Tuesday, February 19, 2013

27 Games to Get There

This season for the Houston Rockets has been one where I have seen many ups and not as many downs compared to the last three years of stagnation. The team from the "Clutch City" has done some things for me this year that I have not witnessed in the last three years. They have been in the playoff race for most of the season, have a solid "star" on the cusp of super stardom, and run an offense that....well....runs. There is still so much uncertainty that surrounds this team but if they can keep running, they can keep winning and clinch that playoff berth for the first time since 2009.

Schedule Breakdown

For the last 27 games, the Rockets do not have easy schedule but they also do not have a terribly hard one either. They do start the break back against the team they cannot seem to keep up with in the Oklahoma City Thunder. Although the game will be at home, James Harden cannot out duel the combo of Durant and Westbrook. I know that because the only two times they have played them, there is no slowing them down. Most likely a loss unless the supporting cast can really back up Harden and they can play some defense but like I said, most likely a loss. The next two games are on the road in a back-to-back against better Brooklyn and Washington teams that they took down the last times they played. These games should be wins but they have to play smart which is a little tougher being the youngest team in the NBA. The Rockets close out February in Houston against Milwaukee which should be another win and have the Rockets finishing the month on 3 game win streak. They finish the month of February at 32-27.

March brings a tougher test to for the Rockets although they start it out with a road game in Orlando against a Magic team that cannot even score over 70 points some nights, tally another W for Houston. They then move on to the Sunday night at Home against the arch-rival Mavericks. Houston wants this game at home more than anything and a big night from Harden seals the deal as the Rockets down the Mavs and stretch their winning streak to 5 games.

After a few days off,  it's a quick drive up I-45 to Dallas to square back up with Dirk and Co. and in the rematch I feel that Dirk will be at his best and still gunning to make their playoff run and they strike down the Rockets in Dallas to end Houston's 5 game win streak. Houston then picks up the gloves and travels to Golden State for what is sure to be another high scoring affair. However, the Warriors can still not get the best of the Rockets and give up another big night to Harden and let the Rockets get one in their house. They finish off their three game road trip in Phoenix where former Rockets, Goran Dragic and Luis Scola attempt to take down their former team. Their attempt is stuffed like a signature Hakeem Olajuwon block and the Rockets smash the Suns in their house to finish the road trip strong.

The Rockets get to come home to their longest home stand of the season for 7 games and start it off against the last team they played. The Suns roll in to Houston for a chance at revenge and sorry to say for Suns fans but the Rockets refuel and dump the Suns for the second straight game and start the home stand off right. Minnesota comes to town next and for some reason the Rockets do not match up well with the Wolves. Despite this fact, Houston dumps them like a slutty girlfriend after prom being at home because the Wolves still playing without Kevin Love. Golden state then comes to town once again where the last time Houston shelled them for 140 points and NBA tying 23 three-balls. I do not expect this to happen again but with Houston riding the win streak, they toss the Warriors for the 4th and final time this season. Then Jazz stroll in next and after they "got served" last time in Utah by 45 points for their worst home defeat in franchise history, they are looking to put out the Rockets fire. Houston steals this one with strong play form the starters and a late rally to seal their longest winning streak of the season. Cleveland is the next suitor to try and end the Rockets streak, and although the last game Houston escaped a Kyrie Irving show this game is more physical and Houston adds another notch to the belt which will sit at 7.

As much as I would love to see this Magical march run keep on rolling, San Antonio comes to town. The Rockets seem to have too much trouble with San Antonio's stifling defense, along with Jeremy Lin's inability to guard Tony Parker and they fall at home for the first time on the home stand. The home stand finishes with Indiana coming to town and with their powerful lineup and Houston trying to avenge a loss to the Pacers in their last match up. The Pacers prove to be a more complete team with strong play from Paul George and down the Rockets at home to drop Houston for their second straight loss. An away game to Memphis is not where Houston wants to be but after their two straight losses, James Harden takes over this game. Rockets win to get some of the mojo back and Red Nation boards the plane to go catch the second of their back-to-back in H-Town. Its unfortunate that the the second game in as many days is against the Chris Paul and Lob-City. The Clips pull this one off in the Toyota Center with Double-doubles from CP3 and Blake Griffin. Houston goes in to the final month of the season losing 3 of 4 but with a strong record of 42-31 and is on the cusp of a playoff berth.

April has always been a fascinating month in the NBA where playoff races comedown to the final games even, and other teams begin tanking to secure a better draft position. This team however will only be a few wins away from securing a playoff berth and can accomplish at the very beginning of the month.

The new month kicks off at home with a match up against the Orlando Magic, Houston rolls them out of the gym in blowout fashion and gets one win closer to the post season. It is then time to hop on a plane for a short three game trip which will kick off in Sacramento. With the Kings in shambles at this point of the season, Harden and friends avenge an earlier loss from February and take down the Kings in their house. A quick ride up to Portland to face the Blazers will be a fun match between these familiar foes. After a long battle between the offenses, Houston's D prevails as the escape Portland with one more W. The final game of the road trip brings them to Denver where Houston has had trouble matching up with the Nuggets depth. Rockets lose a close one where fouls and free throws make the difference.

With 5 games left in the season and Houston sitting at 45-32, the end of season stretch will prove vital for carrying themselves in to the post season. They open up the final home stretch of the season for three games with Phoenix coming in to TC. Rockets roll and take out the Suns with a playoffs on their mind. Memphis comes to town and with the playoffs as close as they can be, the Rockets down the Grizzlies with a James Harden high scoring night and secure a playoff berth for the first time since 2009. Sacramento rolls in to town a couple of days after the playoff clinch and down the Rockets on a strong game from Demarcus Cousins.

Houston finishes the season on the road for the first game in Phoenix where the Rockets take down the Suns one for the final time this season and stretch the win total to 48. The last game of the season will be against the always hated Los Angeles Lakers. They will have made their run and be right on the verge of the playoffs, however the Rockets shut the door on the Lakers in the Staples Center. James Harden nails an ice cold three late to set the game and the Lakers miss the playoffs and the Rockets finish at 49-33 and set up in good position to make a playoff run.


