Texans 20, Jets 16: Defense Shines, But Backup QB Troubles Remain
Matt Schaub didn't play much.
Photos by Marco Torres
In the big picture, the narrative from Monday's preseason opener at Reliant Stadium was a promising one for Gary Kubiak's Texans.
First and foremost, there were no major injuries.
Secondly, the retooled unit of renowned defensive coordinator Wade Phillips put the Jets under siege, with relentless pressure from the likes of rookies J.J. Watt and Bryan Braman and veteran linebackers Xavier Adibi and Jesse Nading.
On the whole, the Texans sacked the Jets seven times -- just one shy of the eight sacks compiled in the entire 2010 preseason.
Yes, the Texans finally seem to have a pass rush, even with prized cornerback Johnathan Joseph on the sidelines with a groin injury.
In the first half, when mostly starters and rotation players played, Houston limited the Jets to just three points and 119 yards. The Texan defense also forced a fumble that led directly to a touchdown, paving the way to a 13-3 lead.
On the surface, it seems the Texans -- especially near the top of their depth chart -- finally have the caliber of defense to complement a dynamic offense and make a postseason run.
However, one issue reared its ugly head again, and poses the potential to disrupt a promising 2011 campaign.
Yet again, much depends on the health of slender Matt Schaub.
Three weeks ago, the Texans ditched Dan Orlovsky after two disappointing seasons as backup QB, handing the reins of the No. 2 spot to Matt Leinart.
Though Leinart was on the Texans' roster in 2010, he was inactive for every game. He signed on the eve of the regular season, missing training camp and preseason. That put him behind Orlovsky.
Even so, the tall left-hander from USC looked the part of a starting QB, and many in the local media praised Leinart's play during 2010 practices and 2011 training camp. Some said that numerous teams would regret not having him as a starter.
But Monday represented Leinart's first game snaps as a Texan, and many old habits returned.
Ditching Orlovsky was a justified decision. Orlovsky quarterbacked the only 0-16 team in NFL history, and his weekend debut in Indianapolis (4-for-10, two interceptions) was par for the course.
This looked familiar, unfortunately.
It's unlikely that Leinart will be worse. He could be a slight upgrade.
But Monday's performance cast significant doubt on whether he could lead the team in the event of an extended Schaub absence.
The numbers weren't horrible. Leinart completed eight of 14 passes for 78 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.
The problem came in the details, especially compared with past history.
Scouts deemed Leinart to have three major flaws in five years with Arizona: He held the ball too long, didn't go through his reads and didn't throw downfield -- even with star wideouts like Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.
Of his eight completions and 78 passing yards on Monday, six (for 65 yards) went to running backs in the flat. Not a single completion came more than ten yards downfield. Moreover, several balls were tipped at the line of scrimmage. One was deflected and then intercepted, setting up the Jets for a touchdown that tied the game.
"The interception was a tough break on the tipped ball, but you just bounce back and keep going," Leinart said.
In reality, the pick was more a product of a poor read than bad luck.
ESPN analyst Jon Gruden implored Leinart to go through his progressions, noting that his tendency to "lock onto" one receiver allowed linemen to read his eyes.
On Twitter, local NFL scout Jayson Braddock was even more harsh.
"As Leinart stares down another WR, there's another batted pass," Braddock wrote. "HE DOESN'T GO THROUGH READS!!! Listen to me, Texans."
Braddock noted that of Leinart's eight completions, all but one came on his first read.
Usually, two quarters of a preseason game would be too small of a sample to draw conclusions. But when problems mirror past transgressions, it's concerning.
Third-string QB T.J. Yates was impressive. A rookie from North Carolina, Yates was 6-for-12 for 97 yards, frequently targeting Lestar Jean downfield while driving for the winning score.
Had Derrick Townsel not pulled up on a deep post, Yates could have also had a 70-yard touchdown pass.
That said, expecting a rookie NFL quarterback to contribute is foolish. Should anything happen to Schaub, it's up to Leinart to keep the team afloat.
The good news is that Schaub, once considered fragile, started all 32 games in 2009 and 2010. His superb play put the Texans on the verge of the postseason two years ago, even with the aforementioned defensive woes.
Given the improving defense, the Texans could be on the verge of a special season. But for that to happen, the offense must hold at its usual high level, and Schaub must stay on the field.
With Leinart one play away from major action, Texan fans will likely continue to hold their collective breaths on every hit Schaub absorbs.
At least in that sense, it's more of the same.
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