Before I continue on, this is the first of a series of segments, so it's still a work in progress, and if it seems a bit disorganized, that's probably because it is. And Texans fans, please don't lash out on me, as I'm not an expert of the Houston Texans.
When the Texans take the field on Sunday, the Cardinalswill be prepared for a team they've had a chance to watch the last two weeks. There will be many keys to the game but the big factor will be how the Cardinals approach the Texans secondary. This obviously favors the Cardinals as they have Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Steve Breaston - and oh yeah, a two-time MVP in Kurt Warner throwing to them. So far this year the Cardinals passing game hasn't been what it was a year ago, and a large part of that goes behind bad pass protection, poor game planning, and bad play calling. A lot of what happens over the bye week is fixing areas of concern, and extensive game planning for the upcomming opponent - which happens to be the Texans. That brings us to exhibit A: The Texans secondary. They're a group that have struggled to say the least, and that's facing some weaker competition in the league. The quarterbacks that they've faced in no particular order are Kerry Collins, David Garrard, JaMarcus Russell, and Mark Sanchez. In other words, a 37 year old, a rookie, a has-been, and the worst quarterback in the NFL. Then we look at the starting wide receivers they've faced - Jerricho Cotchery, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Nate Washington, and Torry Holt. It should also be known that none of these receivers led their team in receiving when they played the Texans, and none are top tier wide receivers. Now that we've seen the competition, let's take a look at the Texans secondary.
The defensive backs for Houston have 23 years of experience between the four of them, which is about 5.7 years of experience each. They're all relatively young and have talent, particularly in Dunta Robinson and Eugene Wilson. What hurts this unit, is the insertion of young players, particularly in Dominique Barber and Fred Bennett, who may not be starting material just yet. Another problem that comes to mind is the lack of game-changing-plays from this unit. In four games, they have one interception and one forced fumble between the four of them. That's not the kind of explosive play that you want from your starting defensive backs. That's also something that will make fans and Kurt Warner a little more comfortable this Sunday. Looking at the individual stats(below), it's evident that this isn't a very active group. Seven passes defended doesn't scream "aggressive secondary". The lack of a big play should be a positive sign for the Cardinals, who mightily struggle when turning the ball over.
There passing-defense stats overall can also be misleading, due to the talent that they've faced so far this year. The secondary is giving up 12 yards a catch, which is 23rd in the league. They are giving up an average of 207.5 receiving yards a game, which ranks 7th in the league. On the conversion side, Texans opponents have a 3rd down conversion of 40%, which is 19th overall. The surprising stat is the 7th ranked receiving yards allowed. This means that only six other teams in the league are holding opponents to less receiving yards. Sounds like a concerning stat for a pass-first offense right? Wrong. As stated earlier, this passing defense has yet to face any real competition through the air, most notably the Raiders. If you throw the Raiders game out the window, it changes where this team ranks. They would average 231.6 receiving yards a game, which would drop them to 16th in the league. On opponents third down percentage, the Texans would be allowing a whopping 50%, which would drop them to dead last in the league. Let's just call this the "Raider-Effect".
So what does all this mean for the Cardinals offense? This means that a team featuring two pro bowl wide receivers will likely have big games, and should be at the receiving end on most 3rd downs. This also means that the Cardinals need to attack through the air early and often, to get a quick lead. Putting Anquan Boldin in the slot gives you a tough receiver in open space on the field. Another advantage is having a healthy Steve Breaston who is often the underrated player on offense. When Fitzgerald gathers a lot of the attention, it gives Steve Breaston a chance to get open, evidence being his 12 catches and 177 yards in the last two games. Next, let's take a look at the leading receivers that have played the Texans the last four weeks:
- Week 1 - Chansi Stuckey 4 catches 64 yards 1TD
- Week 2 - Chris Johnson 9 catches 87 yards 1TD
- Week 3 - Mike Sims-Walker 6 catches 81 yards
- Week 4 - Louis Murphy 3 catches 34 yards
What I can gather from those numbers is one thing - the Texans focus on the opposing teams starting receivers. Neither of the four players above were the starting receivers on their teams, but all managed to lead in receiving. That trend could continue this week as Larry Fitzgerald will see his usual double coverage. That also means big games for Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston. One thing the Cardinals need to do is get back to doing what they do best. The no-huddle offense has been successful in the past and I see no reason to not use it against the Texans. I'd also like to see the occasional gadget or trick play. That's it for today - Is there anything else you'd like to see from the Cardinals against the Texans Secondary?