I may just be a simple fan that loves my team too much, but when I have been disappointed for so long by these stagnant teams I must be a total optimist in this situation. Yes there are things going against the Rockets, but there are many things going for them as well. They are the youngest team in the NBA which doesn't bode well for the experience factor but with playoff experienced players like Harden and Asik, this team can keep it rolling. The fresh legs will be the key and when you are as young as this team, that has got to be the focus on their attack. The Rockets finishing the season on a 20-7 run seems highly unlikely but anywhere close to that will secure. I believe 49-33 is the best case scenario but i do believe they will have to go at least 44-38 to get in. The Western Conference is too good this year from top to bottom but Red Nation will be in full effect and the "Clutch City" will be backing this team waiting for the playoff berth.

The only way to go from here is up though, like the Rocket that resembles this team.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


          In today's 24 hour news cycle, yesterday's game or big trade is just crusty rancid salmon patty stuck at the bottom of the garbage disposal. People have a hard time savoring the moment and are constantly looking for what's next. For example, as soon as the Texans lost to the Pats 2 1/2 weeks ago there were already articles off season previews and mock drafts being written.This was despite the fact that the AFC/NFC championships were still a week away and the season has yet to shut its doors (That's why are Texans season review will be out next week). Everyone needs to look ahead and plan goals for the future, but people need to enjoy the game even if your team is still out of it (It never gets old hating the Pats). As a full time college student who works 30 hours a week it is impossible for me to keep up with the vicious, up to date, constantly updated "It's my money and I want it now" sports news cycle. Also even if I could I would not be a part of it. I pride myself on delivering a gluttonous, 5 course meal of in depth analysis and break downs, instead of delivering a Bleacher Report slideshow style bag of Lays article that takes 15 minuets to write. These content is king websites deliver short shallow information that can be quickly consumed, but dull the mind of actually learning anything valuable about the games we love. Just because we can now consume a lot of information does not mean a good thing if the information is a Cobb Salad from Applebee's with rats in it.
          The 2013 Pro Bowl was on Sunday and already it has been discarded into the depths of time like a Sega Saturn spinning Virtua Fighter for eternity. Despite it being out of everyone's minds I am still hesitant to be done with it. Every year the problem with the Pro Bowl is the same, it's not real football. Unlike basketball and baseball the tenacity and ferocity needed to play the game of football is out of the question to bring to a game like this (unless you are Sean Taylor). The inherent flaw is that football is a game played with emotion and the Pro Bowl strips the game of football from it. No one is out there trying to stop a RB from making a 3rd and 1, every play is and should be a pass and the reasoning to rush the QB is non existent.  It is nothing more than an exhibition game for the fans to enjoy watching their favorite players put on the pads for the last time until September and make sure no one suffers a cataclysmic injury. With that being said the Pro Bowl is still an enjoyable event if you take it for what it is. It's like going to see the newest Fast and Furious movie. You know there are going to be fast cars, explosions, women who are not going to wear very much clothing, and a incoherent plot, but it is still going to be a good time if you are expecting that and not a Kathryn Bigelow Academy Award Winner. So before the media calls for the end of a NFL all-star game and the tar and featherings occur, think about what the game actually is and enjoy it for that.

Some quick observations:

-JJ Watt can't stop, won't stop, would not even consider to stop even if it was an option (which isn't). I have never yet to see a player with the high motor that he has. Even in the Pro-Bowl he played hard and kept the V-8 running. He is they type of player with all the talent in the world like most NFL players, but what separates him is the amount of energy he brings to every snap. He's the defensive player of the year because of a combination of his strength, speed, and energy. If Albert Haynesworth ever learned this he would not be playing guitar hero right now, but actually in the NFL as a vital piece of the Redskins defense. JJ Watt is the embodiment of "hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard."

-One other note on JJ Watt. It was awesome, when they lined him up at receiver, but it seems he has already forgot how to play TE and how to catch a football. If his hands were a little bit better some of the 24 (2 in post season) passes deflected would have turned into picks and he would have had more moments like this.

-Matt Schuab still struggles to throw the deep ball. In the second quarter Schuab intended to throw a deep ball to Demaryius Thomas, only to underthrow him by 4 yards, have the ball tipped into the air and caught by a diving William Moore. It was just like the underthrow to James Casey against the Colts in week 17 that changed the out course of the game (And flushed a #1 seed down the toilet). The tail half of the year saw the degradation of Schuab as a deep ball thrower as he slowly morphed into someone who could only throw 12 yard passes to Dre.  This summer Schaub should have one thing on his mind, get his mojo back on the deep pass.

-It never gets old watching Eli Manning throw pick sixes

-The jerseys actually looked good this year, instead of looking like the past jerseys that resembled the vomit of a drunken four year old after drinking a cup of every different color of Kool-Aid.

-Like Watt, Duane Brown played hard as well, he even pancaked Julius Peppers during pass protection.

-Even in the Pro Bowl Arian Foster only runs up the middle on first down

-AJ Green is a year or two away from taking the best reciever in the AFC title belt from Andre Johnson.

-The last snap to Peyton from Jeff Saturday was a moment that hit every Colts fan right in the feels. Even though those two terrorized me during my teenage years it was still a sweet moment.

-Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth laid back, I'm in Hawai choice of wardrobe was hilariously awful.

-That was an awesome no look onside kick by the greatest modern era Cleveland Brown, Phil Dawson.

-It's illogical to look too much into the Pro Bowl, but what I enjoyed the most about the way the Texans played in the Pro Bowl was that they played like they legitimately cared and actually competed. Schuab was angry on passes he missed, Brown blocked hard, and Watt bloodied his finger. It's awesome to have a group  guys that care about bringing a title home to Texas as much as the fans want one.

         Now even though there was some good things about the Pro-Bowl it does need some changes. Not MLB like changes where the winner of the Pro Bowl automatically wins the coin toss in the Super Bowl or whoever wins gets home field advantage in the playoffs sort of changes. But changes that add more fun to the event for both the fan and the player. They should model the weekend after the NBA's and NHL's All Star game.

Friday- They should have some type of flag football game that the legends of the past to play in. Who wouldn't love to see Kurt Warner dropping bombs to Isaac Bruce down the sideline again or Neon Deion Sanders picking off Brett Favre and taking it back to the end zone. Unlike the NBA no celebrities should be allowed, no one wants to watch Beiber throw six yard slants to Chris Brown.

