AFC South: Houston Texans

Jaguars vs. Texans preview

December, 25, 2014
Dec 25
We come to the end of a tumultuous season for the Houston Texans and one that, remarkably, has a chance to continue past Week 17.

If the Texans win, the Kansas City Chiefs beat the San Diego Chargers and the Cleveland Browns beat the Baltimore Ravens, Houston gets a playoff berth. That leaves the Jacksonville Jaguars in the role of spoilers.

In their first meeting, the Texans struggled early and Jacksonville went into halftime with a lead. Houston took over in the second half and came away with an important win. The Texans were swept last season by the Jaguars, but this year, Houston is going for the season sweep. A win here would give Houston a 4-2 division record.

They are facing a Jaguars team that earned its third victory of the season last week and enters Sunday's contest with 10 days' rest.

ESPN NFL Nation Texans reporter Tania Ganguli and Jaguars reporter Mike DiRocco discuss.

Ganguli: Mike, the Jaguars didn't have much success against J.J. Watt last time these teams met. Any reason to think that will change this time?

DiRocco: Watt did get three sacks, but one came when he was intentionally unblocked on a bootleg (not sure why you’d choose to do that) and another came when he tapped quarterback Blake Bortles after he slipped on a sprint out to this right. He beat right tackle Sam Young for another sack. Watt also had another tackle for loss and drew a holding penalty that stalled a fourth-quarter drive, but overall the Jaguars felt like they did a decent job of keeping Watt from doing too much damage. They’ll do the same thing on Sunday they did the last time: chip him with a back, keep a tight end in for extra help, and try to throw quick passes to somewhat neutralize his rush. It’s hard to really take him out of the game because he lines up everywhere on the defensive front. He spent a lot of time lined up over Young in the last meeting and the Jaguars are expecting to see him do that again. Watt will still make an impact because he is such a game-changer, but the Jaguars are hoping that’s limited to one or two plays and he doesn’t dominate the game as he has against other teams.

We talked about it before, but I need you to give me the definitive argument on why Watt should be the league's MVP.

Ganguli: Your answer to my previous question actually gives me a good starting point. Watt had three sacks, a batted pass, another tackle for loss, five quarterback hurries or hits and drew a holding penalty on a critical drive and his opponent felt like that was a job well done. That's quite a compliment. In watching the game, it was apparent Bortles was thinking about Watt's whereabouts, including on the sack that resulted from Bortles tripping as Watt sprinted after him. You can't say Watt's pursuit didn't affect Bortles there. This kind of thing happens a lot. I recall a Titans lineman a few years ago downplaying Watt's impact despite his two sacks against this particular lineman.

Regardless of what shows up on the stat sheet, Watt impacts every play in an opponent's game plan. He has the trust of his coaches, which means if he finds a spot from which he thinks he can wreak the most havoc, they'll sometimes let him park there and do it. It doesn't matter how someone gets to the quarterback, when he does it makes a difference. Defensively, here are Watt's numbers: 17.5 sacks, 72 tackles, 42 tackles for loss or no gain, nine batted passes, five fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles and one interception. He leads the NFL in TFLs, batted passes and fumble recoveries. Only once since sacks became an official statistic in 1982 has a player accounted for a larger percentage of a team's sacks than Watt's 53 percent. He's played better this season than he did in 2012, when he won Defensive Player of the Year.

Now let's get to the historical significance of his offensive touches. Watt is the first player in NFL history to have three touchdown catches, a fumble return for a touchdown and a pick-six in the same season. Watt is the first defensive lineman since 1944 to have at least five touchdowns in a season. He's the first defensive player to have five touchdowns in a season since 1971. The Texans are 4-1 when Watt scores a touchdown. By the very nature of his position, he isn't going to be able to affect every game's outcome as much as a quarterback -- who touches the ball on every play -- does. But he shouldn't be penalized for that.

The vibe around Jacksonville has seemed exceptionally positive the past few years, though the Jags' record isn’t improving much. Do you think it will next year?

