Setting the Stage:
Early Sun. game in Houston. Last week, Texans got buried by Rams 33 - 7. Cards looked meh in their loss to division rival Seattle. Houston became unglued in the second half vs. LA. Houston is now 3 & 6. Cards are 4 & 5. Neither team figures to be feeling pretty good about itself. Cards are without starting QB Carson Palmer for most or all of the season, and may be without #2 backup Drew Stanton for one or two weeks - both due to injury. Next man up is Blaine Gabbert (considered long on potential/not-so-long on production). The wind is blowing in the direction of Stanton starting vs. the Texans.
Opponent's Last Game
According to local Houston scribe, Marc Vandermeer: "For a while it looked like it could happen - that the Texans could generate just enough on offense while the defense was putting the brakes on the top scoring team in the NFL. But the third quarter hit and the Rams erupted with three touchdowns to put the game out of reach..." Rams won going away - 33 - 7.
Houston received. TB on KO. On the 5th play from scrimmage, Savage was sacked, by Donald, fumbled and lost the ball. Rams ball on Houston 12. LA had to settle for a 27-yd FG. . Rams 3 - Houston 0.
TB on KO. After Miller gained 18 yds up the middle, Houston's drive stalled near mid-field. TB on Punt. LA held to 3 & out. Punt returned to Houston 43. Texans managed to move to the LA 38, but had to punt from the LA 38. Punt downed at the LA 4. A minus-11 yd sack by Blackson neutralized an 11-yd gain by Gurley. Rams puntedfrom their own 8. Punt was O-O-B at the Houston 37. A roughness penalty on T Johnson helped move Texans to the LA 20 as the quarter ended.
First Quarter Score: Rams 3 - Houston 0.
A defensive holding penalty pushed Houston back to the Ram 30. A Savage-to-Miller hookup moved Houston to the LA 16 where Fairborne's 34-yd FG try was no good. Ram ball on their own 24. It became ""All Gurley Time": A 43-yd pass to Gurley (followeed by a 15-yd run by Gurley and a minus-7 yd run by Gurley helped set up a 33-yd FG by Zuerlein. Rams 6 - Houston 0.
TB on KO. Houston put together an 8 play TD drive capped by a 26-yd Savage-to-Ellington TD pass. (Other key Plays: Savage to Anderson for +17. Savage to Hopkins for +18. Fuller injured. Houston 7 - Rams 6.
KO returned to LA 18. They managed to get to their own 32, where the Rams"went for it" on a fake punt on 4th & 7. They didn't make it. Houston ball on the Ram 38 with 3:30 left til the half. Right out of the box, Miller picked up 21-yds around RE. On the 6th play of the Houston possession, Savage's pass for Fiedorwicz was intercepted by Barron. Ram ball on their own 25 with 1:35 on the clock. Ten plays (& 1:16) later, Zuerlein's 50-yd FG attempt was good. Rams 9 - Houston 7.
Time ran out.
1st Half Score: Rams 9 - Houston 7
Rams received. KO returned to Ram 25. They managed to get to their own 37 before punting. Punt O-O--B at the Houston 20. In a penalty-racked series, Houston managed to moved to their own 39 before punting. Punt returned to the Ram 4. On the second play from scrimmage, Goff hit Wood for a 94-yd TD. . Rams 16 - Houston 7.
TB on KO. Houston went 3 & out. Punt (net penalty) put ball on the LA 9. Rams mnageed to get to near mid-field, but Scarlett's sack of Goff helped set up a punt from the LA 48. TB on punt. Ball on Texan 20. Houston held to 3 & out again. Punt returned to Houston 36. After Goff hit Watkins for +24 yds, he came back and hooked up with Watson for a 17-yd TD. Rams 23 - Houston 7.
TB on KO. On the first play from scrimmage, Savage was sacked by Ekuban & fumbled. Ball recovered by T Walker. Rams ball at the Houston 12. First Ram play: A 12-yd Goff-to-Woods TD pass. Rams 30 - Houston 7.
