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Texans 37, Buccaneers 9: Five Things We Learned

In the immortal words of Ian Dury: Reasons to be cheerful, part three.
In the immortal words of Ian Dury: Reasons to be cheerful, part three.
Photo by Marco Torres

Were it not for the heartbreak of the past ten years, week after week of uncompetitive football might get boring. As it is, the Texans and their legion of fans will take the wins however they come.

The Texans cruised past Tampa Bay (4-5) on Sunday from the game's very first play, when Matt Schaub connected on a career long 80-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones. The win -- the fourth straight for Houston, all in blowout fashion -- sends the Texans to 7-3 entering their bye week, in firm control of first place in the AFC South and the conference's No. 1 overall seed.

The No. 1 seed would place the Texans just two games from the Super Bowl, both of which would come in the friendly confines of Reliant Stadium.

Of course, the Texans proved Sunday that home comfort isn't necessary. Facing a Tampa Bay team that had previously beaten the Saints and Falcons at home, the Texans methodically gashed the Buccaneers from the outset before finally breaking their will in the second half.

Here are five key takeaways from the latest Texan blowout.

5) Gary Kubiak is having a great season All week long, analysts doubted whether Tampa Bay had the defensive line to stop the Texan run game, especially with Gerald McCoy suffering a season-ending injury and Albert Haynesworth being forced into major minutes. As such, the Texans figured they could catch Tampa's back seven overcompensating through playaction. On the first play of the game, Schaub faked a handoff to Arian Foster and found Jones all alone. Even though the pass was underthrown, Jones was so wide open that he was still able to make the catch and elude defenders for the score.

Later in the quarter -- with the Texans holding a 6-0 lead -- Schaub appeared to throw a disastrous interception when blitzed on third-and-goal. Aqib Talib dropped the ball moments later after a strip from Derrick Mason, but it was ruled a fumble on the field and media analysts didn't even question it. Fortunately, Kubiak and his staff did -- astutely observing that Talib had bobbled the ball even before Mason knocked it to the ground. The call was overturned, making it the second consecutive week for Kubiak to win a challenge. Neil Rackers made the ensuing field goal to put Houston up 9-0, and the game was never within a possession again.

4) The defense is no fluke Sure, Wade Phillips's unit had the luxury of back-to-back games against doormats Jacksonville and Cleveland. Yes, the Buccaneers snapped Houston's franchise record three-game streak of holding opponents under 175 total yards. But this might've been their most impressive performance yet. Against a competent Tampa Bay offense that entered Sunday ranked No. 15 in the NFL, the Texans limited them to 231 yards and nine points. Even better, they sacked Josh Freeman four times, intercepted him three times, held him to 42 percent passing and forced a fumble. It started with pressure from the edges, where outside linebackers Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed wreaked havoc with 1.5 and 1.0 sacks, respectively. Through ten games, the Texans have the No. 1 ranked defensive unit in the NFL.

"There's a sense of confidence," said rookie end J.J. Watt, who had two tackles and a half-sack. "There's a hunger that we're never satisfied."

 

3) Arian Foster is as good as it gets Forget talk about his yards per carry average dipping slightly. That tends to happen on teams with numerous blowout wins, which result in obvious rushing plays for much of the second halves of games. Forget any mention of hamstring woes or being a one-season wonder. He's arguably the best running back in the NFL, a fact hammered home by his 78-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter in which he weaved through almost the entire Buccaneer defense. Foster's open-field cuts are superb, and his hands make him a complete back -- an increasing rarity in the modern NFL. Sunday marked the third game (out of seven) for Foster with 100 yards receiving.

"I think what sets me apart from a lot of running backs is I make guys miss in the open field," said Foster. "I always tell them I was a receiver in my past life. I always lobby to get some go-routes from [Kubiak]."

2) Kicking remains a concern It hasn't bit the Texans yet, but Neil Rackers remains far from his usual form. He missed a 37-yard kick against Tampa Bay and also had an extra point blocked. He's 19-for-22 on the season, but the three misses have all come in the past month. Moreover, several of the makes have cut it extremely close. With a bye week approaching, the Texans' staff needs to closely monitor his practice performance. Come January, the Texans will be challenged by the AFC's elite and can't afford to leave points on the field.

1) As good as the Texans look, they're about to get even stronger It's easy to forget that this four-game streak has come without Andre Johnson, arguably the best player on the roster and one of the top two or three receivers in the entire league. By all appearances, Johnson -- who has been sidelined since Oct. 2 with a hamstring injury -- is a virtual certainty to return to the starting lineup when the Texans come out of their bye week on Nov. 27 at Jacksonville.

Though Schaub had a near-perfect QB rating on Sunday, the Texans were still a run-first team. The offensive line mauled Tampa Bay into submission, with the Texans holding a nearly 3:1 run-pass ratio (44 runs, 15 passes). Of their 420 yards, 185 came on the ground, and many of Schaub's 242 passing yards were off playaction. When Johnson returns, the Texans should at times be able to use the pass to set up the run -- making things even easier for Foster and Ben Tate.

Discussions in recent weeks have centered on the lack of dominant teams in the AFC, making it possible for a team like the Texans to make a legitimate run at a Super Bowl.

Little did they know, the Texans may actually be the conference's dominant team. Just ask the Buccaneers.

Our interactive Houston Texans' 2011 prediction game card has been updated.


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