Sometimes it's good to shake things up a little bit. We sit here every Sunday night for the last three football seasons and it feels like invariably we wind up saying the same thing -- "same ol' Texans."
So this week, I took a trip to Chicago, and watched the Texans from the basement of my kids' home in Naperville (Owen Daniels, represent yo!). I figured even if the Texans lost, just watching somewhere else on a different television might stave off the Pavlovian "same as it ever was" response.
So there they were again, our scrappy bunch "battlefighting" like the "good kids" they are, a chance to go ahead in the fourth quarter. But in the end, the Ravens just made more plays.
Ravens 29, Texans 14.
Same script, different actors. Same post game sound bites, different road locker room. Same Pavlovian reaction, different television screen.
Same ol' Texans, different winners and losers (mostly). Here we go...
WINNERS 4. Tennessee Titans As if losing the game wasn't a big enough kick in the teeth to the Texans, the Tennessee Titans took over first place in the division, appropriately enough, by doing exactly what they did for all of those years they were in Houston under the Oiler banner -- absolutely nothing. A bye week and the rest of the division soiling themselves were enough for Tennessee to open a crack of daylight at the top. Now we are set up for the latest pre-November "as close to a must win as you can have against a mediocre division foe" for the Texans. (Note: In my interactive preseason predictions -- updated here -- I actually had the Texans losing to the Titans, and beating the Ravens. Here's hoping I go 0-2 on those predictions.)
3. Texans' pass rush First the good news: Even without Mario Williams, the Texans still found a way to bring all sorts of heat on Joe Flacco, through a combination of exotic blitzes and Connor Barwin, Antonio Smith and Tim Jamison beasting for various parts of the afternoon. This should bode well for next week in Nashville where Matt Hasselbeck's mobility is somewhere between that of Andre the Giant alive and Andre the Giant dead.
The bad (but not all that surprising) news: There's still a ton of stuff that needs to be fixed, mostly in pass coverage and stopping the run (more on one of those in "LOSERS"). In terms of priority, I think they've got it right. If the Texans' defense was post-Ike Houston, establishing a pass rush was the equivalent of restoring power. The defense has restored power, now it's time to reconstruct the buildings on Cornerback Avenue and Nose Tackle Boulevard.
2. Coach-on-coach violence For the record, I loved the near-skirmish after the Lions and 49ers game yesterday afternoon, when Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh shook Lions head coach Jim Schwartz's hand just a little too hard, and Schwartz decided to chase him down and let him know about it. Let me make it clear -- the whole "coach hand shake" thing after games, if the league wanted to do away with it, I'd be fine with that. Now, if the league wanted to have coaches FIGHT after games, then I'd be REALLY fine with THAT.
By the way, the underrated role in the whole episode? The little dude with the wet mullet and goatee who looks like Kenny Powers's older, fatter brother trying to step in between the two coaches and yelling "WHOA WHOA WHOA..." Read his lips...
(Runner up, from a listener of mine @rights_of_bill on Twitter -- "the 49er lineman smiling while holding Schwartz back as if to say 'Child, please.'" Indeed) 1. Madden Curse I blogged about this in the preseason, and The Madden Curse is hardly a revelation, but six weeks into the season it is well worth noting that Madden cover boy and Browns running back Peyton Hillis, who was a dubious pick to begin with, having won a viral, bracket-style vote to beat out several other far more prominent NFL stars, is off to an injury-riddled, unproductive season where he is barely startable on his actual NFL team, let alone scores of fantasy teams named after Brett Favre's schlong.
The undeniable power of the Curse (and at this point, yes, it deserves capital letters and proper-noun designation) begs the question, why not stop putting football players on the cover and just take the rest of the top 25 FBI Most Wanted and put them on there? At the very least, maybe they'll all pull a hamstring and become easier to chase down if someone sees them walking down the street in Kabul or something.
LOSERS 4. Rick-Gary Smuthiak, Part 1 I don't have the most trained football eye in the world, I've admitted this many times, so if I'm crazy maybe someone who dorks out on football more than me can correct me, but other than the handful of plays where he decided to give Darrius Heyward-Bey a twenty-yard cushion at the end of the first half of the Raiders game, Jason Allen has been decent, right? Made a few plays in the Steelers game, hasn't done anything incredibly egregious, right? So why then are we still seeing the back of Kareem Jackson's jersey chasing down [fill in name of wide receiver here]? WHY?
Gary Kubiak went out of his way to proclaim both Allen and Jackson starters this past week. Not sure if he handed participation ribbons to both after the game Sunday before taking them out for ice cream. Why does this organization not evaluate players like they're adults? Of course, can Rick-Gary Smuthiak (and yes, all personnel decisions fall on both guys) fix it? There's plenty of reasons to be skeptical, such as....
3. Rick-Gary Smuthiak, Part 2 ....Brandon Harris was a second round pick, right? If you draft a guy at your weakest position in the second round, he should be on the field, right? Or at least on the ACTIVE list, right? Unless you missed badly on the pick, right? RIGHT?
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2. Matt Schaub Say what you will about wagering on football, but having money riding on a game ultimately clarifies quite a bit. More than any QB sabermetrics or statistical analysis, the innate feeling of "when the pocket is breaking down, when the ball leaves this guy's hand, THIS is how I feel" (depending on which side you're on, of course) is very basic and very truthful. And the fact of the matter is, right now when Matt Schaub drops back to pass and is under duress having to make plays that are not proceeding exactly according to blueprint, I feel the same way I do anytime I have to cross four lanes of rush-hour traffic on 59 to exit Chimney Rock. (Houstonians know the feeling I'm talking about.) Stressed, scared, hoping like hell it ends well and cursing the person who thought this plan was a good idea. Speaking of which...
1. Bob McNair's ox As last season was spiraling out of control, Texans owner Bob McNair assured everyone things would be okay, uttering the now famous phrase "This isn't the first time we've seen an ox in a ditch." Two weeks ago, after the Steelers game, it appeared the ox was about to be rescued. He had been pulled to the top of the ditch and freedom was imminent. Unfortunately, the ghost of Al Davis and the fear of Ray Lewis tickled the Texans under their collective armpit, the rope got dropped and the poor ox went tumbling back into the ditch. PETA is pissed.
Rescue efforts resume Sunday in Nashville.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on Yahoo! Sports Radio and 1560 The Game weekdays noon to 3PM, and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.