One more reason to be excited about getting through the bye week is the return of our weekly Q&As with the opposing team's blogger. This week we spoke with Jake from Battle Red Blog. We're actually mixing things up this week. Usually we've had the interactive FanPost and then this separate blogger Q&A. We're combining them this week. So if you have any questions for Jake and the Texans fans, post them right in here. Also, Jake has posted my answers to his questions at BRB. If you want, you're more than welcome to provide your own answers to my questions over there. Also, feel free to answer any questions presented by the BRB readers.
Niners Nation This is a rather broad question, but it seems like over the last few years Houston is always so close to turning the corner and becoming a playoff team. However, they've never been able to get past .500. Is there some common theme or is it just something different every year? Also, is this the year Houston finally breaks through?
Battle Red Blog: Last year I and the majority of Texans fans felt that we would see our first winning season, but obviously that didn't happen. Hurricane Ike ravaged the city of Houston which moved our bye week up to week two and didn't make things easy in the beginning of the season. This didn't single handedly make the Texans start 0-4, but it certainly didn't help either. I think anyone who watched the Texans closely in both 2007 and 2008 though would tell you that the team improved even if the record didn't.
To get back to your question though, the two primary things keeping the Texans from breaking through was our offense's ability to convert yardage into points and the defense's terrible play. The offense finished 3rd in yardage but 17th in points and the defense finished 23rd overall. This year Matt Schaub leads all quarter backs in touchdown throws (14). Also, the defense started out as what could only be described as porous, but has played significantly better of late. After averaging 180 rushing yards allowed for each of the first three games, the defense has allowed a total of 135 in the last three. I am far from convinced that the Texans won't suffer from their typical bouts of inconsistency, but at least they've shown the potential this year.
The remaining 4 questions with Jake are after the jump...
NN: I've always thought Matt Schaub was a talented QB, but this year he seems to be making the leap into the upper echelon of QBs. Of course he's not getting a lot of publicity, but he's on pace for career highs across the board. Why don't you think we've heard more about him this season. And sort of a follow-up to that: he missed a chunk of games the last two years. Is there any concern about injury (beyond the usual) or do you think (I know, knock on wood) the injuries were just a temporary speed bump for him?
BRB: The Texans and Matt Schaub are flying under the radar for the most part because the national media is used to the team being terrible and they haven't won enough this year to change that perception. When I read descriptions of the team from prominent writers you can tell they don't buy in to the notion that the team is talented. That's fair though, only winning will change that mindset.
Schaub is simply making better decisions this year. In previous years you could tell that he forced throws trying to carry the team all on his own. The rule of thumb that I've often heard for quarter backs is that year three should be when the light bulb comes on. Even though Schaub played as a back up in Atlanta, this is year three for him starting in Gary Kubiak's offense.
As for his injury status, he isn't officially listed for anything but he seems to still be bothered by an ankle injury he suffered in the third preseason game against the Vikings. The injuries from the previous two seasons weren't minor injuries that he didn't gut out; he suffered a torn MCL and a separated shoulder on hits that Jared Allen and Albert Haynesworth were fined for because the NFL deemed them to be illegal.
NN: Given his huge year last season, it's not surprising Steve Slaton has gotten a lot of love from the media. However, the Texans running game is ranked dead last according to Football Outsiders. Slaton's averaging 1.8 yards per carry less this season and Gary Kubiak seems to take some perverse pleasure in playing Chris Brown. What's up with the running game this season?
BRB: For most of the season the lack of running success could be blamed on both offensive line and Slaton. In an effort to pad his body against wear and tear, Slaton gained approximately 10 to 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason, and I think the consensus among fans and local writers was that it slowed him down. Slaton has lost some of the weight, and last week was the first game that I saw him run like he did last season. When he is running well, he has the ability to shed tackles and accelerate through holes which he did against the Bengals.
As for the offensive line, their inability to run block confounds me. They are dealing with two season ending injuries now to guards Mike Brisiel and Chester Pitts, but even before they went down the line was having the same problem. It's frustrating as a Texans fan to see them pass block so well and yet not open the holes that you usually see from an Alex Gibbs coached line. I wish I had the answer but I don't.
Prior to last week, Gary Kubiak was insistent on running the ball, even when it obviously wasn't working. Last week, Kubiak didn't altogether abandon the run game but utilized well designed screen and swing passes to get Slaton in space which allowed him to tally over 100 yards receiving. It's not ideal, but at least Kubiak and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan have found a substitution until they can fix the run game.
NN: The Texans defense does not appear to be that great. However, they did a great job shutting down the resurgent Cedric Benson last week (maybe he's just surgent since he was never good?). Can you provide some insight into the Texans defense? General strengths and weaknesses and how good or bad you think the D really is?
BRB: Right now the defense seems to be improving but still makes me nervous. The Cardinals, for example, scored 21 quick points in the first half but then couldn't score again in the entirety of the second half. The Texans over of the whole season have averaged 7 points allowed in the second half which should be attributed to brand new defensive coordinator Frank Bush who must be making some sort of halftime adjustments.
The strength of the defense right now is the line backing corps. DeMeco Ryans is as good as he ever has been, but the addition of the rookie from USC Brian Cushing has bolstered the unit significantly. Strong safety Bernard Pollard, the former second round pick who was cut by Kansas City, has played well too specifically against the run. Glover Quin, a fourth round selection this year, has played decently at corner back during the absence of usual starter Jacques Reeves.
The problem with the defense so far is lack of a pass rush and inconsistency. The Texans have a very young defense and therefore will be prone to more mistakes than a more veteran unit. The pass rush produces hurries and quarterback hits, but the sacks haven't come in great numbers yer. Mario Williams has a shoulder injury that has bothered him for some time now, which is probably the reason why he only has two sacks despite averaging 13.5 in the last two seasons.
NN: Everybody knows Andre Johnson is an absolute beast. We won't question that. Owen Daniels also seems to be improving each year and is one TD away from his career high. Are there any other legit receiving threats the 49ers will need to keep an eye on this week?
BRB: Kevin Walter. He wasn't able to play in the first two games of the season because of a sore hamstring, and he only has 15 receptions for 203 yards since, but that doesn't mean he isn't a threat. Last year he took advantage of single coverage opposite of Andre Johnson and caught 60 passes for 899 yards and 8 touchdowns. He may not do it against the 49ers, but he's due for a big day soon.