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Avoiding early sacks key for Texans offense

             How often did Texans quarterback David
                 Carr get sacked in his inaugural NFL season? About as often
             as you saw the Coors' beer commercial with "the twins."
             It's no secret that Carr broke the NFL single-season record by
             getting sacked 76 times last season; everyone from sports radio
             broadcasters to fantasy football "gurus" have made note of


The Texans hope that Carr can stay this pressure-free in the pocket during game days.

While the media generally make light of last year's sack total, it is no laughing matter to the Texans.

"If we can limit the sack, that's the one big thing," Carr said. "I want to get the ball out of my hands as fast as possible because that gives your offensive line confidence."

As important as lowering the sack total is, the Texans need to focus even more energy on preventing early sacks. Nothing spells out turnover, punt or a three-and-out series quite like a sack in the first two downs. Last season, that proved to be the Texans' Achilles heel.

In Carr's first year, 47 of the 76 times (62 percent) that he was sacked came on first or second down. Although that average is fairly consistent with the rest of the NFL, the quantity of sacks that the Texans allowed made the impact of the sacks much more noticeable.

As a result, the Texans offense consistently found themselves in second-and-long and third-and-long scenarios. Besides halting any momentum that the Texans had gained, those long-distance situations also limited the variety of plays that Texans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer could call.

With little threat of the Texans running, opposing teams would drop more players out of the box and into coverage, send a full-on blitz, or a combination of the two.

Under such circumstances, it's no surprise that Carr threw eight of his 15 interceptions on second and third downs with over seven yards to the first-down marker. In total, Carr completed just 47 percent of his third-down passes compared to 60 percent of his first-down passes.

However, when the Texans offense made steady yardage gains on their first two downs, Carr's numbers dramatically improved. In second-down situations with less than eight yards to a first down, Carr passed for three touchdowns without an interception. On third-and-short situations, Carr passed for two touchdowns and no interceptions.

The possibility of running or passing keeps the opposing defenses honest; they can't cheat toward a pass on third-and-three like they could on third-and-nine. The small mental edge that a few yards provide an offense can be the difference between a quarterback sack and a touchdown pass, or converting a third down and being stuffed at the line of scrimmage.

While critics like to place most of the blame for the sack record on the Texans offensive line, the onus ultimately falls upon each member of the offense to play their specific role and improve their first-down production.

The offensive line needs to focus on holding their blocks; the wide receivers need to run crisp routes; the running backs need to pick up blitzes; and the quarterback has to get rid of the ball as soon as possible.

If the Texans can stop the first-down defensive onslaught they faced last season, it will open up a lot more opportunities for them to succeed in 2003. When all is said and done, they could be the ones with the last laugh.

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