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Texans 30, Browns 12: Five Things We Learned

Unmask yourself, Texans fan
Unmask yourself, Texans fan
Photo by Marco Torres

See visual proof of the Texans' winning streak in our slideshow.

When Gary Kubiak wins a replay challenge, you know it's your day.

It was that and then some for the Texans on Sunday, who cruised past the Browns and moved to 6-3 on the season. It's the first time the franchise has ever been three games above .500.

"We did a good job executing our plan in all three phases," said Kubiak.

It's true that the Texans have fattened their record against some of the league's weaker teams, including the Colts, Dolphins, Jaguars and Browns. But to their credit, the Texans have generally avoided giving any hope to inferior teams, even in a season ripe with upsets.

On a day in which winless Miami stomped the first-place Chiefs in Kansas City, the Texans quickly ensured that no similar activity would take place at Reliant Stadium. The home team efficiently opened up with a nine-play, 82-yard touchdown drive, punctuated by a 27-yard dash from Ben Tate.

Then on Cleveland's first play from scrimmage, DeMeco Ryans stripped former Texan Chris Ogbonnaya, causing a fumble recovered by rookie end J.J. Watt.

Six plays later, Matt Schaub scampered into the end zone for his second rushing touchdown in as many weeks. That gave the Texans a 14-0 lead less than eight minutes in.

From there, the Texans spent the remaining 52 minutes largely in cruise control on offense. On defense, the Texans suffocated Cleveland and held their third consecutive opponent under 175 yards, setting a club record.

With the game's result never in doubt, here are five things of note as they pertain to the Texans' increasingly likely run to the postseason.

5.) Demps impresses at safety. With Danieal Manning likely out another month with a broken leg, many believed the Texans would be hurt by a lack of depth at safety. Sure, Troy Nolan is one adequate replacement. But when Glover Quin slides to corner in certain passing situations, it forces another safety onto the field.

On Sunday, it was Quintin Demps, who the team cut after the preseason. Signed two weeks ago after rookie Shiloh Keo proved a coverage disaster, Demps was sound in deep coverage all day. Moreover, he masterfully read the eyes of Cleveland quarterback Colt McCoy on an interception just before halftime, setting up a field goal from Neil Rackers.

"We may have found something here and we might have made a mistake the first time we let him go," said Kubiak. "We went young as a secondary and there is a veteran player who has played a lot of football, who is on the streets, but he was here in Houston, living and working and taking care of his business. We bring him back and he goes right back in and starts playing well. We got a little lucky right there."

4.) Ryans makes an impact. The expectation was for 2011 to be a slow year for DeMeco Ryans, and it largely has been. Coming off a torn Achilles last October, most around the league believe it will take until 2012 for him to completely regain his speed, if ever. A preseason elbow injury compounded his troubles, and many analysts believed he was being phased out of Wade Phillips' linebacker rotation.

But when Darryl Sharpton was lost for the season with a torn quad, it meant Ryans' playing time would increase. Against the Browns, he made an impact on the defense's very first play from scrimmage, slapping the ball away from Ogbonnaya and creating the team's first turnover.

Ryans finished with just one tackle, and it's unlikely he'll regain his once-Pro Bowl form this season. But he remains a player of very high intelligence. If he can parlay that into forcing the occasional turnover, Kubiak and Phillips will be very happy.

 

3.) Offensive line sets the tone. The Texans completely dominated the line of scrimmage Sunday, allowing no sacks on Schaub and paving the way for a team-record 261 rushing yards on 6.5 yards per carry. It was somewhat in contrast to the prior week against Jacksonville, in which the line lost the battle for much of the second and third quarters. Arian Foster did rush for 112 yards, but it took 33 carries (average of 3.4 yards).

Against Cleveland -- even while playing with a lead and against a defense expecting the run -- Foster and Tate were able to rush for 124 yards and 115 yards, respectively, on averages of 6.5 and 9.6 yards per rush. The Browns aren't slouches on defense, either, having entered the game ranked No. 5 in the NFL.

The Houston offensive line began the season with many pundits proclaiming it the best in the league. On Sunday, they played like it.

2.) Neil Rackers returns to form. The usually reliable Houston kicker entered with two ugly misses in his last four games, as well as two others that barely snuck through the uprights. With the exception of the Oakland game, though, the kicks haven't impacted the bottom line.

On Sunday, Rackers went a perfect 3-for-3 -- including a 50-yarder early in the fourth quarter that was drilled straight down the middle. That improves his season numbers to 15-for-17 (88 percent). It also could give both Rackers and the team a renewed sense of confidence, which is important with a game at Tampa that seems likely to go down to the wire.

1.) Houston, we have a contender. When the Titans lost to Cincinnati and fell to 4-4, it gave the Texans a stranglehold on the AFC South. However, the Texans could have a larger prize in front of them than just the division. With New England's loss, the 6-3 Texans -- if the season ended today -- would own the AFC's No. 2 playoff seed, giving them a first-round bye.

CBS analyst and former Pittsburgh head coach Bill Cowher predicted on Sunday that the Texans would finish the season 12-4 and earn home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. Specifically, he called them "the most complete team in the NFL."

High expectations should accompany such high praise. Earlier this year, next week's game at Tampa Bay -- a 10-win team from a year ago -- seemed unnecessary to win, especially with Andre Johnson possibly out. As long as the Texans took care of business in conference and especially division games, that's all it would take to win a watered-down AFC South. And that's all that seemed to matter.

Suddenly, though, much more seems on the line. These Texans are good enough to compete with anyone in the AFC, and the results show it more with each passing week.

The interactive 2011 season game cars has been updated.


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