DiRocco: It should, but I thought it would be better this year than it was in 2013 (4-12), too. Logically, though, the offense should be significantly better with Bortles, right guard Brandon Linder, center Luke Bowanko, and receivers Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns in their second season. They all started at least seven games as rookies. Just because they’re a year older doesn’t mean they’ll be a lot better, but it would be unusual if they weren’t at least somewhat improved. The offense was what held this team back from being more competitive. With that unit theoretically better, the Jaguars should be able to win more games. Some other caveats: The offensive line as a whole has to improve (team-record and NFL-high 66 sacks allowed), the speed at linebacker needs to be upgraded, and the defense has to force more turnovers. It sounds like a lot, and it is, but if two of those areas improve, the Jaguars should be able to win more games in 2015.

Great performance by Case Keenum last week to keep the Texans alive in the playoff chase. Does that outing say more about Keenum or the rest of the offense?

Ganguli: He didn't make big mistakes, which allowed the Texans' defense to take over the game. Last season in his eight starts, Keenum led the league in yards lost per sack (10.58). That's an incredible figure. On Sunday, with the help of his protection and play-calling, Keenum didn't take a single sack. He made one horrible decision that ended in an interception, but recovered well and didn't turn over the ball again. It helped that his interception was not in Texans territory. Keenum's numbers weren't especially good, but that's OK for the Texans if he takes care of the ball and manages the game plan well, like he did on Sunday.

Keenum’s protection was great last week against a really strong front that blitzed him a lot. What can he expect from the Jaguars' defense?

DiRocco: The Jaguars likely won’t blitz him as much as Baltimore did, mainly because coach Gus Bradley’s defense doesn’t use a lot of blitzes. Bradley calls it rush and cover: get pressure with only four rushers and blanket the field with seven in coverage. But while Keenum won’t see as many extra rushers as he did last week, he will have to deal with pressure coming from inside and outside. Defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks leads the team with 8.5 sacks, an unusually high number for an interior lineman, and ends Chris Clemons (7.0) and Ryan Davis (6.5) are right behind him. Three other players have three sacks, including rookie end Chris Smith and second-year tackle Abry Jones. The Jaguars are fifth in the NFL with 42 sacks, which shows marked improvement from the past two seasons, when they had 51 combined.

Back to the quarterback. Is the Texans' quarterback of the future on the roster or IR?

Ganguli: He definitely could be on injured reserve. Ryan Mallett showed some very positive things in the game he played. He showed off his arm strength, his football intelligence and his leadership ability. He's played only one healthy game. When I talked to him last week, he wouldn't admit how much pain he was in during that second start, which he played with a torn pectoral muscle, but you can imagine. A one-game sample size isn't one with which you can draw sweeping conclusions, but it offered hope for his future. The X factor here is the free-agent market. Whether or not he's back next year will have more factors than just mutual affinity, which does exist between Mallett and the team right now.
HOUSTON -- Texans kicker Randy Bullock was named AFC special-teams player of the week for a performance in a game in which his team relied heavily on him.

"It’s really special," Bullock said. "It’s an honor I’ve never had before. It sounds like it’s been something that hasn’t happened here in a while. It’s really special, but like I said, I’m just honored and very happy to be able to receive that. But a lot of that, again, is credited to Jon Weeks and Shane Lechler. They’ve been very, very beneficial to me."

Bullock kicked six field goals and made them all from 20, 25, 30, 33, 35 and 39 yards. He accounted for 19 of the Texans' 25 points in their 12-point win over the Ravens.

The six field goals are the most in any NFL game this season and a Texans single-game record.

“Six under 40 yards, that’s a big game," Bullock said. "It was a lot of fun to be able to put points on the board, and hopefully we’ll be able to score some touchdowns and be successful this week.”

Bullock credited long-snapper Weeks and punter Lechler, who is the holder on place kicks, with helping his success this season. Now that he's left it behind, he can assess why he struggled earlier in his career.

"Honestly, looking back I think it was a little bit of everything," Bullock said. "I had been put in some tough situations. I didn’t feel like I was making as good of contact on the ball at times. Looking back, I really studied a whole lot of tape and did a whole lot of mental and physical preparation for this year to try and put that behind me and move forward."

This marks the fourth time the Texans have had a player of the week. Defensive end J.J. Watt has earned the award twice and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick once.
Houston Texans defensive tackle Jerrell Powe will bend the ears of some of his old Kansas City Chiefs teammates this week.