Saturday- Will be a skills competition just like what the NHL and NBA have.
Some events would include:
-A tug of war tourney of four teams- AFC O-line, AFC D-line, NFC O-line, NFC D-line in some type of round robin bracket where they two top teams face each other in the finals.
-A QB wide receiver competition where the QB completes passes to a receiver of his, but there is a catch. The quarterback is blind folded and the series of routes will be predetermined. Whoever completes the most wins.It would really show they sixth sense that QBs and their number one guy have in common. Everyone loves those throws where the QB knows exactly where his guy is going to be and throws it to him before he is even out of his break.
-The kickers and punters could play horse where they take turns coming up with ways to put the ball between the pylons. You know kickers have some crazy stuff up their sleeve that they come up with during the dead times of practice when they are not needed. It would be incredible to see some rugby style field goals from the sideline, and punters pinning the ball inside the 5 yard line while kicking ti backwards.
-Also if they can work anything into it from this game.

Sunday- The actual game would be played. Also players like Rodgers and Brady should be forced into playing in the game even if they are bitter about losing in the post season. 

          The main point is the Pro Bowl can be a must see event and give the fans one last glimpse at their favorite players before they climb into their hyperbolic time chambers to prepare for the next season. It's just going to take some creativity from the No Fun League to make it happen. Something that they lack which can be seen how they have handled the lockout, helmet to helmet hits, pensions for former players, and celebrations. If the NFL just think somewhat out of the box the most popular league in American professional sports could actually make a lackluster event spectacular.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Where the Rockets Stand

Moving closer the All-Star weekend in the NBA, the playoff picture is shaping up to be pretty close in the Western Conference and the Houston Rockets are right in the thick of things. At 24-22, the Rockets are currently in the 8th seed and fighting to get in to the post season after being bumped down to the 9th seed for the past 3 years.  After grabbing back to back wins over the Hornets in New Orleans and the Nets at home in Houston, the Rockets will take on the 7th seed Utah Jazz Monday night. The current playoff push teams are the Utah Jazz(24-20), Houston Rockets(24-22), Portland Trailblazers(22-22), Los Angeles Lakers(19-25), and the Dallas Mavericks(19-25) rounding out the  7-11 seeds in the West.

The Small Free Fall

The reason the Rockets are looking at this tough uphill climb was a result of a 7 game losing streak that dropped them out of 6th place at 21-14 and knocked them down to the 8 seed. The losing streak happened at such an off time as well, with Houston starting their toughest part of the schedule this season. At the time they were on a 5 game winning streak, just had a blowout win against the Lakers at home and looked poised to extend their lead in the west. They set out for New Orleans to win a game but instead the bottom fell out and "Houston, We have a problem" began to fill the atmosphere. James Harden struggled and the rest of the team seemed to be in a funk as well.

One of the biggest outlandish moments from the losing streak happened to be ineffectiveness of the 4 spot on the floor. There was no rebounding from Patterson or Morris and the scoring from them was  poor as well. They continued to struggle until they finally got to a team that was having more trouble than themselves and that was the Charlotte Bobcats. The Rockets snapped the losing streak after 7 games with a 100-94 win over the Bobcats where James Harden closed out the game with 29 points and the defense held the Bobcats to 13 points in the 4th quarter. Although they lost the next game at home to the Denver Nuggets, they at least knew that the losing streak was over and that some good practice can always help the team out. The next two games were a back to back (of course) where the Rockets went in to New Orleans and played great basketball winning the game (100-82). To top that they went back home the next day and outlasted Deron Williams and the Nets (119-106) for a solid home win to push them back to 2 games over .500. The win against the Nets was led by Harden(29pts/3reb/7ast), Asik(20pts/16reb), and Parsons(16pts/6reb/11ast) who outplayed whoever was opposing them on the court. Both of those wins were solid in bringing back some of the chemistry that was lost on the road trip.

What to Watch for

With 36 games left in the season, there is quite a bit of basketball left to be played and with 7 of the next 10 opponents in the Western Conference playoff picture, things will start to come to fruition pretty soon here. James Harden is playing at an extremely high level and Omer Asik is really starting to show his stuff at center. Chandler Parsons has been nothing but solid and will continue to grow in to one of the most underrated players in the entire league. Jeremy Lin will continue to flourish as a player but will have his tough moments until his game develops some more.

The lingering problem for the Rockets is the ineffectiveness of the 4 spot on the floor. Patrick Patterson and Marcus Morris are still working on their game and with no really powerful position player at the power forward spot, the team will continue to struggle in that position until they can make a trade or a major breakthrough happens with Morris or Patterson (or Royce White really excels and can come in and take over....LONG SHOT.....but could still happen). Or will Morey pull some of his magic tricks out of his hat and land Houston another building block like Paul Millsap or Josh Smith? Who knows. However, I know that if anyone could do it, I believe it is this crazy bastard. Morey  some how got us one of the brightest young superstars in the league in James Harden and never folded when one thing did not work out. The trade deadline is just under 4 weeks away, they are going to have to decide if they wanna make the playoffs with what we got. Or are they gonna make the push to bring in someone that could immediately affect the team and give them the presence at the 4 spot that they need.

Through 46 games I have loved watching this team, whether it be the yelling at stupid shots from Jeremy Lin, getting hyped up after Harden motors to the hoop for the basket, seeing Delfino nail three pointer after three pointer, Asik Grab 15 rebounds and score half of that in points, every Bill Worrell call of "CHANDLER BANG!", and the team slowly developing chemistry and an identity. No matter what way the season goes, it is still better than suffering through the last 3 years of 9th place mediocrity. This team is much more talented than the 9th seed teams of the past we have had. I believe they probably will not make it out of the first round, but maybe they can put something special together and at least keep giving these fans hope for the future by playing competitive against either the Thunder/Spurs/Clippers in the first round. All of the pieces of the jigsaw aren't there just yet, but they are close to becoming more than a fringe playoff team. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Dallas Stars Week One Recap

I Got the Moves Like Jagr

          One week into the regular season we have seen the Stars go from an offensive juggernaut to the exact same team as last year. Through the first four games the Stars are 2-1-1 with 5 points and are currently 2nd in the NHL Pacific.  Unlike last year, the Stars look like a more attack orientated team. Their passing has been oodles better and the game has been opened up a lot more. Instead of getting goals from grinding, winning battles in the corner, Dallas has been actually scoring because of skill. However, every game has been a volatile one with every game exposing new problems. Despite these issues they have been able to compete with some of the best teams in the league and will be put to the test tomorrow night in St. Louis. Hopefully, this is just a case of the short camp and. In a short 48 game season the stress on Dallas will be not to win games (which they will do), but figure out their identity.  Here is a recap of the first four games of the season. 

