AFC South Spin cycle: Schaub bails out Texans

Posted Nov. 19, 2012 @ 2:11 p.m.
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The Texans’ defense finally laid an egg, but one of the most prolific QB performances in NFL history by Matt Schaub bailed out Houston, which survived the lowly Jaguars in an overtime shootout to improve to 9-1. Meanwhile, the Colts’ four-game winning streak came to a halt, as Indianapolis was served a huge helping of humble pie by the mighty Patriots.

TEXANS

What we learned: There are no easy outs in this league, and the Texans, despite laying an absolute egg defensively, survived the Jaguars to earn their first sweep of a division opponent this season. Houston’s secondary, in particular, played poorly, with rare gaffes in coverage and a usually stellar tackling group whiffing on too many, leading to a career days for Jaguars backup QB Chad Henne and rookie WR Justin Blackmon. But no player on the field was as magnificent as Texans QB Matt Schaub, who bailed out the defense, putting forth the second-most prolific passing performance in NFL history. Schaub tossed a pair of interceptions — one in the fourth quarter and one in overtime — but he was nearly perfect otherwise, with WR Andre Johnson (14-273-1 receiving) the biggest beneficiary.

What’s in store next: The Texans must quickly put what they hope is a defensive aberration behind them, turning their attention to a Thanksgiving game in Detroit, where the Lions have far superior weapons to Jacksonville in the passing game to challenge Houston. The Lions lost another heartbreaker, a 24-20 defeat to the Packers that, for all intents and purposes, ended Detroit’s faint playoff hopes. Yet, they should be amped up to play on Thanksgiving, and their formidable defensive front, led by Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, is starting to wreak havoc on a consistent basis. With Calvin Johnson catching fire over the past three weeks and Detroit boasting an above-average run defense, the Texans will have plenty to account for on a short week.

What the heck? Costly penalties nearly sunk the Texans in a game no one expected to be close. With five seconds left in regulation at the Jaguars' 24, Texans PK Shayne Graham lined up for a potential game-winning field goal from 42 yards out. Yet, apparent miscommunication between LS Jonathan Weeks and ORG Antoine Caldwell led to a false start, and Graham missed from 47 yards, sending the game to overtime. Then, on Jacksonville’s second offensive play in overtime, Texans DE Antonio Smith was flagged for unnecessary roughness, turning a 3rd-and-6 into a first down for Jacksonville. The Texans would get the ball back after holding Jacksonville to a field goal, but not before three tipped passes at the line were needed to bail out Smith for his blunder.

COLTS

What we learned: The Colts are one of league’s surprises this season, but they were completely outclassed in Foxborough by the NFL’s best offense and one of its most opportunistic defenses. Rookie QB Andrew Luck continues to be a shadow of himself away from Lucas Oil Stadium, with four more turnovers Sunday increasing his total on the season to 17 (14 of them have come on the road). The Colts barely got close enough to touch Patriots QB Tom Brady — let alone sack him — and that is a consistent way to get beaten by New England. The Colts actually gained two more yards than the Pats, but they aren’t good enough to overcome Luck’s myriad mistakes, particularly on the road.

What’s in store next: Indianapolis will play host to the Bills, who should be well rested after their defense showed its teeth last Thursday night in a 19-14 victory over the Dolphins. That the Colts’ defense struggled in New England isn’t a surprise, nor was Luck’s continued turnover issues on the road. But an area where the Colts disappointingly fell short was on special teams, where Patriots RS Julian Edelman returned one punt 68 yards to the house and nearly did it again on a 49-yarder. Buffalo has arguably the league’s most explosive punt returner in Leodis McKelvin, who was responsible for his club’s sole TD, a 79-yarder on a punt return, against Miami. The Colts’ special teams have been much-improved under the new regime this season, but you better believe extra attention will be paid this week after multiple breakdowns against New England.

What the heck? What is it about going on the road that has rattled Luck, who is so unflappable in the confines of Lucas Oil Stadium? One observation is that Luck has been more inclined to force the issue on the road, as he did on a pair of pick-sixes by the Patriots. What can interim head coach Bruce Arians do during practice to simulate the road atmosphere for Luck? Not sure, but this is another area the Colts will undoubtedly spend a lot of time down the stretch, as several hostile environments still loom on the Colts’ schedule, beginning with a visit to Ford Field in Detroit in Week 13.

JAGUARS

What we learned: The same group of linemen and receivers that have allegedly held back Blaine Gabbert this season helped backup QB Chad Henne throw for 354 yards and four TDs against a fierce Houston defense, thus it appears to be time to give Henne a chance. Head coach Mike Mularkey is in no rush to make a decision under center, but it is clear what the right choice should be. Unfortunately, who is under center won’t matter if the Jacksonville defense continues its horrendous play, after it surrendered a franchise-worst 640 total yards to Houston. CB Derek Cox couldn’t cover Andre Johnson. The Jaguars’ safeties and linebackers had no answers for the Texans’ tight ends. Aside from the heroic efforts of C.J. Mosley and Paul Posluszny, the entire defense was dreadful.

What’s in store next: The Jaguars return to their house of horrors, EverBank Field, where they have been outscored 153-44 in five losses. Jacksonville this week plays host to the Titans, in a battle to find out who has the most pride at the bottom of the AFC South. Tennessee was on its bye last week, though it undoubtedly took notice of the opportunities that should present themselves in the middle of the field against the Jacksonville defense. That could mean big days are ahead for Titans rookie WR Kendall Wright and TE Jared Cook, both of whom should get a lift from an even healthier Jake Locker.

What the heck? For the second week in a row, Mularkey’s attempt to be bold wound up looking foolish. Facing a 4th-and-10 on his second possession in overtime at the Houston 47-yard line, Mularkey elected to go for it, rather than using his third-round “field-position weapon” Bryan Anger to try and pin the Texans deep and make them march down the field for a possible game-winning field goal. Mularkey put the game in the hands of backup QB Chad Henne, who, despite playing well given the circumstances, had misfired on 10 of his previous 12 attempts since connecting with Blackmon on an 81-yard scoring strike early in the fourth quarter. Henne predictably overthrew Blackmon over the middle, and Mularkey wasted a great effort from his team in a battle of David vs. Goliath.

TITANS

On bye.