Beyond the Boxscore
Jim Irsay's mad tweets & Matt Schaub's laser show establish Texans as new AFCSouth bully
If Matt Schaub is rusty, Kim Kardashian is a shy simple girl who just wants to live a quiet life.
Remember that bit of ridiculousness from just six nights ago? The worry from some that the Houston Texans quarterback wasn't going to be sharp enough for the start of the regular season? Well ... you can throw that right into the trash — with the same force that Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay tweeted away his team's mystique.
What a Saturday in the AFC South. The division couldn't have been turned more upside down if Charlie Sheen and the Bellaire Socialite walked through the loading dock of Reliant Stadium, hand-in-hand, as Bob McNair's new consultants. First, Irsay tweeted that there was a good chance Peyton Manning wouldn't be available for the start of the regular season. Then, the wackiest owner in the NFL essentially mocked the Colts' current backup quarterbacks (the very mockable Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky) by asking the fans which veteran Indianapolis should sign as a Peyton stopgap before its regular season opener at Reliant.
Then ... well, then, Schaub and the Texans unleashed a new-age version of The Greatest Show on Turf, that high-flying Mike Martz-Kurt-Warner-Marshall-Faulk attack of recent yore, on the New Orleans Saints. Yes, the Texans are still playing on grass, but Schaub, Andre Johnson, Arian Foster and company made Reliant Stadium's tattered preseason version of green look faster than almost any surface.
"I think everybody in the league knows how potent this offense can be," Foster said. "We have so many weapons." And they're only finding more by Tate.
No. 8 sent lasers all over the field, his touch never more evident than on a perfectly-placed 48-yard bomb to Andre Johnson that settled in-between two Saints defenders like it was dropped from some giant hand in the sky.
Just asked the stunned Saints, who came into this second preseason game as a darkhorse NFC Super Bowl contender and left as more than just 27-14 preseason losers. Or the referee who was already struggling to keep up during the Texans offense's first series.
"I've got to catch my breath," the lead official barked, not realizing his microphone was live as he called for a booth review of the Texans' touchdown. Oops, embarrassing. But so true.
Yes, even the officials found themselves stunned by the force in which Houston played this second preseason game. It doesn't count in the standings — might not mean diddly when the Saints and Texans meet again in the third week of the regular season — but that doesn't mean it's not impressive.
Four possessions for the Texans' first-team offense. Twenty four points.
"I'm excited," Johnson said, the Texan who's seen it all except the playoffs, unable to stop grinning.
How sharp was Schaub? He completed his first seven passes. And these weren't little dinks and drop offs. There was hardly a Matt Leinart special in the bunch. No. 8 sent lasers all over the field, his touch never more evident than on a perfectly-placed 48-yard bomb to Andre Johnson that settled in-between two Saints defenders like it was dropped from some giant hand in the sky.
The Saints needed to tip a pass to force Schaub's first incompletion. Otherwise, the football may have never hit Reliant's grass when Houston's first-team offense held possession.
As it was, Schaub finished 12-for-16 for 163 yards, producing 24 points in four possessions. That's near Tom Brady-New England Patriots preseason force. For the first time in franchise history could the Texans have a team that's not kidding around?
"The best teams do treat the preseason like it's important," free-agent fullback signee Lawrence Vickers said. "They let other teams know that they mean business every time they step on the field. That's what Coach is instilling in us. I'm excited to go on this ride this season."
There's that word again: Excited.
It still sounds a little crazy to say until Peyton is safely just a bust in Canton, incapable of raining touchdown passes on the Texans' still-suspect secondary anymore, but the Texans just may have the best quarterback in the division in 2011.
For the first time in franchise history could the Texans have a team that's not kidding around?
Schaub — who worked as hard as anyone in the NFL to stay sharp during the lockout — looks surer than ever. Peyton's aching neck makes him more uncertain than ever.
This is the stuff on which divisions turn. Sure, the Texans defense is still a work in progress under new coordinator Wade Phillips the way that your neighborhood alcoholic is a work in progress. The Texans are in recovery, but that doesn't mean the D is anywhere close to being healthy.
The game's opening drive couldn't have been easier for Drew Brees and the Saints if the Texans had simply stepped aside matador style. Right until the moment when New Orleans stood on Houston's four, ready to score, and Antonio Smith ripped free on one of those blitzes that Phillips won't admit to calling in the preseason (whatever you say Wade) to sack and strip Brees of the football.
That's what you can hope this Texans' defense becomes on the high side this season — a unit that's opportunistic enough to force its share of turnovers just when it looks like it's getting completely shoved around. Of course, the Saints used a defense like that to win a Super Bowl just two seasons ago.
No Choice But To Win It
Houston's margin for error isn't just thin on defense. It's a razor wire Philippe Petit might even balk at to seize what's likely one way to make the playoffs for the first time ever.
In an AFC in which every other division except the Texans' has good reason to expect multiple playoff teams — see the Jets and Patriots in the East, the Steelers and Ravens in the North, the Chargers and perhaps the Chiefs in the West — Houston's only route to the postseason could come in winning the South. If the Texans cannot nudge aside the Colts, there might not be another path.
Only six teams will make the playoffs in the power-packed AFC and the chance of two of them being from the South aren't good.
Houston's only route to the postseason could come in winning the South. If the Texans cannot nudge aside the Colts, there might not be another path.
Irsay's mad lib tweets about Manning makes Indianapolis seem more vulnerable than ever, but the Texans still have to shake off their own franchise history.
Still, with the best quarterback in the division, the leading all-purpose back in the NFL (Foster) and one of the top receivers in the league (Johnson), why shouldn't the Texans be the South favorites for once? When you throw in what Ben Tate did, ripping off huge chunks of yards in his first significant action as a Texan, finishing with 95 yards on only nine carries — could Houston suddenly have the best backup running back in the NFL too? — a division title seems more than possible.
"We do feel that," said James Casey, who is looking more and more like the likely starting fullback for the AFC South's most potent offense. "Our goal is to win our division. We're aware of what's going on elsewhere.
"We're not making any predictions though. We just can't wait to get out there and show what we can do."
No mini Namath is needed here. The roar in the stadium at halftime, the largest preseason crowd in Texans' history (70,828 paid), showed just how much the fans suddenly believe.
Schaub's not rusty. The Texans are ready, more ready than they've ever been.