Game 1: Star 4-Coyotes 3

         In Jaromir Jagr's Dallas Stars debut he accounted for all 4 goals for the Dallas Stars with 2 assists and 2 goals. The Stars' fans have not had a chance to watch a player of this caliber to watch and cheer for since Modano. What makes Jagr so incredible at his age is not the razzle dazzle of the past, but his ability to move without the puck. At his age and the amount of time he has had playing the game he knows exactly where the space is to get shots. Next time you watch a Stars game look out for how he plays without the puck, not with it. The other thing that has been so exciting about his arrival is the give and go. The way him and is line mates have already been able to work together has been beautiful thus far. This signing by Nieuwendyk is just like when Daniel's signed Vlad to a two year deal. By taking a flyer on Jagr they were able to get high reward out of a low risk signing that everyone had written off. 
          Lehtonen's first game was not at the level everyone was expecting if you look simply at the goals allowed. However, he gave up two goals on power plays and one on a break away. Last year every game was on Kari's shoulders, but let's hope that this year is different. Dallas needs to win with Kari, but not solely because of him. Regardless, of the score this game was sweet like a glass of chocolate almond milk because of the way they attacked and how open the game was.
Number of teeth Missing-9.

Game 2: Stars 0-Wild 1
          This game was the stereotypical Dallas Stars game. A 1-0 snorefest where the offense was unable to do anything and let down the goal tender. However this time the net minder was not Kari, but the newcomer Christopher Nilstorp. In his first career game he gave up only one goal on 32 shots. The only goal he gave up was to the Wild's bottom bitch, Zach Parise ">on a one timer right from the high slot. Nilstorp is going to need to have a big year for the Stars in this shorten condensed schedule. He will get multiple opportunities to play, especially on back to back nights to keep Kari fresh and youthful. Dallas can not afford to miss a beat on days when Kari needs a break. On a side note, really the only thing NHL has done right is their website. The ability to watch every big play from the night before is something no other sport has done right. Not only because of how well the quality is, but how it actually works right, I am looking at you Roger Goodell.  There are a lot of games I miss living in Central Texas because of the Spurs being on instead and the six minute games and highlights allow me to still watch.
Number of Teeth Missing-3

Game 3: Stars 2-Red Wings 1
         Dallas dominated this entire game from the first puck drop. They outplayed, outhit, and outskilled the mighty Detroit Redwings (who some predict won't even make the playoffs). It was extremely frustrating watching them miss out on scoring chance after scoring chance. This game should have been a 6-1 blowout, but they were unable to knock the puck against the twine. Part of this was a poor ability to finish and part of it was Tim Howard doing his best Kari impersonation. It was if every Star player grew a blonde mohawk and had their sole stolen by Mario Balotelli.
         This game also brought the best moment in the Stars season. With four seconds left in the third, Brunner was finally able to tear down the Finnish wall and sneak one past Kari. The Detroit crowd turned into a raucous mob and heckled Kari in their delight. He slyly replied with the point to the score board which is one of the most under rated celebrations of all time. Another night another ridiculous game by Lehtonen, he faced 40 shots and saved 39 of them. 
Number of teeth missing-8

Game 4: Stars 2-Blackhawks 3 OT
            In a game the Stars had no business even having a lead in, they managed to get a point, but only after squandering a two goal lead. Their first goal came on a short handed break away by Loui ">Erikkson with 1.6 seconds left. The play was only possible by a sick nasty Derek Roy flick pass who has become the skilled offensive center the Stars needed. Their other goal came on a heads up pass from Eakin to a wide open Ray Whitney  standing all alone next to the Chicago goalie. The relatively unknown Eakin, will be the X-factor for the Stars season. As a prep player he averaged 30 goals a season and if he is kept given the chance to play he should be able to score at least 20 in a shorten season.
          It was all down slope after that. The Blackhawks kept barraging Kari with shots and they eventually broke through. They scored three goals in the power play and quickly turned a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead. This Chicago team is dangerous, can score in spurts and their only possible downfall is their goal tending. This game was the exact opposite of the Detroit game. They went ahead when they shouldn't have, capitalized on their chances, and did not protect Kari at all. 
          Also the Stars were able to sign their star of the future Jamie Benn for five years 26.25 million. It was a deal that was a must to get done, insures that the owner wants to and wants to bring wins back to the Metroplex.
Number of teeth missing-5

          The off season switch to focus more on offense by trading Ribero and Steve Ott has had its ups and downs. The Stars have given up way too many shots, but they have been able to score goals at times. The team should continue its volatile stretch like last year until they find their identity. They need to take the pressure of Kari, not take give up so many dumb penalties, and improve their PK. The best part of the season is how much more exciting and dynamic this team has been such last year. Hopefully this continues and we see more 3-2 games and less 1-0 games that make church see, fun. 
         One other note. For fans go the game, be rowdy, stand up and cheer, enjoy the team because Nieuwendyk and the new ownership are going all in to bring a damn good team back to Dallas and its your part to give back. After a 113 days of NHL constipation the game is back and the Stars look good as ever. If they play more consistent we might actually see Dallas in the playoffs for the first time in four years. It just feels good to watch the coldest game on Earth instead of NHL 2013 simulations.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The One That Got Away

          Shayne Graham (the worst 50+ yard field goal kicker in NFL history) hit a 55 yarder in Gillette Stadium with the clock at zero giving the Pats a slim 17-13 lead. It seemed like something magical might be happening after Houston went on a 10-0 run to end the half. However, Brady quickly put flour on the grease fire and outscored Houston 14-0 in the third. With the score at 31-13, I left work to hurry home and catch the end of the Texans Pats game and I thought there was a slim chance a magical comeback could still occur. Right before I hopped into my car I looked up at the fuchsia, pink and purple sun setting sky only to see a menacing waxing crescent moon mischievously grin at me. It was as if Bill Belichick himself was laughing at my futile hope of Houston hosting the AFC championship against the Baltimore Ravens and then going back in time to tell my five year old self there is no Santa Clause. When I turned the key AM 1300 coaxed me through the game until I could see it with my own two eyes at home. On 4th and One Marc Vandemeer gave me the terrible news, Matt Schuab's pass to Posey would fall incomplete and then on the next play Brady hits Vereen on a 33 yard touchdown pass to make it an insurmountable 38-13 game. When playing the Pats you have to play a perfect game, and the Texans almost did enough. If one or two things went differently it could have been Tom Brady on the couch, eating cereal in his sweat pants. However, the coaching staff failed, the offense was stagnant and as a result Houston was thrown out of the playoffs in the divisional round for the second straight year.