"Definitely going to call them and get in their ear and say, we need y'all to play extra hard this week and get the W," Powe said. "I'll ... tell them, hey we need San Diego to lose so you gotta get after Rivers. They’re banged up anyway so bang 'em on up."

This time of year creates strange cheerleaders for various teams. Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers, for example, was a big Texans fan last weekend.

"You should have seen me and Gunner, my 6-year-old," Rivers said, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. "We didn't miss a play in that Baltimore-Houston game. We were truly fans from play to play, cheering and carrying on. He's jumping up and down on the couch. I never cheered for the Texans so hard. It was exciting, and all that did was put us back in control."

The Texans, of course, now need the Chargers to lose. They also need the Ravens to lose again. And Houston needs to beat the Jaguars this weekend. If all three of those things happen they'll return to the playoffs after a one-year hiatus.

"The only person I talked to about it was Justin Houston, but he was like, they need the win, too," former Chief and Texans safety Kendrick Lewis said. "In a sense, it’s not helping, they’re trying to help themselves. ...

"I have confidence in them. They fight, they fight hard. They want to go into the playoffs. Their season didn’t go as they wanted to where they control their own destiny. They’re fighting, they’re fighting. I believe they’ll pull through for us."
» Pro Bowl analysis: AFC | NFC » Complete roster


J.J. Watt, DE, third Pro Bowl selection: This is the no-brainer of all no-brainers. Where do we begin? Watt leads the NFL in tackles for loss, batted passes, quarterback hits and forced fumbles. He's second in sacks and this year became the franchise leader in that statistic. He's accounted for 53 percent of the Texans' sacks, and according to Elias, only Tim Harris of the 1989 Green Bay Packers (57 percent) accounted for a higher percentage of his team’s sacks since sacks became official in 1982. Watt making the Pro Bowl was inevitable. The bigger question is: Will he get serious MVP consideration?

Who he beat out: Eagles DE Fletcher Cox, Seahawks DE Michael Bennett, Bills DE Jerry Hughes

Arian Foster, RB, fourth Pro Bowl selection: Foster missed three games this season, but has been dynamic when healthy. He has seven 100-yard rushing games and ranks fourth in rushing yards with 1,223. That Foster is versatile is no secret. He's also caught 37 passes for 317 yards and four touchdowns. This past weekend Foster took his versatility to another level, throwing a touchdown pass to tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz. It was the first passing attempt of Foster's career.

Who he beat out: Baltimore's Justin Forsett, Green Bay's Eddie Lacy, Washington's Alfred Morris

QB snapshot: Case Keenum

December, 23, 2014
Dec 23
A quick observation of quarterback Case Keenum and how he played in the Houston Texans' 25-13 win over the Baltimore Ravens Sunday.

This win was an emotional one for Keenum, who set NCAA records at the University of Houston, went undrafted and then spent his entire rookie season on the Texans' practice squad. He got to start in his second season but went 0-8 during the Texans' disastrous 2013 campaign. New Texans coach Bill O'Brien drafted Tom Savage, then traded for Ryan Mallett and waived Keenum, bringing him back last week in a desperate time. He responded by impressing everyone with his huddle command and ability to remember the offense quickly.

Keenum's Total QBR was 40.2, ranking 25th among quarterbacks who played this weekend. Not great, but it was better than Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and Joe Flacco, who combined for nine interceptions. In that respect, he gave the Texans exactly what they needed.

Thirty-six of his 43 dropbacks came out of the shotgun, leaving little time for things to go awry. Aided by an impressive performance by a banged-up offensive line, he took no sacks and threw only one interception. By minimizing mistakes, Keenum allowed the Texans' defense to take over the game.

As recently as last week, the Houston Texans seemed like a longshot to make the playoffs.

Not so anymore. The Texans need to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars and get help from the Kansas City Chiefs and the Cleveland Browns. If the Texans win, they need the Chiefs to beat the Chargers and the Browns to beat the Ravens.

All three games are at 1 p.m. ET/noon CT on Sunday, setting up a very dramatic slate of early games.

How likely is this?

The Browns beating the Ravens is a bigger question mark than the Chiefs beating the Chargers.