TB on KO. Houston moved from their own 25 to the Ram 48 as the 3rd quarter ended.
Third Quarter Score: Rams 30 - Houston 7
Houston drive stalled and they punted. Punt fair caught at the Ram 11. A 35-yd rub around RE by Gurley followed by a 30-yd completion to Woods were key plays in a 9-play LA (6:26) drive capped by a 33-yd Zuerlein FG. Rams 33 - Houston 7.
TB on KO. Houston moved from their own 25 in 7 plays to the Ram 11, but a Savage for Hopikins pass was intercepted and returned to the Ram 25. Five runs by Dunbar followed by 3 knees. Game Over.
Final Score: Rams 33 - Houston 7
Key Game Stats
Team Stats to Date
Savage was 18 of 36 221 yds, 1 TD's and 2 interceptions. (Goff went 25 of 37 for 365 yards, 3 TD's and no interceptions)
L Miller was the top Houston ground gainer with 60 yds on 11 carries. (Foreman was next with 18 yds on 7 carrries). (Rams gained 104 yds on the ground).
Hopkins (7 for 111) and Ellington (4 for 41 & a TD )led the 'Hawks in catches. (Woods, Gurley and Kupp shredded the Houston pass defense with 20 catches for 286 yds)
Defensively, Jackson (5), Joseph (5), Scarlet (4) and Hal (4) led the Texans in tackles Scarlett had 2 sacks. Clowney had one. Savage was sacked 3 times.
Houston converted 4 of 12 (25%) 3rd downs. LA was 6 of 16 (37%)
Houston gained 3.6 yds per rushing play (Ram runners racked up 4.2 ypc).
Ran Net Punting average was 38.2. Ram Net Punting Average was 42.0.
Houston was penalized 8 times (Rams were penalized 10 times)
Houston was 0 for 3 (%) in the Red Zone (Rams were 2 for 5 (40%)
Turnover Ratio: Houston: Minus-4. Savage was intercepted twice. Houston lost two fumbles. Rams had no interceptions and no lost fumbles.
Offensive Yards - Houston 3,143 / Opp 3,156
Passing Yards - Houston 2,201/ Opp 2,429
Rushing Yards - Houston 1,151 /Opp 872
3rd Down Conversions - Houston 39/112...Opp: 42/120
Yards Per Off Play - Houston 4.3/Opp 3.7
Sacks- Houston 23.0.1/Opp 31.0
Field Goals- Houston 11/13...Opp: 0/21
Time of Possession - Houston 30:28/ Opp 29:32
Turnover Ratio - Houston: Minus 5.
Key Player Stats
Passing: - Savage: Compl Avg - 47.3...YPA: 5.4...Td: 2...Int: 2...Sacked: 12. Rating: 62.2...
Watson: Compl Avg, 61.8..YPA: .8.3...TD: 19...Int: 8...Sacked: 19...Rating 103.
Rushing: Miller - 54 yds on 140 Attempts for 3.9 YPA and 2 TD's
Receiving: Hopkins: 58 for 803 yds, 13.8 YPR, 8 TD's.
Miller: 22 for 242 yds, 11.0 YPR. 2 TD's...
Ellington: 19 for 231 yds, 12.2 YPR, 2 TD's.
Field Goals -Fairbairn: 11 for 13 (both misses 30 - 39 yd range)
Punting - Lechler: 49.8 average. Of 51 punts - 24 TB's or inside the 20.
Punt Returns Fuller: 8 returns...14.9 avg
Ervin: 8 returns...7.5 avg.
Kickoff Returns - Thompson: 9 Returns...23.0 avg.
5 returns...18.8 avg.
Tackles - McKinney 53 ...Jackson 46...Hal 41...Cunningham 40
Sacks - 23 (Opp: 31) - Clowney 6...McKinney 2...Scarlett 2...Pleasant 2....Kamalu 2....Nine others with one apiece
Interceptions - Houston 8 / Opponents 10 - Hal, Joseph and Cole: 2 apiece.
