EDITOR'S NOTE:Texans fan Alan J. Burge will be writing a "Voice of the Fan" column throughout the 2004 season. His latest installment is below. Alan's views do not necessarily reflect the views of the organization.
The new season
A new season starts on Sunday.
Coach Capers likes to divvy up the season into fourths but with this year's schedule I'm looking at it a little differently. Yes every game has counted up to this point but a team's performance in division games typically defines the team's season. On Sunday the Texans begin a stretch where three out of the next four games are division games, hence the message that a new season is upon us.
The Texans enter Week 6 with a 2-3 record, which is pretty much on-track as far as most sane prognosticators are concerned. But they are faced once again with what I like to call a crossroads game, just like a few weeks ago in Kansas City where the Texans were flirting with a 0-3 record to start the season. A loss at Arrowhead could have crippled the psyche of this team especially when preseason expectations of 8-8 were not out of the question.
This is a crossroads game because the Texans will either be 3-3 or 2-4 heading into their bye week. A 2-4 record means that the Texans will have to put together another two-game win streak and beat Jacksonville and Denver just to crawl back to .500 by Week 9.
This is also a crossroads game because the Texans are 2-10 in division games in their brief two-year history and they have never won a game vs. Bud or Peyton. It's time for the Texans to establish themselves in this division. Yeah, they've played the Colts and Titans tough a couple times but I could care less about that right now and I'm sure the coaching staff and players find no solace in that fact.
From reading media reports this week, the players are getting tired of "competing" and want to make a statement against the perennial division powers. I agree with them wholeheartedly. Texans center Steve McKinney reiterated the importance of Sunday's game at the Touchdown Club luncheon held Tuesday at the J.W. Marriott in Houston. "Some of the newer guys on the team don't understand," McKinney told the noontime crowd, "but I know how important this game is to Houston fans and we're going to get after them."
Can the Texans go into Nashville and realistically expect to win? Sure they can. This is probably the best chance to steal a win in Music City that the Texans have had in their three years of existence. But the Titans are coming off a huge win at Lambeau on Monday night and they will be sky high, trying to reach the .500 mark themselves after a disappointing 1-3 start.
The Titans are not the same team they were in 2003 or 2002 but they are still very good. They are not as deep as they have been in past years and they have been affected by injuries, but as long as Steve McNair is under center, it's never going to be easy to beat them especially at their place. Plus, the Titans seem to have reinvented themselves on offense this season with Chris Brown giving the Titans a bona fide speed/power threat out of the backfield for first time in recent memory.
The Texans have been their own worst enemy so far this season. First it was the turnovers, then the slow starts, then a defense that's been nothing short of terrible in past weeks. Despite scoring two TDs against Kansas City and Oakland, the Texans defense has been giving up huge chunks of yards and that's not a good thing when you have McNair, Mason, Bennett, and Brown next up on the agenda. The Texans defense ranks 29th in the league in scoring, 26th in the league in passing yards per game, and 25th in rushing yards per game. That's not going to cut it.
The good news is that the offense is starting to make some noise. The David Carr to Andre Johnson connection is now well established and people around the league are starting to take notice, as David and Andre are among the league leaders in various statistical categories. Carr ranks second in the NFL in passing yards, AJ is third in the NFL in receiving yards, and the Texans are seventh in the league in yards per game.
So that means throw the ball 40 times a game, right? Well, not really. This isn't Madden.
The Texans, just like every other team needs a good mix of run and pass to be successful. If you become too one-dimensional either in the running game or the passing game you will not have success. If David drops back to pass 40 times a game he will probably be watching the second half of the season from the sideline because the offensive line still hasn't shown that it can protect like it should. Carr has been sacked 14 times this season – good for eighth-highest in the league - and he took some really hard shots during the Vikings game.
Likewise, if the Texans run the ball 40 times a game, they will need to look for a new running back or two in the draft next year – and a few new fans since many already think the Texans run the ball too much.
Controlling clock is still the smart thing to do – and you can do that with a smart mix of run and pass. What makes that strategy more tolerable this season is knowing that the Texans offense can now strike with the big play much more effectively than at any other time in their brief history. The Texans really need to get Domanick back into the flow. Just like the Texans defense will worry about Chris Brown and Derrick Mason this week, if opponents have to worry about real threats out of the backfield in addition to AJ, Gaffney, Armstrong, and Bradford, it will make the overall offensive attack that much more effective.
I think the Jags will keep their coming-back-to-earth trend alive this week with a loss at home to KC. That means a Texans win will put them at 3-3 and tied for second in the division headed into bye week.
Boo and hiss to the "fans" that starting streaming for the exits after the Vikes went up 28-14 on Sunday. I have never understood the "beat the traffic" mentality. It's bizarre to me, especially when there's still more than half of a quarter of football to be played. I hope they all had a good time sitting in traffic on I-610 while the Texans were coming back and forcing overtime. Too many corporate seat giveaways to casual/curious fans I guess. I know the Texans don't care who buys the tickets – a sale is a sale – but it's too bad that more passionate fans can't sit in those seats on a regular basis.
Major props to the rest of you who stayed and witnessed a great comeback. The noise level in the fourth quarter was fantastic. Keep up the good work. Despite the casual fans and leave early types, we still have one of the best home field advantages in the league.
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