Son of Bum

          After Houston's week 14 loss I was expecting Wade to not make the same mistakes on defense in the rematch only to see the same critical errors play out. It felt like an Alzheimer's patient walking from Starbucks to Starbucks forgetting that they just had a non fat soy latte. It was frustrating to see Barwin or Reed blitz on every play only to not get their in time while James and Rudd were left in pass coverage. Combined Barwin and Reed had 10 tackles (one for a loss), half a sack and 3 quarterback hits. The benefit of bringing them on every down did not outweigh James and Rudd in pass coverage. Also Brady is very difficult to blitz because of how well he is able to read the defense pre-snap and his ability to get the ball out in time. When blitzing from an outside nine technique, Phillips' is putting Reed and Barwin in a nearly impossible setting to get to Brady. The pressure to get to Brady needed to come from the middle, but Phillips kept doing what did not work in week 14.
          The other problem with Phillips was the pass coverage, Shane Vereen caught 5 passes for 83 yards and 2 touchdowns. Two of his long passes he caught came in situations where Vereen was split out as a wide receiver when Houston was in man coverage.When he was split out wide Rudd or James was covering him both times and Brady knew exactly where he was going to go with the ball. The first time could have simply been a misunderstanding, but to have it happen again for a 33 yard touchdown pass to end the game is ridiculous. Wade must see this play the first time and have some type of audible, instead of just letting a MLB play out wide in man coverage again.
          The final gripe I have with Wade is his inablilty to prepare for the Pats. The Pats were able to run around 12 free plays or so because Houston was not lined up right. Two of New England's red zone touchdown runs (8 yards by Ridley 24-13 and 1 yard by Vereen 7-3) were the result of Houston not being prepared for the no huddle. It was just like the week 14 touchdown pass to Hernandez in the red zone where not one person was covering him out wide. As a defensive coordinator you have to prepare for the no huddle throughout the week and at least have some type of base defense to run when Brady is scampering to the line quickly. Houston's defense did a great job disguising coverages, stopping the run and deflecting passes, but the Pats were able to break big plays that outweighed the good.

Offensive Troubles

          From the first offensive snap, Houston beat themselves. After a 94 yard return by Manning, Houston needed only 12 yards to stun the New England crowd and go up 7-0. Then the following series of plays ensued, Foster run LG for 3 yards (tackle by Wilfork), dropped pass by Casey and then a pass way over the outstretched arms of a wide open Andre Johnson. If Houston puts up 7, instead of New England's defense winning and only allowing three, the entire dimensions of the game change. The pressure would have been immediately on the Pats and Houston's offense would have had their confidence early. The Texans are a completely different team when they have a lead then when they are playing from behind.  When trying to upset the Pats on the road you have to capitalize on every opportunity given. The red zone woes that had plagued Houston the last 5 weeks haunted them again on the first drive of this game.
          The problem for Houston was not a problem moving the ball, but negative/low yardage plays on first down that forced them into long third down situations. On Sunday Houston punted the ball 5 times and each of the 5 times was a result of not getting enough yards on first down .On drives that the ended with a punt Houston averaged 1.4 yards on first down. Four of these plays were runs (-1,2,0,6) and one was an incomplete pass to Owen Daniels. Most of these drives ended with a series of run up the middle for a little or nothing and then 2 incomplete passes on 2nd and 3rd down. On most of these first down running plays New England new exactly what was coming and they would blitz up the middle making it impossible to get more than 2 yards. In addition to that, on 3 out of the 5 drives that ended with a punt,Vince Wilfork made the tackle on first down that put Houston into a hole.
         On first down Houston had 12 runs for 69 yards at an average of 5.75 and 16 passes for 170 at an average of 10.625. Now if you get rid of Arian's 2 long first down runs that led to Houston's first touchdown that number would be 2.9 yards a carry. So on average Houston would start with a 2nd and 7 after running on first down. On the other hand, Houston had ten passes for 104 yards (11.55 yards a pass) on first down before the 4th quarter when they had to throw every play. New England knew Houston would want to run the ball on first down and got caught with their pants down when they did the opposite. Instead of being unconventional and attempting different ways to beat the NE defense, Houston opted for the predictable run run pass offense.
         The other two problems Houston had on offense was in their running play selection and big plays. Last week in the preview I discussed how difficult it is to move the ball up the middle against the Pats. Trying to run the ball at Wilfork is like trying to move Snorlax to get to Fuschia City without having the PokeFlute to wake him up. So what did Houston do in the run game?

              LEFT SIDE                                         MIDDLE                                    RIGHT SIDE
  6 carries 23 yards 3.83 YPC                 17 carries 27 yards 1.58 YPC        4 carries 41 yards 10.25 YPC

So just like in week 14 Houston tried to do the impossible, get yards up the middle against the Pats. I still don't understand why they didn't run more tosses behind Duane Brown and get Arian into some space. The right side is the weakest link on the Houston offensive line, but it would have caught the Pats off guard if they ran it there more often. Instead they just hammered the middle only to get turned down repeatedly.
          Houston also did not take enough chances in the passing game. Schuab did not take any shots deep and instead threw more intermediate routes. Theses routes worked, but you have to at least take some chances with the ability Schuab has and having one of the best receiver's in the league, Andre Johnson. Houston had 6 plays of 20 yards or more, the longest being the 28 yard gain, off a pass to the flat to Arian when they were backed up to there own five yard line. There plays of 20+ yards were at an average of 20.83 yards and only three of them produced drives that led to points. Just like Houston the Pats had 6 plays of 20+ yards. However, all of these plays were on drives that produced points and were at an average of 32.5 yards. The Pats big plays were not off deep passes (other than Welker's 47 yard push off catch down the sideline), but came on plays where they were able to find a favorable match up or finally find some space for Welker or Hernandez. Houston does not have the same type of speed receiver's that New England has to come up with the same type of big plays, but they do have humongous possession receiver's that can be sent deep.
           The Texans offense played their best game in weeks, but it was a case of too little too late. By the time they made adjustments and started to take chances the game was over and they were only playing for pride. If Houston was more unpredictable they could have put 40+ points on the Patriots and the headlines would have read differently on Monday morning. Hopefully Gary realizes the potential this offense has and puts them in more opportunities to succeed next season.

