Ugly. That’s the only way to describe last week’s loss to the Chicago Bears. Well, I could use many other words, but then I wouldn’t be published again. So for now, we’ll stick with ugly. The Eagles came out like they expected to be handed the win and they paid dearly for it. The loss of Asante Samuel certainly didn’t help but that doesn’t explain why the rest of the defense was so horrid. But, it’s time to put that game in the rear-view mirror and focus on the Houston Texans, who are coming to town for Thursday Night Football.
The Houston Texans come to Philly with a record of 5-6 and they are a very baffling team. One week they look fantastic and the next they look awful. They have a very potent offense and a very weak defense. As always, I’m here to bring you the position by position breakdown.
The Houston offensive line has given up a middle-of-the -road 24 sacks and a fairly poor 55 quarterback hits. The Eagles defensive line looked fantastic at times against Chicago, but faded away when the game truly mattered and as a result they allowed Jay Cutler to look like an All-Pro player and they let Matt Forte carve them to bits. The Texans’ offensive line is protecting a far superior quarterback in Matt Schaub and running back in Arian Foster. Their line let up 2 sacks last week when facing the Tennessee Titans, but they also allowed the Titans to hit Schaub a further 8 times and allowed 4 tackles for a loss. The Eagles’ defensive front has improved dramatically since Antonio Dixon has been starting and I think they will get after Schaub early and often, especially following the poor outing against Chicago. Pride will kick in.
Behind the offensive line, the Texans’ rushing attack is led by Arian Foster, who leads the league in rushing with 1,147 yards and touchdowns with 12 on the ground. He’s also added 453 yards through the air and has scored a touchdown through catching the ball. The Eagles’ defense had been stout against the run until last week when they allowed the Bears to rush for 131 yards with Matt Forte gaining 117 of them. Arian Foster is a far more physical back than Forte and if the Eagles show the same poor tackling form this week as they did against Chicago, they are going to get killed against Houston. They are facing one of, if not the best, running backs this season, so I have to give the edge to Houston on paper.
John Dreessen and Owen Daniels head the Texans tight end threats. Daniels is the true starter, but Dreessen has had a solid past few weeks. The Eagles only allowed the Bears’ tight ends two catches last week, and I dare say that their issue covering them might be coming to an end. Both Dreessen and Daniels have had pedestrian seasons, but I will not be surprised to see Schaub target one of them often and I think the Eagles will be bringing the pressure from the get go.
At wide receiver, the Texans have a true weapon in Andre Johnson. He has a very rare and very dangerous combination of speed, power, route running ability, and great hands. The fact is that from a quality standpoint he is easily the best receiver in the league. Opposite of Johnson, the Texans have Kevin Walter, who is a very capable number 2 guy. Behind them is Jacoby Jones, another solid weapon. All three of these guys pose a huge threat to the Eagles secondary (which was, in a word, embarrassed last week against Chicago). This is a match-up that terrifies me because Johnson is a more physical receiver, and is the type of receiver that the Eagles struggle against. The Eagles secondary desperately missed Asante Samuel last week, and with or without him they need to respond. However, I expect some of Houston’s receivers to have big games against the Eagles fairly weak secondary- and not necessarily Johnson, who will surely be doubled all day.
Throwing the ball around for Houston will be Matt Schaub, a quarterback whom I have a lot of respect for. His numbers are down from last season’s, but he is still among the upper tier of quarterbacks in the league. He is a pure pocket passer so it’s nice to know that (in theory) the Eagles won’t be chasing him all over the field. For the season, he has thrown for 2,752 yards, 15 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. His numbers are down in part due to Andre Johnson being hindered by an ankle injury for a good portion of the season and an offensive line that hasn’t done a grand job of keeping him upright against the better pass rushers of the league. It is that final point that makes me like the match-up this week for the Eagles. This can’t be shown in a statistical way, but this Eagles defense has something to prove now. They’re angry. They’re ashamed. I think the defense will come out with their fist clenched and swinging (see Andre Johnson for visual inspiration) and will get after Schaub a lot.
