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Struggles in red zone come back to bite Texans

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Recent posts by Arthur Arkush

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Posted Sept. 26, 2011 @ 6:15 p.m. ET
By Arthur Arkush

The Texans were served a slice of humble pie at the Superdome on Sunday, with Saints QB Drew Brees outdueling Texans QB Matt Schaub in an exhilarating 40-33 Saints victory. It was without question the stiffest test the Texans have faced on the young season, and they likely would have pulled off the upset if it weren't for a poor fourth quarter defensively and the continuation of a disturbing trend: Houston's inability to come away with touchdowns in the red zone.

The PFW Spin

Houston, the NFL's top-ranked defense heading into Week Three, probably won't be the last good unit to have 40 hung on it by New Orleans this season. The Texans' pass rush couldn't get to QB Drew Brees fast enough, and the Pro Bowl QB made them pay with three second-half TD tosses, including two in the fourth quarter. If the Texans play this poorly defensively against the Steelers next weekend, we will be a bit more concerned. For now, we'll chalk it up to Brees being Brees.

The Texans' red-zone offense, on the other hand, doesn't get a pass. After finishing the 2010 season ranked fifth overall in red-zone efficiency, Houston is 30th in the league (five TDs in 16 trips) in that department through three weeks.

Simply put: QB Matt Schaub, who has been efficient the first three weeks, posting a 101.9 passer rating, needs to be even better inside the opponent's 20 (3-of-8 for 18 yards on Sunday). That Schaub made more of an effort to get TE Owen Daniels involved — the tight end was targeted nine times, grabbing five receptions for 76 yards, including Houston's first score, a 14-yard TD catch — is encouraging. But the Texans QB missed several throws, and the offense sputtered virtually every time it reached the red zone (only one touchdown in five trips).

Schaub's overall numbers were outstanding on Sunday. He completed 22-of-39 for 373 yards, three TDs and one pick. But they were also somewhat misleading. The Texans' final score, a 20-yard Kevin Walter catch-and-run, was a total fluke. With pressure bearing down, Schaub dumped off to his tight end, Joel Dreesen, who was blanketed by Saints LB Jonathan Casillas. Casillas missed an easy interception, instead deflecting the ball into the hands of Walter, who trotted in for the score. A heads-up play by Walter, no question, but a gift nonetheless.

As good as RB Ben Tate has been, the Texans miss starter Arian Foster, the NFL leader in TDs a season ago. Foster is simply a better receiver and overall red-zone weapon than Tate right now. But he continues to nurse a nagging hamstring injury, and the Texans need answers now. They were virtually unstoppable in the first half on Sunday, easily covering 80 yards of the Superdome turf. But their shortcomings within the other 20 cost them an opportunity to make the bold statement that they have "arrived." Instead, questions remain heading into a monster Week Four matchup against Pittsburgh, whose defense prides itself on keeping its opponents out of the endzone.

For better or worse, NFL QBs receive accolades when things are going right and the brunt of criticism when they're not. The Texans' red-zone offense is a major problem, and Schaub needs to be at the forefront in finding a solution.

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