          The worst part of Sunday wasn't the loss but the missed opportunity of playing in Houston against Baltimore for the chance to play in the AFC Championship. This week 14 rematch should have taken place this Sunday in Houston and not off the East Coast. Yes this will be another long off season filled looking into the abyss and pondering all the "what ifs"? But before you start to complain about this team, jump off the bandwagon and believe the nonsense of Houston being a fraud think about how far this team has come. Houston is still a team that has just entered its window of title contention and should win the AFC South for the next three years or until Luck becomes a Texans serial killer. This is still a great young football team, that had just finished the greatest season in franchise history and will continue to get better. Seasons will change, Spring will be here soon, the hellacious Summer heat will come and go and Fall will bring some leaves changing (don't change until December here) and Texans football. Next season Cushing will be back better than ever, the young reciver's of this year will have another full off season to get ready, Rick Smith will fix the few holes this team has and Houston will play an even more incredible year of football next year. Go Texans.

Playoff Picks
49ers over Falcons
Pats over Ravens
49ers over Pats in Superbowl 46

Friday, January 11, 2013

Divisional Round: Texans Vs Pats

 Going back to New England      

          On January 13th at 3:30, the Houston Texans are heading back to New England to attempt to avenge their 42-14 loss in week 14. The Pats completely mastered the Texans by dominating every facet of the game. Houston looked incompetent and fraudulent after this shellacking and their performance over the last four games of the regular season. Luckily, Houston looked like the suffocating anaconda-like team that won 12 games in last week's 19-13 win over Cincy. It was a game Houston controlled from the first snap, but the score was closer than the game suggested because of too many field goals (more to come later). Hopefully, this is the team that goes to New England and not those big fat phonies from the last four weeks of the regular season. Houston has to keep the boulder rolling and will need to be more disruptive than New England on defense, win the battle on third down and capitalize in the red zone to beat the Patriots.

Watt or Wilfork?

          In the week 14 match-up, Vince Wilfork shredded the Houston offensive line. He had 4 tackles at an average loss of 2.5 yards, one sack, and a forced fumble. On top of that Mayo and Hightower had six tackles each because of Wilfork's ability to gobble up double teams. In the zone running game it's not a true hip to hip double team that creates movement. What Houston does is have the center give some help and have the guard take over so the center can move up to the middle linebacker. The center's job is not to move the nose (Wilfork), but get up to the MLB. However, Wilfork is nearly impossible to move in this type of blocking technique and as a result he wreaked havoc last time they met. This week Houston will either have to have Myers give the guards more help or they will have to run outside. However, if Myers gives more help it just opens the lane for Mayo and Hightower to make tackles. So Houston should just hammer outside runs on the left side and then mix it up with some outside runs to the right. Last week Houston had 12 runs for 70 yards on outside runs to the left. Look for this trend to continue on Sunday in their attempt to neutralize Wilfork.
          On the other hand Watt did not have the performance he was accustomed to in their game earlier this year. Watt had 4 tackles at an average gain of ten yards, zero tackles for a loss, zero passes swatted, one forced fumble that was recovered in the end zone for a NE touchdown, and three quarterback hits. It was frustrating to witness how close Watt was to getting to Brady only to have him barely get the ball out in time reverse Macgruber style. To combat Brady's release Houston will have to get there quicker. Look for more stunts inside from the defensive ends to get pressure up the middle. It worked incredibly well against Cincy when Watt was able to force Dalton into poor throws and abuse the Bengals' center. On top of that, Wade is going to have to show different looks at the line then what is actually going to be used. He must camouflage their coverage and confuse Brady's pre-snap reads. On top of this, Houston can not let James, Dobbins, or Ruud cover Gronk, Hernandez or Welker. If they run any man coverage like this Brady will go right their way and pick up 8 yards a play. Hopefully, Wade will put Reed or Barwin on one of the TE, Manning on the other and Quinn on Welker and then run some zone to cover the rest of the field. Regardless of scheme, Houston must be more disruptive than NE to win this game.

3rd Down

          The past 5 weeks Houston has been a lunatic when it comes to the battle on third down.
HOU 4-14          HOU 5-13             HOU 1-11           HOU 5-11           HOU 8-17
              42-14 L                29-17 W                23-6 L                28-16 L               19-13 W
NE    6-12           IND 1-8                MIN  9-18           IND 9-15            CIN  0-9

       The past weeks has been a windy, up and down travel through the Devil's backbone for the Houston Texans when it comes to third down. There has been zero consistency from game to game. However, it's simple, if Houston does well on third down they win the game. Last time they played against NE they did a fair job, but the average third down that NE had was 4.375 yards. This week Houston needs to put New England into longer third down situations.  On top of that Houston has to get away from having long third downs. The past five weeks they have had to get 6.93 yards to reach the first down on average. As a result they have run 52 passes compared to only 16 running plays. Opposing defenses can dial in on the blitz and know exactly what is upcoming if Houston keeps putting themselves in long third down situations. This is a conclusion from the run run pass offense that has been casually run all season.
         On top of third down Houston will need to open the game up more, like what they did against Cincy, and utilize some element of surprise. Kubiak is going to need to take some shots deep against a weak NE pass defense, keep them on their heels and cultivate the running game. New England is weak against TE and third WR so Schuab must spread the ball around like what he did against Cincy. Dre should have a big game against Talib, and LeStar will make a big play. Also Houston will be able to run three TE sets that they were unable to run against NE the first time since Graham was hurt. Houston must apply every aspect of their offense if they want to beat the Belichick defense.