The Chargers are beatable, especially outside the Pacific time zone, where they're 2-3. They needed a tremendous comeback to beat the 49ers on Saturday and are now traveling to face a Chiefs team that is a solid 5-2 at home. This is by no means a gimme for the Texans -- the Chiefs have lost four of their last five games, including one to the Oakland Raiders.

The Browns are on a four-game losing streak, having lost to the Bills, Colts, Bengals and Panthers. They've already failed the Texans once when Houston needed Cleveland to beat the Colts. Cleveland's Week 17 game is in Baltimore and the Ravens are 5-2 at home. The last time they met, the Ravens only beat the Browns by two points, but the Browns were looking better back then than they are now.

For their part, the Texans are making a concerted effort to worry only about what they can control. And they should beat the Jaguars, especially if the Texans' defense plays anything like it has in the past two weeks.
videoHOUSTON -- When the Houston Texans' defense took the field on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens it carried the weight of a franchise's playoff hopes with it.

Here was a Texans team on its fourth quarterback of the season, one that only won two games last season, starting a quarterback who was on another team's practice squad just seven days ago.

The Texans needed something special from their defense and every defensive player knew it. To answer the call, for the second week in a row, they played a spectacularly complete game in a 25-13 win against what's normally a very competent offense.

"We knew we had to play big today," safety Kendrick Lewis said. "We knew we had to step up and help our quarterback out. He just got in here this week and we wanted to help him out as much as possible."

Now, even with all the bad luck that's descended upon them, the Texans (8-7) are still in playoff contention.

"I think if you'd told people all week that we were going to sign a guy on Monday and he was going to come in and we were going to win the football game on Sunday, technically a fourth-string quarterback, and everyone kind of thinking the other team was going to win ... it's pretty special," J.J. Watt said. "I think it's a testament to our team. It's a testament to the coaching staff, to the guys we have. It was fun. Days like today are just, they're a blast."

Case Keenum was in a tree when he heard there might be a chance he'd return to the Texans.

He'd hoped a few weeks ago, when the Texans lost Ryan Mallett to a torn pectoral muscle, that he'd get a chance then. It didn't happen, though, so he vanquished that thought. He was in a tree when the hope returned, wielding a bow and arrow about 30 miles outside St. Louis, hunting some white-tailed deer.

"My wife was texting me actually during the Texans game that Ryan [Fitzpatrick] had gotten hurt and that Tom [Savage] was in there and [punter] Shane [Lechler] was warming up," Keenum said. "I got a call from my agent and my heart kind of jumped a little bit."

He came in and successfully ran an offense wisely designed to play to his strengths and minimize his weaknesses. His throws came quickly out of the shotgun formation. His protection was sound. There were five direct snaps to running back Arian Foster. Once, Keenum lofted an ill-fated pass that a Ravens' safety caught as if it was a punt, but that turnover wasn't especially costly.

Keenum completed 20 of 42 passes for 185 yards, one interception and no touchdowns with a passer rating of 50.2. It was all the Texans needed from him on this day -- the Texans' defense made sure of that.

As smart as their offensive plan was, their defensive plan was nothing short of brilliant.

"Coming into the game, I didn’t think our pressure was going to work like it did today," Lewis said. "Our front seven was unbelievable. We were able to get three interceptions. [Flacco] was lobbing it up and we were taking it down. Jack [Kareem Jackson] caught two. A.J. [Bouye] caught one. I dropped one. Everything was working."

It was one part stopping the run, the Texans held Baltimore to a season-low 33 yards rushing, and two parts terrorizing Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who came into the game with a total QBR lower than only Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Tony Romo.

"We had a lot of pressure on him," linebacker Brooks Reed said. "J.J. coming off the edge. We disguised well, dropped more than probably what he thought. Rushed more than he thought. There were a lot of quarterback hits in this game."

There were 10 quarterback hits, to be precise, four by Watt, two by Jared Crick and two more each by linebackers Brian Cushing and Akeem Dent. According to ESPN Stats and Info, Flacco attempted 16 passes when under duress Sunday, his most such attempts since Week 6 of the 2009 season. It paid off -- Flacco completed only four of those passes.

His feet started dancing, his throws started sailing and the Texans could see him unraveling.

