Well the Titans victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers last night was one nobody saw coming. Here's a look at a game even more difficult to call.
The Texans’ boast arguably one of the league’s most uncompromising defenses, spearheaded by the fearsome J.J Watt, a six foot five, 295 pound monster , who following Monday night’s 24 – 17 win over Rex Ryan’s struggling Jet’s, has now amassed an impressive 8.5 sacks.
Although, a defense that’s allowed only 14.6 points per game, and a total of 275.6 yards per game will have to do without the services of Linebacker Brian Cushing, who’s season was abruptly cut short following the results of an MRI Scan, which revealed a torn anterior cruciate ligament damage, brought about by a downfield cut block administered by Jets Guard Matt Slauson. Although when quoted in USA Today Cushing, showing no real recollection of what happened, said somewhat philosophically ‘I got cut on a run play. It happens. I was just keeping my head up…It’s football. It’s part of the game’
Cushing has 29 tackles, a forced fumble, and been lauded by defensive coordinator Wade Phillips as the most important member of the Texans defence, despite the highly acclaimed performances of Watt. Time will tell just how important…..
On the other side of the ball, Houston appear equally dangerous, as Quarterback Matt Schaub, so often touted as elite, is starting to show the kind of form that has prompted such assertion by throwing for 1,162 – yards, 8 touchdowns, and only 2 interceptions, all of which contributing to a completion percentage of 63.8 and a Quarterback rating of 99.2. However, it must be noted that Schaub’s performances despite being integral, are not solely responsible for the Texans meteoric rise of late, as a sound running game, courtesy of Arian Foster’s 532 yards on 132 carries, resulting in 5 touchdowns, has given, along with Andre Johnson and Ben Tate, Houston a varied and balanced offense that could take them all the way to the promise land come February.
All very impressive, but before we begin to crown their coronation as Superbowl champions elect, let alone AFC representatives, the Texans have yet to beat a team above .500, as they’ve only achieved unbeaten status by defeating the likes Miami (2 – 3), Jacksonville (1 - 4), Denver (2 - 3), Tennessee (1 – 4) and recently New York, who before Monday night were 2 – 2, but now sit at 2 – 3 following defeat to Gary Kubiak’s men. We’ll know more about their championship credentials come full time on Sunday, as despite hosting another team with a losing record, Mike McCarthy’s Green Bay Packers are likely to provide the sternest examination to date of Houston’s metal.
Though things in ‘Title town’ look decidedly bleak, as the current side appear a pale imitation of last year’s run away juggernaut that ran up a 15 – 1 record and 560 points on total offence, the Packers still boast a Quarterback in last season’s MVP, Aaron Rodgers, who’s still completed 129 of 188 passes for a completion percentage of 68.6%, and in the process throwing 10 touchdown. All of which, contributing to a healthy 96.9 Quarterback rating. This however, is where the weather changes, and the skyline begins to take on a rather blackened look, as Rodgers offensive line looks porous at best, and has been a majorly contributing factor in 21 sacks and no Packers receiver racking up more than 100 – yards, Jordy Nelson being the stand out receiver with 23 catches, tied 25th in the league.
One can point to the absence of Greg Jennings (12 catches for 78 – yards and 1 touchdown), Cedric Benson (71 of 111 carries), out through groin and knee injuries respectively, and the grave injustice suffered in Seattle, but to surrender a 21 – 3 lead to a rookie Quarterback, albeit one playing at home, is deeply alarming. Something not lost on Coach Mike McCarty who told USA Today “My football team is not playing the way we’re capable of playing”. I feel like we underachieved, to be frank. And that starts with me”.
Verdict: Either way, even if Green Bay put a spanner in the Texan works, they’ll still only be .500, and three games behind, if Minnesota win in the capital, and Chicago etch another win in the win column following their bye week. Much to ponder for both sides, for very different reasons…
All in all, despite one team boasting a perfect record and the other anything but, this will be hotly contested clash that will be a lot closer than some may anticipate. Too close to call.
image: © silwenae