On Sunday, the Falcons face a Texans outfit that has been flying high so far this season, leading the AFC South with a record of 8-3. In recent times their fortunes have turned for the worse as starting QB Matt Schaub, a former Falcon was placed on IR.
With Schaub out, the Texans offense became significantly weaker as they turned to QB Matt Leinart. As luck would have it, Matt Leinart also went down with a season ending injury in his first start of the 2011 season. With two QBs down the Texans were forced into a desperate situation starting their 3rd string rookie QB TJ Yates out of North Carolina.
Against the Jags, last week TJ Yates did an OK job in relief but it will be interesting to see how he performs in his first start in the NFL against the Falcons. Yates is not very athletic and shouldn’t pose the Falcons and issues running the football, he also has a average arm limiting his ability to get down the field. I would expect most of his throws to be in the short to intermediate areas of the field.
One thing the Texans offense certainly has going for them is their 3rd ranked running game with two explosive backs and their solid zone blocking line. Arian Foster, has been superb since he got his opportunity last season and poses the biggest threat so far to the Falcons dominant run D. Foster also poses a threat out of the backfield catching the ball and will likely be targeted on check downs often against the Falcons given their rookie QB. When Foster needs a break, the Texans bring in Ben Tate (former 2nd round pick from Auburn) who is almost as talented as Foster and continues to beat down defenses as they tire/
Foster has 805 yards on a average of 4.2 ypc and 7 touchdowns. Tate has 712 yards on a average of 5.6 ypc and 3 touchdowns.
The strong run game has been supplemented by Matt Schaub throughout the season, but without Schaub the run game will be under more pressure to perform. Despite the rookie QB in action it should not totally rule out the passing game due to the talent of pass catchers the Texans have. It starts with WR Andre Johnson, who will play but is still recovering from an injury that has kept him out most of the season. With Falcons CB Brent Grimes ruled out through injury expect Andre Johnson to get a lot of targets against either Chris Owens or Dominique Franks.
TE Owen Daniels also is a dominant target over the middle, who will look to into the holes in the Falcons zone defense to give Yates some easier throws. On the year, Daniels has caught 41 balls, for 509 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Defensively for the Texans, they boost the #1 ranked defense in the NFL thanks to the incredible coaching job by DC Wade Phillips converting this defense to a 3-4.
The Texans are also ranked #2 against the pass thanks to their ability to rush the passer. On the year this group has 35, but what is most impressive is these sacks come from all across the defense. Up front DE Antonio Smith has 4.5 sacks and DE JJ Watt also has 4.5. The 3 man line is completed by NT Shaun Cody.
Despite losing their best defensive player OLB Mario Williams earlier in the season their outside rushers Connor Barwin and Brooks Reid have done a sterling job recording 8.5 sacks and 6 sacks respectively. The inside linebacker are also very good, both DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing have had big years and are largely responsible for the Texans 4th ranked run defense.
The backend of the Texans D was frankly pitiful last year but have had a titanic turnaround this year. Firstly thanks in part to the excellent play from their front seven and secondly the introduction of free agent CB Johnathon Joseph has also provided a huge boost to this group.
With Joseph listed as the #1 corner on the depth chart, this has allowed 2nd year man Kareem Jackson to have slightly less pressure on his shoulders opposite him at the other starting corner spot. It also has allowed Glover Quin to make the transition to safety. At the other safety spot FS Daniel Manning has done a nice job providing the last line of the defense.
The Texans on the whole have a very talented team and without any injuries the Texans would likely be favourites. However with a 3rd string QB it gives the Falcons a very good chance of coming away with a positive result.
The Falcons play the Houston Texans at 1ET on Sunday.