T Branch is out for season. B Baker has been elevated. Stanton is lining up at starting QB/Gabbert is getting additional snaps and plays most suitable for him.
The Texans without JJ Watt is like the Cleveland Browns without Otto Graham.
WR.....10 Hopkins........12 B Ellington...14 Thompson
LT.......74 Clark.............63 Lamm
LG ..71 Su'a-Filo......15 Fuller
OC .66 N Martin.......65 Manccz
RT......68 Giacomini....70 Davenport
TE......84Griffin............89 S Anderson
WR ..15 Fuller............13 B Miller
QB ....03 Savage........02 Yates...08 J Johnson
RB.....26 L Miller... .....27 Foreman..28 Blue...22 Todman
LDE 97 Mauro..........72 Pierre.............94 X Williams
DT 98 Peters .........95 Gunter
DT 92 Rucker.........90 Nkemdiche
SLB 55 C Jones........54 Albright
ILB 20 Bucannon....58 Wright
ILB 56 Dansby........57 Bynes
WLB 43 Reddick.......96 K Martin
LCB 21 Peterson.....26 B Williams
RCB 25 T Williams....28 Bethel.
SS 41 Bethea.........36 Baker
FS 32 Mathieu ......30 Ford......H Miller
Matchup: Texans Passing Attack vs. Cardinal Pass Defense
Rookie phenom Deshaun Watson is on IR. He's beem replaced by backup Tom Savage. Statistically, Savage looks to be more "game manager" than playmaker.
Cards will be without Tyron Branch. Budda Baker will be elevated to take his place. Look for more big plays in the secondary punctuated by a few miscommunication and coverage miscues deep.
Hopkins (803 yds) is the Houston feature receiver, but there's a big gap between him and the next guy on the roster (with 243). Expect Patrick Peterson to shut down Hopkins with the rest of the coverage responsibilities spread around. Statistically, Hoiuston gets sacked far more than it sacks. Could be a big day for Cardinal pass rushers.
Challenges for the Cardinals: Shut down Hopkins. Put pressure on Savage.
Key Matchups: Peterson vs. Savage. Baker vs. L Miller. C Jones and K Martin vs. Houston OL.
Matchup: Houston Rushing Attack vs. Cardinal Run Defense
To date, Houston has generated 1151 ground yards while giving up 872. Stands to reason that they'll try to keep the Cardinal offense off the field by controlling the ball; mainly on the ground.
When they want to, the Cardinals can shut down any running attack in the NFL. What should help this Sunday is that they'll be facing an offense that doesn't spread around its threats too widely - i.e. shut down Hopkins in the passing attack and zero in on Miller in both the pass and run game, and the Cards should be able to keep everything under control.
Challenges for Cardinals: Contain Miller.
Key Matchup: Dansby vs. Miller. Card interior DL vs. Martin, Allen and Giacomini.
WR1 11 Fitzgerald......14 Nelson.....16 C Williams
LT 68 Veldheer........
LG 75 Boone..
C 53 Shipley..........70 Boehm.....79 Tuerk
RT........73 Wetzel..........69 Holden
TE .87 Niklas...........86 Seals-Jones
WR2 .13 Ja Brown......12 Jo Brown.....10 Golden
QB 05 Stanton........07 Gabbert........09 Barkley
RB 23 Peterson.......33 K Williams.....38 Ellington....35 Penny.....37 Foster
TE 84 Gresham ......