Flipping over to the Eagles’ side, the offensive line was very poor against Chicago. When I watched the game again, I saw one guy playing well and that was Jason Peters. Todd Herremans is playing at an okay level and the same goes for Mike McGlynn. Nick Cole has no business being a starter and as such his poor play is bringing down Winston Justice, who is forced to do more than he should. All in all, the line is playing poorly. Luckily for them they are facing a very poor Houston defense that has only mustered 18 sacks for the season. Their defense is led by former number one overall pick Mario Williams, who has 8.5 sacks for the season. Williams is an absolute monster and the definition of a complete defensive end. He can move around on the line and I’d expect the Texans to do just that to force him to match-up with the Eagles’ right side of the line. However, the rest of the team struggles overall, which will allow the Eagles to double Williams throughout the game.
LeSean McCoy continues his very successful season and is quickly becoming one of the better all-around backs in the league. The best play from him against the Bears was something that will never show up on paper, but he had a huge block to Brian Urlacher. He read the blitz perfectly and got in the way of one of the better middle linebackers in the league and neutralized him. However, McCoy faces another tough test this week as the Texans do a very good job of shutting the run down. Well, sort of. You see, this is where statistics become misleading. The Texans are ranked 8th in the league in defending the run by only allowing 100.2 yards per game to rushers. However, they also can’t defend the pass to save their lives and opposing teams know this and throw the ball far more often than they run it. I expect the Eagles to take a similar approach because, let’s be honest, no one likes to pass as much as Andy Reid. McCoy will have some good quality plays, but his numbers will likely not be all that impressive.
Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve had a Brent Celek sighting! He hauled in 3 passes for 50 yards and one touchdown for 30 yards. He was also open several times with Vick missing him high or low. It is nice to know that he hasn’t completely faded into obscurity. However, I can’t imagine him building on that performance much against the Texans. The fact is that Celek’s style of play does not mesh with Vick’s. What Vick needs is a tight end in the style of Antonio Gates. I know, that type of player is rare. For now Celek will have to do, and as it is, I expect more of the same from him. I expect him to be used primarily as an extra blocker and to catch a pass or two throughout the day, as Vick will be targeting his wide receivers a lot.
Why will he be targeting his wide receivers a lot? It’s simple, really. The Texans have what might be one of the worst secondaries of all time. They are allowing 286.2 passing yards per game and those numbers were greatly helped last week after the offensively inept Titans went to visit the them. This secondary will be gashed mercilessly by a receiving core that features a player who was humiliated in front of his teammates last week, DeSean Jackson. You know the story by now, with Reid calling Jackson out in the post game locker room and Jackson not taking it well. Jackson is a very proud man and I think we are going to see a player so incredibly focused on Thursday night. I love this match-up, and how can you not? The Texans’ pass defense is so bad that I could throw for 300 yards on them, and trust me when I tell you that throwing a football is not one of my strengths.
It is, however, one of Michael Vick’s strengths. Vick put together a decent game against the Bears, passing for 333 yards, 2 touchdowns, and an interception. Those numbers are nice, but he missed a lot of plays and seemed hesitant to run at times, which is odd. Luckily, he is facing a defense that struggles to get after quarterbacks and can’t defend an elite passing game. This is a perfect opponent for Vick to face after a rough outing. What he needs right now is a game to get back into the rhythm that he found a few weeks ago. There is no better team to do that against than the Houston Texans. Another thing that helps him is that the Texans have only picked off a total of 9 passes all season, whereas Vick has thrown only 1 all season. Of course, that one did come against Chicago and it ended up being the play that turned the game in favor of the Bears, but it wasn’t all his fault. I think he will come out firing early and get hot from the start this week.
On special teams, I think it’s becoming clear that the Eagles need to start keeping some special teams aces around. They allowed the Bears’ return men to run wild throughout the day and it’s a miracle that they didn’t take one to the house. The Texans’ return teams are not particularly powerful and their coverage teams are average. In other words this particular match-up is a complete draw.
Andy Reid made some very questionable calls this past week. All week we will debate about kicking field goals rather than going for touchdowns towards the end of the game. However, this is when Reid shines. When his team has been embarrassed, he can come up with a game plan and get his guys motivated to play to their potential. I’m generally a fan of the Texan’s coach Gary Kubiak. I think he’s doing good things in Houston and he has put together one of the better offenses in the league. However, I like Reid in this current situation.
HOW I SEE IT:
The Eagles don’t do well with being shown up on national television. They don’t deal well with embarrassment. This team is furious. That will lead to a long day for the Texans. The Texans have been awful in their past few road games and I think that that combined with a short week, gives the Eagles an edge. The Eagles now have something to prove and they will do it on Thursday Night Football. I like the Eagles to win a great quality game and beat up on the Texans throughout the night.