Red Zone Red Alert

          Houston has been homeless in the redzone as of late. It's been impossible for them to get touchdowns in the red zone. Last week they kicked three field goals that made a possible 28-13 game a 19-13 win. Kicking field goals is not a bad thing when they are in the 40 yard range and in 4th and long situations. However, most of Houston's field goals have come when they are in the red zone and their drives crap out. In the last five weeks Houston has kicked 13 field goals and have slammed it into the end zone only 5 times. This includes a streak of 8 straight field goals, none of the touchdowns have been longer than 15 yards, and 4 of the TDs are less than five yards. Houston's average field goal length during this time period is 37 yards which is a field goal kick from the 20 yard line (+10 for the length of the end zone and +7 for the distance between the line of scrimmage and where the kick actually takes place). Nine of their 14 field goals have taken place inside the redzone, that stat really is the dingleberry on top of a shit sunday. Houston has been able to move the ball, but they choke once they get to the 25 yard line. Touchdowns, not field goals will beat the Patriots on Sunday.

The Decision

          I have been sick and bored the past couple of days so I booted up NFL 2K5 on the trusty old PS2. It was almost impossible to complete a pass to Corey Bradford with David Carr, let alone even get the ball away. The defense consisted of studs like Morlon Greenwood, Travis Johnson, Antwan Peek and rookie Jason Babin. They got rammed for 7 yards on every carry by LT as a Charger. In addition to this was Faggins (I remember a time when Houston fans all were thinking he wasn't half bad, man we were oblivious to what good football was) , Glenn Earl and Dunta Robinson (who finished second on the team in tackles with 69). The 2005-2006 season Houston went 2-14 and Kubiak came in who slowly changed the culture of the organization into the successful team that we have today. The whole point to this is that yes the Texans will probably lose on Sunday, but before you start to call in talk radio and go on message boards think about how macabre the past has been. Think about David Carr and Sage Rosenfels as starting QBs. Think about Amobi Okoye at Nose Tackle. Think about all the 5 losing seasons and the three 8-8/9-7 teams that just were not good enough to make the playoffs. This is a great young team that will continue to win and get better.
          This game will be much better than the eerie week 14 match up. Houston should actually get some breaks this week, but they must play perfect football. No turnovers, play impeccable third down defense and score touchdowns, not field goals. They will be able to move the ball on the NE offense and the defense should be able to be more troublesome. Add this to the Nobody Believes in Us Factor and how not one person has picked Houston in this game thus far (except for Adam Schefter and the Simmons podcast linked might be the next podcast jinx like when NE lost to the NYG after being 17-0). I think Houston will lose just because of their inability to score touchdowns in the redzone compared to the Pats' stellar Hernandez and Gronk Duo. Pats win 31-20 and Houston will be stopped short of their first AFC title game. Schuab proves doubters wrong by winning the Pro Bowl MVP. The groundhog won't see his shadow. Winter will be long and lonely.
Other Picks
DEN over BAL (I do think HOU would win in DEN and BAL would win in NE)
SF over GB
ATL over SEA
Still SF over NE in Superbowl         

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Wild Card Weekend-Texans Vs Bengals

          The Houston Texans are playing today at 3:30 against the Cincinnati Bengals in a game that exhibits a weird sense of deja vu. Everyone knows the story last season. Matt Schuab had his foot ripped off underneath a pile by Albert Haynesworth in a blowout against the Bucs and was replaced by beer bong connoisseur, Matt Leinart. In Leinart's first game as a starting QB since his days in Arizona, he managed to play well only to break his collarbone. Then came the third stringer, T.J Yates. He did the imporbabable, beat the Falcons and then the Bengals on a game winning touchdown pass with the clock down to zero and clinched the franchise's first AFC South championship. Houston then managed to lose their last three games only to beat the Bengals in the first round in the exact same time slot as this year. Last season was a great story of "what ifs" that I am sure I will tell it in the future when I am a babbling old man.
              Four weeks ago every fan and player was on the verge of climaxing at the prospect of a bye week and then having to beat the Ravens/Colts/Bengals to enter the AFC championship. After starting the season off 11-1, with eyes fixed on a Superbowl appearance, the Texans tumbled from the #1 seed to the #3 seed after going 1-3. As a result, they are now playing Wild Card weekend instead of getting vacation time. The Bengals on the other hand have broken through the wall of mediocrity. After starting the season 3-5, they have managed to go 7-1 and actually beat a team over .500. If Houston wins they then go to New England with the chance of avenging a nauseous, 42-14 loss to the Patriots. If the Bengals win they would be going to Denver, unless the Colts manage to beat the Ravens in Ray Lewis' last game. Here is everything you need to know for the 3:30 game in Reliant Stadium.


          Every analyst, talking head, SC anchor and fan is already writing the Texans off this post season because of momentum. The advanced Stats have shown the disparate movement of the Texans from a top team in weeks 1-8 to an average one the rest of the season (scroll down for the table). However, none of this talk was heard when Houston beat the Bears on the road and won two OT games in five days. Instead, the talk was how resilient Houston is and how they are able to do anything to manage to win. Now that they have lost 3 of their last four, all against playoff teams, the talk is how they are cold and will be bounced out in the first round. The Bengals have all the "momentum" on the other hand since they finished 7-1 (only one win .500 team, the Giants who in the middle of a terrible run, not counting week 17 when all the backups played). Cincinnati has played better in the second half, but only have wins against the AFC West cellar dwellers, Giants, Eagles and a tough win against the Steelers. They have played better than Houston in the second half, but the record is mostly because of schedule difference.
          I was tired of listening how important momentum is in the playoffs almost as much as hearing Wanted-Glad you Came while at the bar or on the radio. So I went back and looked at the record for every playoff team's last four games of the regular season and then took the record of their first playoff game. I came up with the chart as followed.
Record        Wins         Losses        Percentage
1-3                 4                 3                  .500
2-2                 9                 7                  .562
3-1                13               12                 .520
4-0                 6                 6                  .500  
            There are a lot of other factors that go into these numbers like overall record entering the last four weeks, defensive, and offensive rankings. However, the main goal is just disproving the talk of the Texans having poor momentum because of their record these last 4 games. If anything being 1-3 down the stretch is better than going 4-0. Just because the Bengals went 3-1 (7-1 down the stretch) and Houston went 1-3 (5-3 down the stretch) does not give the Bengals any momentum down in this game.
          For some historical hope for the Texans chance of a deep playoff run. The Texans could end the season like the Jets in 2010. The Jets started off 9-2, then went 2-3 to end the year (2-2 last 4) and upsetted the Colts in Indy and won in NE only to lose in the AFC championship to the Steelers. Like the Jets, the Texans started off strong, lost a bye because of losses at the end of the year, but still managed to make it to the AFC championship. However, no team playing in the Superbowl has ended the year 1-3. Now that momentum is not important in this game, let's look at the actual matchups.