"It was incredible," safety D.J. Swearinger said of the defensive game plan. "We had a certain blitz that they couldn't stop and I thought it was crazy how they couldn't stop it."

That took a toll on the Ravens. They would shake their heads and slump their shoulders, giving visual confirmation to the Texans defense that they'd done their job.

"Defense is playing lights out," nose tackle Ryan Pickett said. "That's the way we've been building up to play all year, and now we are putting it together."

The crescendo is coming at an important time for the Texans.
Observed and heard in the locker room after the Houston Texans' 25-13 victory over Baltimore:
  • O'Brien
    When they walked out of the meeting, Texans receivers Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins joked that they thought Bill O'Brien was going to flip the podium over. His pregame speech was stirring. "If you wasn't ready to play before that, after the speech it really had your juices flowing," Johnson said. "... You have to do whatever you have to do to get the team going. I think what he said, he hit it right on the head. I just think that what he said needed to be said. I think a lot of people, because of the situation we went through, losing players and our quarterbacks and stuff like that, really didn't give us a chance to win today. We went out and proved a lot of people wrong." Count me among them. During the week, I picked the Ravens to win 14-3.
  • J.J. Watt arrived at his postgame news conference wearing a red Christmas sweater with a pair of black reindeer on it. Before the game, Watt chatted with former NBA great Dikembe Mutombo about the finger wag that Mutombo did after blocked shots and Watt does after batted passes. Watt offered an impression of Mutombo then said he sounded like the cookie monster. He also noted what a large man Mutombo, who stands at 7-foot-2, is. "I told him, I gotta walk away from you bro; you're killing my confidence before the game," Watt said.
  • Watt and Johnson were the last two players to leave the locker room. Watt congratulated Johnson and shook his hand as he left, and Johnson returned the sentiment. Johnson made career catch No. 1,000 on Sunday, and Watt became the franchise leader in sacks.
  • A beaming Texans owner Bob McNair said Sunday's game was the biggest win of the season. "Our defense just dominated to such an extent. It's unbelievable," he said. "... They made their offense totally ineffective."

Swat (Dikembe Mutombo) meets Watt. #BALvsHOU (David H. Philip/AP)

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Rapid Reaction: Houston Texans

December, 21, 2014
Dec 21

HOUSTON -- Some thoughts from the Houston Texans' 25-13 win over the Baltimore Ravens at NRG Stadium:

What it means: The Texans' defense dominated the Ravens in the first half, and by the time the Ravens did anything, it was too late for them to catch up. By halftime, the Ravens had two first downs, 17 yards passing and 14 yards rushing. Joe Flacco looked befuddled by what the Texans were doing. This was a statement game for the Texans' defense, and with it they kept alive the playoff hopes of a team now on its fourth quarterback of the season.

Stock watch: The Texans' receivers both hit milestones on Sunday. Andre Johnson became the second-fastest player in NFL history to reach 1,000 catches early in the game. His first catch of the day was a 35-yard bomb from quarterback Case Keenum on the Texans' first pass of the game. Meanwhile, his protégé, DeAndre Hopkins, became the fifth player in Texans history to reach 2,000 career receiving yards. He'll have a nice career.

Foster tosses a touchdown pass: In his return to Houston, Keenum won his first game as the Texans' starter, but the Texans' only touchdown pass of the game came from someone else. Keenum pitched the ball to Arian Foster, who threw it to tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz. It was the first touchdown pass thrown by a running back in the league this season, the first non-quarterback touchdown pass for the Texans since 2002, and it came on the first pass attempt of Foster's career. When Foster has been healthy, he's played well. This was another notch on his belt.

Game ball: This must go to a defensive player, and while J.J. Watt had another great game, Sunday's game ball goes to cornerback Kareem Jackson, who picked off Flacco twice. Both of Jackson's interceptions gave the Texans' offense great field position and led to Texans points. Cornerback A.J. Bouye also picked off Flacco.

What's next: The Texans finish the regular season by hosting the Jacksonville Jaguars at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.
HOUSTON -- Texans quarterback Ryan Mallett might be on injured reserve, but he's far from scarce around the team's facility and practices lately.

 Wearing a sling on his right side, Mallett just wants to be around and to help.

