In the dark of the night I sent Styg and zappa to abduct the guys that run BattleRedBlog so that we could ask him a few questions about the Texans. Mission Accomplished --
BRB: First and foremost, not turning the ball over. The Texans rank fourth worst in the league in turnover differential, and not coming out ahead or at least even in this category tomorrow night could be the death knell for the hometown team. Additionally, the Texans have to establish the run. Ron Dayne has a bad ankle, which may mean lots of work for Darius Walker (who just saw his first action last week and performed well). Given that this will only be Walker's second game as a pro, a mistake or two seems more likely than not. But the Texans need to run to (1) milk the clock and (2) keep the Broncos from dropping seven into coverage on every snap.
MHR -- What do you think will be the biggest challenge for the Texan defense matching up against the Broncos offense?
BRB: Stopping the run. The Texans have been schizophrenic this year in terms of run defense; some games, they stop the opposition dead in their tracks, whereas other games the opposition has averaged 9.4 yards per carry. The Texans are also surviving (and frankly, far better than I thought they would) with a patchwork secondary. The defensive backs need to duplicate their aggressive and stingy effort from a few days ago.
MHR -- Other than having to share the division with some pretty elite teams, what is the main obstacle to the Texans taking the next step (being a playoff caliber team)?
BRB: While the talent level is infinitely better than it was when Gary Kubiak arrived, there's still work to be done at nearly every position. Because of that, I'd have to say that management simply needs to keep up the shrewd drafting we've seen the past two (2) Aprils in order to narrow the gap between us and the Colts. The fact remains that the Colts and Jags still have a greater number of talented players than the Texans do.
Note: I can't explain the Titans; I really thought they were going to plummet to the cellar this season.
MHR -- How much love do the Texans get from a fan base that has been in love with the Cowboys for decades?
BRB: Houston is a bandwagon sports city. Always has been, and likely always will be. When you're winning, the city loves you; when you're not, apathy rules. As you can imagine, the Texans' brief history has not engendered a ton of fans who live and die with the team (members of the BRB community excluded). After the team started 2-0, you could feel casual fans getting excited about the Texans. Unfortunately, a 4-7 record since then has killed most of that momentum. Still, Houston is a football town. It's just going to take a winning season for people to remember that.
MHR -- Could you tell us about the systems your team runs (on offense and defense) and which positions you need improvement in to make them work better?
BRB: Offensively, the Texans run a West Coast-inspired scheme very similar to Denver's. The base offense features 2 WR (Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter), 1 TE (Owen Daniels), 1 RB (Ron Dayne or Darius Walker), and either a slot receiver (typically Andre' Davis) or FB (Vonta Leach). With regard to where the offense needs improvement, it should start at RB (thanks, Ahman Green) and on the offensive line (though the OL is not nearly the laughingstock that the national media likes to make it out to be), specifically at LT and C. Defensively, the Texans run an extremely conservative 4-3 that RARELY features anyone other than the four (4) down linemen pressuring the QB. There, I'd say upgrades are most immediately needed at LDE (I'm looking at you, Anthony Weaver) and in the secondary (most likely at the safety spots, assuming that Dunta Robinson can return to form after a horrific injury and that rookie Fred Bennett continues to stake his claim to the other starting CB spot).
MHR -- Are the fans being patient with Kubiak and the team, or is there a lot of frustration that the Colts can't get knocked off of the top of the division?
BRB: I think most reasonable fans realize that Rome wasn't built in a day, though to some degree Kubes may be a victim of his own success after that 2-0 start this season. What may get lost in the shuffle, however, is that Kubes is still learning how to be a head coach in the same fashion as his team is learning how to win. It's going to take some time, and the team has shown improvement since he took over. He'll get us there.
MHR -- Do you like the direction the team is moving in? What is the team doing right and wrong in regards to improvement each year.
BRB: I certainly like the direction this team is headed. If not for the ridiculous amount of injuries suffered this year (a league-high 17 players on IR), you could make an argument that this team would have a markedly better record. Remember--we're less than two (2) seasons removed from going 2-14, and we've already equaled last season's win total with three (3) games left to play this year. What the team is doing right to improve--building through the draft. What it's doing not as right--handing out bad free agent contracts ( see Green, A.; Black, J.) as though Charley Casserly never left.
MHR -- Andre Johnson for MVP? Texans look like a totally different team without him.... Best receiver in the league?
BRB: Yup. I may be biased, but I cannot think of another WR I'd rather have. He's that freaking good. The night-and-day difference in how the Texans have fared when he's not out there should only further cement his status as the premiere wideout in the NFL.
MHR -- What's the feeling about the Mario Williams pick now? Not too shabby, eh?
BRB: Funny how 9.5 sacks in 13 games changes everyone's outlook. Back in August, I penned this little ditty as the local paper was leading the "Mario Is A Colossal Bust" charge. Now, we're treated to every writer tripping over himself to salute the Texans for making the "right decision." The absurdity of it all is astonishing.
MHR -- What are the rivalries like in the AFC South? Best Rivalry? Bitchiest team? Most respected opponent?
BRB: We don't have the blood feuds that the AFC West features, but we're working on it. Best Rivalry: Jacksonville and Houston. Can't explain it, but neither team likes the other and most of the contests seem to be fairly close (this year's asskicking at Jacksonville notwithstanding). In fact, the Jags are the only divisional opponent that the Texans have historically beat. Bitchiest team: I'll have to go with Indy. Peyton Manning can be awfully petulant. Most respected opponent: Again, Indy. They're the defending champs, and they've built that team the right way. They'd be easy to root for if they didn't routinely make the Texans look bad.
MHR -- Texans secret strength? Hidden weakness?
BRB: Hmmmm...I'll have to go with Kevin Walter as a relatively unknown strength. He's come from nowhere to be an amazingly consistent No. 2 WR who's not afraid to go over the middle and make the tough catch. When 'Dre was out, he spearheaded the receiving attack. Before this season (and when people like me were lamenting the absence of anyone to play opposite 'Dre) Kubes compared him to a guy with which Denver fans are well acquainted: Ed McCaffrey. I'll leave the validity of that statement to you guys, but I can safely say that we couldn't be more pleased that K-Dub is a Texan.
After 13 games, I'm not sure any weaknesses are hidden. But our general refusal to bring pressure from anyone but the front four, even when the game demands it, definitely qualifies as our most unusual weakness. That said, Richard Smith sent linebacker help more often on Sunday than at any other point of the season, so I'm hoping we see it again on Thursday.
MHR -- What are your feelings on Gary Kubiak and his coaching staff. What coaches are strengths, which could be improved?
BRB: I'm a big Kubiak guy. For the reasons cited above, I'm not really sold on our defensive coordinator (Richard Smith); his unwillingness to adjust is a concern. Some of the offensive playcalling this season had made me scratch my head, but I think that's par for the course on any team. Besides, we'll have a new OC after the season once Mike Sherman formally leaves to being his new job at Texas A&M. Maybe Kyle Shanahan will be that new OC?
The greatest coaching strength, I believe, is seen in how hard the Texans play. They never roll over, and they never quit. I think that's proof of how much the team respects the staff, and that trust seemed lacking at times under the previous regime.