Arian Foster vs the Bengals Defense

          The offense has been soft and flabby of late. They have only managed 65 points in their last four games at an average of 16.25 a game. This is horrendous compared to their first 12 games when they averaged 29.25 points a game. Why has there been such a drop off when their yards gained fall in to roughly the same averages? The main reason is poor play on third downs and too many red zone field goals. Houston has been able to move the ball, only to give up a negative play or penalty that crushes their touchdown chances. Graham has kicked 7 field goals from 20-40 yards. These are drives that Houston has gone deep enough to get TDs only to fall short. This must change if they want to beat the Bengals today. I am going to punch a hole in the Ozone if Graham kicks another 24 yard field goal.
          Arian Foster is going against another tough defense this year. These last four games he has looked tired and not his usual self. His yards per carry has plummeted, but this is mostly due to the fact the cutback has not been there. Opposing defenses are starting to stay in their lanes against the zone and bottle him up. Schuab will need to get the playaction going to help open the game for Arian, not the other way around. Foster has played well against top defenses this season (using DVOA).                                        Carries            Yards             Yards Per Carry
Chicago #1 ranked defense            29                 102                      3.52
Denver #5  ranked defense             25                 105                      4.2
Miami #14 ranked defense             26                   79                      3.04
NYJ     #9  ranked defense             29                 152                      5.24
NE       #15 ranked defense            15                   46                       3.07
          A good day from Foster should be expected. I am sure he will get at least 25 carries and should have around 100 yards. The Bengals have the #10 defense and a run defense that allows 107.2 a game. Hopefully, Kubiak keeps Arian fresh and we see at least 10 carries from Tate/Forsett.

Dre and A.J

          This year the 31 year old Andre Johnson ended all talks of who the best wide receiver in the AFC is after a year of 112 catches on 164 targets, 1,598 yards and 4 touchdowns. A.J Green, 97 catches on 164 targets, 1,350 yards and 6 touchdowns will eventually take over Dre's throne as father time takes over. Both of these WR have had incredible years, but they should be harassed all day by the opposing pass defense. Houston ranks #4 and Cincinnati ranks #9 against a team's #1 wide receiver. 31% of Dalton's throws have gone towards AJ Green, but only 59.1% have been completed. Houston must not let Green beat you deep and force incompletions. Look for Houston to run a zone, but always have Joseph or Jackson covering him in man coverage. For either team to win they must not let these top wide receivers to gallop freely across the field.
          Despite, both of these teams ability to stop the #1 WR, they have been sub par when covering the #2 WR. Houston ranks #28 and Cincinatti ranks # 22 in the league. The good news for both defenses is that each QB does not throw the ball anywhere other than their top #1 WR, TE, or RB.
Walter-    41 catches 68 targets 518 yards 2 TD
Hawkins- 51 catches 80 targets 533 yards 4 TD
          Both of these players have about the same averages and each is overshadowed by their teams top WR. These last 4 weeks Walter has only seen 10 targets compared to Andre's 50. Walter/Martin/Jean/Posey should get open on a deep pass and Schuab must complete it. Also in losses Schuab has thrown 0 TDs and 5 INTs. Most of these picks have not been a result have a bad decision, but a poor throw to a receiver that has a  step on the defender. Both quarterbacks must move the ball around and whoever is most successful in this aspect may very well win the game.

The Trenches

          Each team's defense is led by a great defensive line. Watt has had the greatest season statistically of any defensive lineman in the history of the NFL. However, the Bengals have an All Pro on their line as well with Geno Atkins delivering pressure up the middle. Both offensive lines will have to neutralize either one to keep their offense in a rhythm. The Bengals O-line is ranked 28th in the league with 46 sacks and a rate of 8.3% and their defensive line is #2 with 51 sacks and a sack rate of 8.7%. The Texans defensive line is #6 with 44 sacks and a 7.2% sack rate while their O-line has allowed 28 sacks at a rate of 5.3%. Houston's O-line is marginally better than Cincy's on the ground as well. Based on the overall numbers Houston does have an advantage, but their O-line play has been suspect lately. If Houston's front seven can keep the run game to a minimum and force 3rd and 7+ look for their pass rush to abuse the Bengals offensive line. The two big match ups in this area will be Watt against Andre Roberts and Geno against Ben Jones and Wade Smith. Each team will probably run to the opposite side of these two in order to fine success running the ball, but you can't throw away from a pass rush. I believe that whichever offensive line is able to negate the others front seven the most will win.

The Prediction

          This game should be a physical, hard hitting, old school game and most likely it will be like the Bear's game in week 8. The Bengals have a similar team, one that is led by a top WR, great defense and an inconsistent QB. The past 4 weeks don't matter and the regular season schedule is wiped clean. Whoever wins this game will be the one with the better offensive line and which one is able to stop the passing game. Arian and Ellis will be fed the ball consistently, but I can't see them being able to do much more than 4 yards a carry. It will come down to Andre or Green making a big play and the quarterback utilizing his receiver's other than the big names. The past 4 weeks has displayed a Texans team from some weird alternate reality and not the team Houston really is. They will cut loose and will 20-13 in a close game.
          This is the part where analyst hat gets tipped into the air, picked off and taken for a touchdown right before the end of the half. I will always have love for Cincinatti, Houston clinched their first AFC South Title against them, won their first playoff game against them and I did enjoy my time living 15 minutes South of the Ohio River. However, Cincinatti has nothing on the Greatest Nation on Earth.
Shiner > Christain Moerlein Brewing Company
Whataburger > Skyline Chile
The Ballpark in Arlington > Great American
Tubing in a river > Finding Dead Bodies in a River
Manifest Destiny > NW Ordinance of 1785
UGK > 98 Degrees
Texans > Bengals
Go Texans. Let's go back to New England next weekend.

Picks for the Wild Card Round
Colts over Ravens
Texans over Bengals
Redskins over Seahawks
Packers over Vikings
49ers over Pats in Superbowl