RDE.....93 Heath............ 91 Watkins
NT........92 Dunn..............96 Clements
LDE.....98 Reader............97 Blackson
OLB....57 Scarlett...........58 Houston
MLB...41 Cunningham...52 Peters....50 Heeney
MLB...55 McKinney........51 Cole...44 Jenkins
OLB ..90 Clowney...........94 Kamalu
LCB...24 Joseph............40 M Williams..31Decould
RCB...25 K Jackson.......30 K Johnson
FS.....29 Hal...................43 Moore...23 Drummond
SS.....21 Gilchrist...........35 Pleasant
Matchup: Cardinal Passing Attack vs. Houston Pass Defense
Pass rushing talents, JJ Watt and Whitney Merculus are on IR.
With Carson Palmer on IR and his backup Drew Stanton suffering an injury last Sunday, you'd think the, Cards would start #3 QB Blaine Gabbert. But the desert winds are blowing in favor of Stanton starting and Gabbert waiting in the wings (Ed Note - Don't be surprised if BA airs it out early to build enough of an early lead to bring in Gabbert for the final quarter or even the 2H of the game).
The absence of Watt and Mercilus has taken some of the venom from the Texan pass rush - a potential godsend for a banged up Cardinal OL led by LT returnee Jared Veldheer and a group of backups.
Last week the battered OL did a yeoman like job keeping the Seahawks off Stanton. Accoridng to BA, the main problem last week was less a matter of porous pass blocking and more to do with multiple cases of dropsy by Cardinal receivers.
Key Matchups: Jo Brown, Ja Brown or Nelson vs. Griffin....Humphriies vs. Bennett...Gresha vs. Wagner.
Matchup: Cardinal Running Attack vs. Houston Run Defense
The two Texan MLB's (Cunningham and McKinney) lead the Texans in tackles with their FS (Hal) close behind them). Texans have a strong "run-yards gained" vs. "run yds surrendered" ratio. (Note - Although they're not ranked that high as tacklers, their OLB's (Clowney and Scarlett) aren't exactly chopped liver. This may be one of those bizarre contests where BA uses Peterson to set up the pass.
Key Matchups: A Peterson vs Houston's LB's and Hal
K 07 Fairbairn
P 09 Lechler
H 09 Lechler
LS .46 Weeks
KR 22 Todman
PR 14 C Thompson
K 04 Dawson
P 02 Lee
H 02 Lee
LS 49 Drescher
KR 33 K Williams
PR 33 K Williams
Matchup: Houston Special Teams vs. Cardinal Special Teams
Seattle- Lechler's a good punter. Fairborn's two misses were between from 30 - 40 yds (Kind of reminds you of a veteran kicker we know).
Cardinals - Looks like an even matchup - Dawson & Fairbairn; Lee and Lechler; KW and Thompson/TodmanDawson. Elevation of B Baker to safety may weaken us in the coverage game.
Key matchups: None of note.
Houston - HC Bill OBrien...AC/Def Romeo Crennel... DC Mike Vrabel... ST Larry Izzo. Both teams may be struggling with injuries to key players and a case of the "losing record second half blahs."
Cards - HC Bruce Arians. OC Harold Goodwin, DC James Bettcher ST Amos Jones. The "QB Whisperer" has to get production out of his third-stringer, Blaine Gabbert on a banged-up team heading in a sub-.500 direction.
How to Beat Texans
Houston appears to be more "solid" than "explosive." They'll probably try to take our run away and dare Stanton and his receivers to beat them via the pass. Some teams have been successful vs. the Cards by keeping conservative, minimizing mistakes and letting the Cards "beat themselves." Two ways to counter this are: (1) make fewer mistakes or (2) blow the other team out of the water with a lot of home-run stuff.
It's that time of year when the people around non-contending teams resort to filling the interview rooms with platitudes - (i.e. "it ain't over till it's over; one day at a time etc. etc. etc.)
Fighting the blahs is no easy matter. I find it easier to get through the night by treating the second half of the season as not all that different from the first few games of preseason (where you try to uncover a few "diamonds in the rough" and figure out what kind of team you're gonna have.
On paper, we should be able to handle the Texans - which make this game a poster child for a gut-wrenching upset. High hopes/less high expectations. Get 'em!