Thanks again go to Matt of DGDB&D for answering our questions about the Titans. The attitude they have over there isn’t quite the one we strive for here, but Matt still knows a lot about football and the Texans, and I hope you enjoy his answers.
Total Titans:Basic question about the Texans’ offense: just how good do you expect it to be? My general impression is that they’re generally regarded as being among the league’s better ones-they officially ranked 3rd in the NFL last year and Slaton, Johnson, and Daniels are among the top players at their position, but Football Outsiders’ DVOA ratings had them 14th and they ranked 17th in points scored. So, which is it, average or among the best?
DGDB&D: When everything is clicking, the offense can be just this side of the Greatest Show on Turf. Unfortunately, when it’s not clicking (which is generally against 3-4 defenses), it’s really, really anemic. When your offense has Andre Johnson — who, the Cardinals’ playoff run notwithstanding, is markedly better than Larry Fitzgerald and is overall (catching, route running, downfield blocking) the best WR in football — you are never going to be just average. But how far above average they are is questionable. My guess is a top 10 offense, just outside the top 10, simply because the middle of the Texans’ line looks to be an issue.
Total Titans: I caught a little of the opening game against the Jets, and it seemed like the offensive line had trouble both protecting Schaub and creating holes for Slaton (and a not-yet-injured Chris Brown) in the running game. How much of the problem was Kris Jenkins disrupting the middle and Rex Ryan’s creative blitzing out of a 3-4 set, and how do you expect the Texans’ O-line to do against a Titans defensive line that’s solid but missing its most disruptive force from last season in Albert Haynesworth? Will Matt Schaub stand up against the pressure, or will he fold and throw off his back foot like he did last weekend?
DGDB&D: Going back at least the past two seasons, the Texans have looked horrible against aggressive 3-4s. Combine that with my opinion that the Jenkins/Harris/Scott trio is the best middle of a front seven in football and you can see where they’d struggle against the Jets. Against the Titans, I figure the Texans have to be better, but I don’t have any clue if they will really be good. I’m well aware that Tennessee has some highly underrated interior linemen and, seeing Chris Myers and Mike Briesel get smacked around last week has me worried. At best. As for Schaub, if last week is any indication, he’ll stand in, even if it MEANS throwing off his back foot. I think Brown and Winston will do better than last year protecting Matt’s edges, so (again) it comes back to that middle of the line. If there is a God and he doesn’t hate me, Kyle and Kubes will either use more max protect or, if he’s able, will have Matt bootleg a little.
Total Titans: Andre Johnson destroyed the Titans in the teams’ second matchup last season, and it didn’t seem to matter whether it was Finnegan, Harper, or somebody else in coverage on him. Yet, he only had 4 catches for 35 yards in the season opener. How were the Jets so successful in defending against him, and does offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan need to be more creative in finding ways to get him open downfield?
DGDB&D: The Jets’ approach to Andre was basically knocking Matt down before he had time to find anyone. It’s a hard strategy to counter if they do it right. Andre was visibly frustrated a couple times when he was open but Matt got hit before he could find AJ. As for creativity, I was screaming at the television for the Texans to either run a spread and force the LBs to cover a bit, work out of the gun, or run two TEs and let Vonta pick up stragglers so Matt had time. We didn’t try that at all. Sooo…I’m not expecting Baby Shan to be overly creative in his use of Andre. Which is irritating. I think Kyle can be a good O.C., but it seems like he’s worried about being vetoed by Kubiak on a playcall, so Kyle plays it close to the vest most of the time. Annoying at best.
Total Titans:You were very critical of previous defensive coordinator Richard Smith. What’s your early take on new DC Frank Bush? How angry were you when you saw Mario Williams still dropping into coverage at least once, and does the success of a rookie QB like Mark Sanchez on 3rd down concern you?
DGDB&D: I wonder if my hatred of Smith is giving me a rose-colored visor when it comes to Bush, but I’m not hating what I see. He was willing to force Sanchez to beat him, which is what I would hope to see with a complete unknown like Sanchez. Richard Smith would have played his same base D, regardless of the QB, and would have lost just the same. So that’s an improvement. (Right?) I wasn’t too irritated with Mario in coverage the two times I caught it either, simply because Bush was sending Mario after Sanchez so hard on the plays leading up to that, it seemed like Bush was banking on Sanchez assuming Mario was coming and trying to throw behind him. Hell, the gambit almost worked until Mario showed that, despite his superhuman abilities, he still has the hands of a defensive end.
Am I concerned that Sanchez beat them? Yes. Yes, I am. Our secondary s Bad. I’m convinced that Fred Bennett is the only DB who could start for a playoff team. Dunta, in addition to being a selfish ass, was putrid when he came back last year and was putrid on Sunday. Nick Ferguson tackles like I dunk a basketball (hint: not at all). I find myself HOPING for Eugene Wilson, which makes me feel slightly ill. I still have hopes for Molden, though. So I’ve got that going for me.
Total Titans: Beyond Bush’s new scheme, the Texans added some talent to the defense in free agent Antonio Smith and draft picks Brian Cushing and Connor Barwin. What do you think of the new players, and is the defense, particularly the secondary, now talented enough the Texans can make the playoffs in a difficult AFC South?
DGDB&D: Re: the secondary. No, they are not talented. This team could still make the playoffs on the strength of a very good offense and an adequate front seven, but it will be in spite of the secondary.
Re: Defensive additions. Cushing had two good plays on Sunday hidden behind nearly 60 minutes of being blocked, looking scared, or simply being out of position. Not. A. Fan. Barwin, on the other hand, I love. He is way faster than I expected and he absolutely does not quit on a play. Antonio Smith strikes me as the type of guy who is going to irritate the casual fan who holds a lack of sacks against him, but who diehard fans will love because he does stuff — freeing Mario, holding the edge, not being Anthony Weaver — that doesn’t always show up in the boxscore.
So that’s 2 out of 3 on the guys you asked about. According to Meat Loaf, that ain’t bad. But Mr. Loaf doesn’t realize how hard it is to make the playoffs in this division. I’m rambling.
Do I think they will make the playoffs? I’m still saying yes, just because it seems premature to give up on what I thought would be a good season. But would I be surprised if they went 6-10? Not in the least.
Total Titans: Finally, if you’d like to make a prediction about the game, please feel free.
DGDB&D: Prediction: Texans 24, Titans 17. Screw it, I stay optimistic.
Thanks again to Matt for answering our questions.