|Texans (2-2) vs. Cardinals (1-2)
3:15 p.m. Sunday, University of Phoenix Stadium
TV: KHOU-11| RADIO: 610-AM, 100.3 FM, 1010 AM
The Texans are ranked 16th (332.2 yards) in offense, including ninth (249.3) in passing. The Cardinals are ranked 20th in defense (360), including 30th (280.3) against the pass. Based on statistics, quarterback Matt Schaub and his receivers could have a big day. Schaub has completed 62 percent with eight touchdowns and three interceptions. His rating is 98.6. He’s been sacked eight times, including four in the last game against the Raiders. Half of the sacks have been Schaub’s fault because he’s held the ball too long or he’s run out of bounds.
Andre Johnson (20 catches, 336 yards, two touchdowns) will be covered a lot by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the Cardinals’ 6-2 corner who was a first-round pick. Bryant McFadden, who started for Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl before signing with the Cardinals, is the other corner. He’ll spend a lot of time on Kevin Walter (8/137/1). Tight end Owen Daniels (17/202/2) could give the Cardinals fits on the crossing routes. Strong safety Adrian Wilson, who is 6-3, 226, doesn’t have the speed to cover Daniels by himself. Expect the Cardinals to get pressure on Schaub. They have eight sacks in three games compared to the Texans’ four in four games. Eight players have at least one-half sack, which means new defensive coordinator Bill Davis is sending players from all angles. Steve Slaton better be good on blitz pickup.
The running game is the Texans’ biggest frustration on offense through four games. They rank 30th (80.3 yards). The Cardinals are sixth (79.7) against the run. The Texans average 3.2 yards a carry. The Cardinals allow 3.1. Steve Slaton (59 carries, 192 yards, 1 touchdown) gets 3.3 yards a carry.
Coach Gary Kubiak insists they will be able to run against eight-man fronts. Their best runs have been against the opponents’ nickel defense. They have to be able to run when fullback Vonta Leach is leading Slaton, but so far it hasn’t happened the way the coaches want. They ran 25 times in the second half of the Oakland game to get a lot of carries to evaluate. Kubiak said he didn’t like what he saw. Ryan Moats, who came off the bench for 15 carries and 56 yards against the Raiders, seemed to breath some life into the running game. Chris Brown (19 for 59) figures into the equation, too. He’s still the short-yardage and goal-line back. Kubiak said after practice Wednesday that Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett is the best player he’s seen on tape this season. Dockett is the most active lineman in their three-man front. Karlos Dansby (23 tackles) and Gerald Hayes (20) are the inside linebackers who lead the team in tackles.
After going against Oakland quarterback JaMarcus Russell, the Texans are playing against Kurt Warner. Quite a difference. The Texans rank 25th (368.8 yards) in defense, including ninth (203.8) against the pass. The Cardinals rank 15th (335) in offense, including fourth (274.3) in passing. In other words, the front seven better get some pressure on Warner, and the secondary must produce better than any game this season.
The Texans have only four sacks, two by Mario Williams, one by Amobi Okoye and a team sack. Even though defensive coordinator Frank Bush has called a lot of blitzes, they still can’t get the quarterback. They disrupted Oakland’s passing game by getting pressure on Russell. Warner has been sacked seven times. Expect defensive end Antonio Smith to have his best game because he’s playing against his former teammates and coming off his best game of the season. Because the Cardinals use multiple receivers, including three – Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston – who had 1,000-yard seasons, the Texans will play multiple cornerbacks. Jacques Reeves will play for the first time. Rookies Glover Quin and Brice McCain will be tested more severely than any time this season. Dunta Robinson has finally rounded into form and is coming off his best game.
The Texans went from 32nd to 29th after allowing 45 yards rushing against Oakland. They’re still giving up 165 yards a game. They’re going against an offense that ranks 31st (60.7) in rushing. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said the Cardinals can’t fall behind and be forced to abandon the run as they did against Indianapolis. That’s not likely to happen against the Texans.
Tim Hightower, a second-year running back, is the starter. He has 32 carries for 109 yards and a touchdown. He’s most effective around the goal line. The Cardinals wouldn’t have drafted Ohio State’s Beanie Wells in the first round if they didn’t plan to improve the running game. Wells has 18 carries for 71 yards. He’s had fumble issues. Wells is big and fast and gives them a home-run hitter if they want to emphasize the run, which isn’t likely considering how impressive their passing game is.
Against the Raiders, the Texans played disciplined defense for the first time from start to finish. Players played their responsibilities. They didn’t lose gap control. They did a better job of tackling, especially in the secondary. Outside linebacker Brian Cushing, who was ill with the flu this week, leads the team with 33 tackles. He and DeMeco Ryans are tied with 19 unassisted tackles each. Mario Williams ranks third on the team with 18 tackles, including 16 unassisted.
As usual, special teams coordinator Joe Marciano has his unit playing exceptionally well. When they’re good, they’re taken for granted. They’re hardly noticed unless they make a mistake or a big play like Jacoby Jones’ 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Oakland. The only bad play against the Raiders was the usually reliable Kris Brown missing a 33-yard field goal. Jones, who also fumbled a punt, averages 29.6 yards on kickoffs and 8.7 on punts. The coverage teams have been outstanding. They’re allowing 18.5 yards on kickoff returns and 5 yards on punt returns. Brown is five-of-six on field goals. Punter Matt Turk has 43.3-yard gross and a 39.2-yard net averages. He has five inside the 20, including one at the 1 against the Raiders.
The Cardinals have a veteran kicker in Neil Rackers, who also is five-of-six on field goals. Punter Ben Graham is off to a superb start. His gross average is 50.3 yards, and his net is 42.1. He’s got five inside the 20. He also has three touchbacks compared to Turk’s two. Antrel Rolle averages 9.2 yards on punt returns. LaRod Stephens-Howling averages 21.2 yards on kickoff returns. The Cardinals’ coverage teams have done well. They allow 7.8 yards on punt coverage and 20.9 on kickoff coverage.
The Texans have finished 3-1 against the NFC in each of the last two seasons. Arizona is their first NFC opponent this season. The Texans are 1-0 on the road. They have a chance to be 2-0 for the first time in team history. Playing a lot better on the road was one of coach Gary Kubiak’s goals entering training camp. When it comes to injuries, the Texans are in better shape than most. They have been bothered by illness, primarily the flu, but unless someone reports for the plane trip to Arizona with flu-like symptoms, they shouldn’t be missing any players for the game that will be played at University of Phoenix Stadium, which has a retractable roof. Frank Bush’s defense made dramatic improvement against the Raiders, specifically against the run. Kyle Shanahan’s offense was terrific in the first half against the Raiders and terrible in the second. Kubiak and Shanahan have to find a way for the offense to be more productive in the second half than it has been in the last two games.
Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt, a former offensive coordinator, led the Cardinals to the Super Bowl in his second season. He has one more regular-season victory than Kubiak over the last two seasons, but the Cardinals parlayed their 9-7 record last season and NFC West title into a dramatic run that produced their first Super Bowl appearance. Whisenhunt, a former NFL tight end, would like to get more balance in his offense. Through three games, it’s too tilted toward the pass.