good chance for a Texans’ defensive shutout. On Monday Night Football, the Texans improve to 5-0.
Week 6: Green Bay Packers
Unquestionably the toughest test to this point in their season, the Texans will return home from New Jersey and be forced to play the Packers on a short week. Green Bay finished the 2011 regular season 15-1 and is certainly one of the top teams in the NFL. The Texans will have their hands full, particularly with QB Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ dynamic passing attack. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and his pass rushing 3-4 defense will have to be in pristine form because getting to the mobile Rodgers is no easy task. The Packers are in no shortage of pass catchers, causing matchup issues for any NFL secondary. The Texans’ only chance on D is to put continued pressure on Rodgers and force him to get rid of the ball quickly.
Offensively, the Texans should be able to move the ball effectively on the ground. Despite what many might think, the Packer run defense is their weakness, not the pass defense. Yes, they set all-time lows in passing yards allowed in 2011, but that’s because the Packers jump out to such large early leads that teams are forced to pass on every down to try and keep up. The Texans have a big advantage on the ground with RBs Arian Foster and Ben Tate and should be able to pick up solid chunks of yards and keep the Packer offense off the field. However, the Texans’ drives need to end in touchdowns, not field goals. The worst thing that could happen to the Texans is to get into a shootout with the Packers, forcing Houston to throw more than they should. The Texans simply cant matchup with the Packers in a shootout type of game.
In the end, this will be a close game in Houston. But with a short week to prepare for such an explosive passing attack, the Packers have a slight edge and will hand the Texans their first loss of the season. 5-1.
Week 7: Baltimore Ravens
In what’s becoming a major NFL rivalry, the Texans will host the Ravens in week 7. Last season, these teams met twice, both in Baltimore, one of which in the playoffs. The Ravens won both, 29-14 in week 6 of the regular season, and 20-13 in a hard fought divisional round playoff game. The playoff game in particular was an extremely close game which saw a big 17-3 lead early for Baltimore following several key mishaps by the Texans as their attempt to crawl back fell short.
Expect the same type of drag-em-out brawl we saw in the playoffs. There will however be major differences between the last time these two played. The Texans will be at full strength again with Matt Schaub back under center. The Texans proved they could run the ball against the vaunted Raven D when Arian Foster ran for 132 yards, so expect Foster and Tate to continue to carry the load. The Ravens defense is also an aging unit, adding another year to the careers of LB Ray Lewis and S Ed Reed. Additionally, last season’s NFL Defensive Player of the Year, LB Terrell Suggs, suffered a torn ACL and will not be playing in this game. Advantage: Texans.
The key to slowing down the Ravens offense is to limit RB Ray Rice’s impact on the game and force QB Joe Flacco to beat you. The Texans did a good job of this in the playoff game last year, almost leading them to victory. Expect the Texans D to take the same approach to this game.
Finally getting to play the Ravens in Houston, the Texans will limit Rice, effectively move the ball on the Ravens aging defense, and pull out yet another close, hard fought victory. 6-1.
Week 9: Buffalo Bills
Coming off their bye week, the Texans welcome the Bills to Houston. This will mark the first time former Texans OLB Mario Williams will face his former squad after signing with Buffalo as a free agent this offseason, promptly followed by some choice words in the media about the Texans’ organization, city, and fan base.
The Bills started off 2011 hot, going 5-2 only to limp their way to a 6-10 finish. Buffalo is becoming a trendy analyst pick for 2012 as a team that will threaten to make the playoffs and (in a dream) push the Patriots in the AFC East. The Bills had a solid draft, brought in guys like Williams, and got healthy, namely in RB Fred Jackson. The Bills are mediocre on offense, but the Texans defense should have no problem limiting Jackson and fellow backfield mate C.J. Spiller while harassing QB Ryan Fitzpatrick.
The Bills’ defense is a perfect matchup for the Texans offense. Decent against the pass, the Bills are not particularly a solid run stopping unit. As always, when the Texans are able to pound the football, it opens up play-action passing, providing the Texans with unmatched offensive balance that confuses any defense.
With their third straight game in Houston, the Texans will prove to be the far superior team and beat the Bills with relative ease. 7-1.
Through the first half of the 2012 season, I’ve got the Texans at 7-1, which should be tops in the AFC, if not the entire NFL. The Texans do play some tougher games in the second quarter of their season, but playing a three game stretch at home that includes a fourth bye week always helps. The third quarter, coming tomorrow, involves the toughest stretch of games the Texans will face all season and could be the make or break portion of their schedule.
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