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Sunday, September 16, 2007

V/S Texans, Defense / ST

The Texans were efficient running the ball and made plays at opportune times; or, rather, Andre Johnson did. The rest of the cast were solid overall, and did enough to help win. The West Coast Offense under Gary Kubiak is predicated on zone running between the tackles, and getting the open man in space against underneath defenses. These principles match up well against the 3-deep, single gap ideals of the Carolina defense, but they're still stoppable.

Johnson, the only Texans first round pick to excel to this point, made two Pro Bowls and led the NFL in receptions last year; he scored the team's only offensive TD, and adding 7 receptions total for 142 yards. Stopping Andre Johnson is key, and no other Texan comes close to posing the same threat. Johnson isn't a Steve Smith style playmaker, and his yards/catch average back that ideal - Johnson also has never had more than 6 TDs in a season. Nonetheless, Ken Lucas draws a very tough assignment this week, and must limit mistakes. Expect a little help from Deke Cooper.

On the other side, starter Kevin Walter only caught one ball this week; RB Ahman Green (4 rec) and 3rd WR Jacoby Jones (2 rec, 33 yd) outplayed him. Walter has size, but lacks suddenness and has never made plays; his experience is all he has going for him, with Jones a raw rookie and and Andre Davis inactive last week. Jones is very fast, and can be a deep threat; he's an athletic wonder that will settle into a 3rd WR role but may start until the Texans develop another compliment to Johnson. Green is a solid outlet receiver that may see a lot of screen action this week; Owen Daniels is a developing receiving outlet at TE, but not a big threat. 2nd TE Mark Bruener isn't a guy to worry about unless he's left open at the goal.

The Texans' running attack obviously resembles the Broncos', but with less speed at tailback and less talent on the OL. Green, slowed from his Green Bay days, is still adept in short space, but doesn't carry the full load anymore; the Texans trot out last year's leading rusher, the marginally effective Ron Dayne, for almost as many carries despite being the lesser back. Both are between-the-tackles, and aren't going to outrun anyone. Green showed some burst, gaining 4.6 a carry, but Dayne rattled off barely half that.

UP front, the old Texans issue of offensive line issues stand true still; left tackle Ephraim Salaam pitched in 7.5 sacks last year on an offense predicated on quick throws. At this point, it's unsure as to whether Mike Rucker will be 100% (hamstring), and Stanley McClover is battling injury as well. Charles Johnson and Otis Grigsby may be platooning here, which may not be a great matchup for Carolina against a Texan weakness. On the other side, Eric Winston is a very light tackle with weight and strength issues (and, to boot, is backed by fellow former Miami alum Rashad Butler, a Carolina bust who had strength issues) with very good footwork but lacking in power to anchor and stop inside moves; Julius Peppers may be making a lot more power moves this week, or may move left while other, less agile but powerful ends work Winston on passing downs pushing the pocket. Expect a lot of chipping and help against Peppers, and after last week's early success doubling Peppers on the outside run, expect to see Bruener out there sealing contain.

Chester Pitts, former tackle, is a large guard that comes off the snap a bit slow but engages well. Pitts faces Kris Jenkins this week, who'll look to get his outside shoulder and penetrate; Jenkins may want to stay at home at times - Pitts gave up 4.5 sacks last year but is a solid run blocker. Vacating a gap may cost the team . Undersized original Texan Steve McKinney sits in the pivot, and is solid at getting to the second level. Dan Morgan must do well getting past these blocks, and stretch plays will require pursuing defenders to be wary of McKinney's cuts. Fred Weary rounds out the interior trio, a group that's been together since 2002 (Weary and Pitts were draft picks of that year), but only has 32 games' worth of starting experience in that time. Weary has solid control with his hands and does well getting into his man, and Maake Kemoeatu needs to show some power this week. Backup DT Damione Lewis had a solid week last week rushing.

The Panthers need gap integrity this week, and winning individual battles on defense. Getting the Texans off the field will keep them from feeding Green, which will lead to playaction back to Johnson.

Jones and fellow return man Jerome Hampton are each dangerouns, and in light of the moves Dante Hall put on Carolina, the coverage units need to be prepared. Punter Matt Turk, now in year 11, is still putting together solid seasons, and still gets a lot of air under the football. Kicker Kris Brown is a solid midrange option, and does well enough on kickoffs.
Anything out of Ryne Robinson would be an improvement in the return game, and the Panthers may consider returning to Nick Goings at KR if Robinson can't hit seams. The team also still appears to be tinkering with wedge style returns and second level blockers, which isn't adding any cohesiveness.
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