Let Them Pass

Easy pickings: Rams show you needn't be elite to torment Texans and their simple gameplans

Easy pickings: Rams show you needn't be elite to torment Texans

Sam Bradford Rams Texans
Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
Rams Texans Pick-6
The Rams knew they could keep pouncing on the Texans' mistakes and bring them back the other way. Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
Matt Schaub Rams Texans doc
Whether Matt Schaub was knocked out of the game or not. Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
Sam Bradford Rams Texans
Rams Texans Pick-6
Matt Schaub Rams Texans doc

The youthful St. Louis Rams were respectful and judicious, following their 38-13 drubbing of the Houston Texans on Sunday at Reliant Stadium with the delicately measured words of a team on the cusp of something intriguing yet lacking any accomplishments substantive enough to gloat over.

The Rams strolled into town and stood opposite a collection of veterans so discombobulated that nothing could mask their withering self-confidence. For all those empty words about hard work the Texans were a shaken bunch ripe for exploiting, and while the Rams wouldn't directly acknowledge as much in the aftermath of their stunning win, their perspective was transparent. 

In the NFL, few problems are internal. Struggles are laid bare for the entire league to observe.

 Teams are acutely aware of what ills the Texans. That the Rams could capitalize so breathlessly was a damning display. 

Inventory is taken when future opponents stagger and stumble, and when opportunities are presented to capitalize on the weak, the predatory are quick to pounce. The Texans, saddled by their inefficient quarterback play, undermined by their defensive red zone woes, exposed by their lopsided turnover margin, were the equivalent of a ball on a tee. The Rams came armed with an illegal corked bat and bashed away with ruthless impunity until the Texans cried uncle.

"They're a good football team despite how they've been playing," Rams defensive end Chris Long said. "If you give them any momentum they can really hurt you. We had to tighten up in the red zone and make sure we got those takeaways, and we did that. Our offense did their part and the rest was history."

That two-pronged approach sounds simple in premise because it is precisely that. Texans kicker Randy Bullock had three red-zone field goals on his ledger entering play on Sunday, so the first step in emasculating the Texans was forcing them to settle for field goal attempts inside the 20-yard line. On their third possession the Texans rode running back Arian Foster into the red zone before imploding, surging to the St. Louis 4-yard line before a Derek Newton false start stalled momentum and yielded a 20-yard Bullock field goal that cut the deficit to 10-3 in the second quarter.

Just prior to the intermission the Texans breached the red zone again and readied to close to within one score after the Rams answered the first Bullock field goal with a touchdown. But quarterback Matt Schaub took a sack, courtesy of Rams defensive tackle and Houston native Michael Brockers, scrimmaging from the St. Louis 19 before an errant toss on third down led to another Bullock chip shot.

The Texans penetrated the red zone four additional times, with their last foray resulting in a meaningless Ben Tate one-yard touchdown run with 3:15 remaining. They turned the ball over three times inside the St. Louis 20, including a DeAndre Hopkins fumble at the Rams 14-yard line and a pair of T.J. Yates second-half interceptions, the first of which was returned by Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree 98 yards for a touchdown. Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis scooped and returned Hopkins' fumble 43 yards to set up the Rams' lone field goal.

The Texans Trouble 

For all their accumulated Pro Bowlers, their collections of stat-fat stars at quarterback, running back and receiver, the Texans have long struggled scoring red zone touchdowns. What transpired on Sunday wasn't a new development, but to witness the Rams shackle the Texans so effectively in the red zone was to recognize their confidence in their defensive approach.

 In the NFL, few problems are internal. Struggles are laid bare for the entire league to observe. 

"When you get into the red zone as an offense you want to get seven," Long said after the Rams allowed the Texans just one touchdown on six trips into the red zone Sunday. "When we hold them to field goals or force a turnover that's a back breaker.

"We did that a couple times and then from there we made the adjustments we needed to make and were a lot better."

The Ogletree Pick-6 was icing on the Texans' turnover cake, particularly given that it came with Yates at quarterback and not the maligned Matt Schaub. That perverse bit of humor aside, the Texans should feel overwhelmingly troubled for having racked up four additional turnovers against the Rams, with three coming in the red zone and the fourth, a Keshawn Martin fumble on a kickoff return, resulting in a touchdown.

The Texans entered play on Sunday with a minus-8 turnover margin; the Rams did not commit a turnover on Sunday.

That Schaub escaped with a clean statistical ledger (but not without injury) was immaterial. With his having been victimized by a Pick-6 in four consecutive games, the Rams were keen on forcing the Texans into mistakes in the passing game. Foster was exceptional in accounting for 198 yards on 24 touches and there was an element of concession in the Rams afterward, allowing that Foster is remarkably reliable and as close to infallible as any running back in the league. Where the Texans could be had was in their inconsistent, turnover-prone aerial attack.

"Even though they had their struggles they're still a great team," Brockers said. "They're still a team that can go out and put on a streak. For the most part we wanted to focus on being accountable, stopping the run and making them pass, and I think we did a great job of that."

At this stage the Texans appear to have mastered the domain of statistical anomalies. Their defense allowed just 216 yards and the Rams managed only 41 offensive snaps. But the Texans' lack of discipline (95 first-half penalty yards), their catastrophic turnovers, and maddening red-zone inefficiencies make for an easy game plan for opponents to script, proofread and memorize.

Teams young and old are acutely aware of what ills the Texans. That the Rams, disjointed in their pursuit of marginal improvement, could capitalize so breathlessly was a damning display.

"We definitely saw them on film and knew they were struggling," Ogletree said. "We definitely wanted to come in and keep a lot of pressure on them and just try to make plays."