"Obviously, I can’t help physically," Mallett said. "Anything I can help Case [Keenum] with, if he has questions, I try. I’m not going to get in his way but if he needs to ask a question about what to do I help him."

He's done such a good job of that, it's made Texans' coach Bill O'Brien think Mallett could have coaching in his future if he wants to do that someday.

"The guy really has an understanding off football, and he’s been out there really helping out a lot in the meetings, in the walk throughs, out at practice," O'Brien said. "He’s a really good teammate. ... He is a very good communicator when it comes to knowledge of the system."

Makes sense, as Mallett comes from a family of coaches -- including his father, uncles and grandfathers.

Mallett, who had surgery to repair a torn right pectoral muscle last month, keeps his focus right now on the short term. His long-term plans? He'll think about that later.

"Of course, I like it here," he said, when asked if he wanted to return to Houston next season. "I love the system. It’s not that time of year to discuss that. We’re still in the season. We’ll focus on the Ravens."
HOUSTON -- The hit Andre Johnson took two weeks ago against the Jacksonville Jaguars was scary to watch. It was perhaps scarier to others than it was to him. On Thursday, during locker room availability, Johnson offered this glimpse into what that and the last week was like.

Was it tough to miss last week's game?

Johnson: Yeah, it was tough. You always want to be out there, playing with your teammates. It's hard to sit there and watch it. It's unfortunate what I had to go through. I'm fine now and I'll be out there Sunday.

Was it scary?

Johnson: It wasn't scary. I think it was more scary for other people than it was for me. ... Everybody else who saw it said it was a scary moment for them. I watched the play. Even after it happened, I didn't feel nervous or anything. It's a part of football. It happens. I've seen it happen several times. Just have to move on from it.

Did you lose consciousness?

Johnson: I thought I did. I felt like I blanked out for a moment. [Texans center] Chris Myers told me my eyes were still open. I don't know. I felt my body and stuff, my arms and stuff tense up. I remember everything.

Have you spoken with Telvin Smith, the player who delivered the hit?

Johnson: I haven't talked to him. I don't think that was something that was intentionally done. It's part of the game. It happens. It was a bang-bang play. We get to play them next week. I don't expect an apology from it. After I got up off the ground, I remember some of the players coming to me, saying 'Get better.' I don't think it was nothing intentional.

Was your family freaking out?

Johnson: Of course. Your family members and friends. It wasn't scary. You just don't, I wouldn't say I want to experience it again. You've been around this game for a long time. You've seen it happen. I think maybe if I was carried off on the stretcher, that would've been the scary part.

When did you feel right?

Johnson: I felt fine once I got up and walked off and went to the sideline. I felt fine.

What were your symptoms last week?

Johnson: Just headaches.

Do you think more now about the impact concussions can have?

Johnson: I mean, I think the biggest part is just being smart about the situation. That's why I didn't play last week; I was cleared to play. I think it's more about just being smart about the situation. You have to communicate how you feel. That's pretty much it.

Is part of being smart thinking about your future?

Johnson: Nah, I think being smart is you're knocked out. Being smart is knowing that, not just going out there just because you want to go out there. You need to be feeling like yourself. Being aware and make sure your memory and everything is back to where it was. That's the being smart part.

Ravens vs. Texans preview

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
When: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET Where: NRG Stadium, Houston TV: CBS

This weekend's matchup pits a Baltimore Ravens team in a fight to make the playoffs -- and with a decent shot to do so -- against a Houston Texans team whose members defiantly insist their recent misfortunes have not changed their mentality.

The Texans (7-7) are still technically alive in the playoff hunt, but it will take a lot of good fortune in games they can't control for them to make it even with a win against the Ravens.

The Ravens (9-5) can clinch a playoff spot with a win and losses by the Bengals and Steelers, a win and a loss or tie by Kansas City and San Diego or a tie with the Texans and losses by Kansas City, San Diego and Buffalo.

Of course, even without these playoff scenarios, there are plenty of storylines between these two teams, so let's get right to them.

ESPN NFL Nation's Texans reporter Tania Ganguli and Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley discuss.

Ganguli: So Jamison, the Ravens' roster seems filled with former Texans in key roles, none bigger than former Texans coach Gary Kubiak. How has Kubiak's offense been received up there?

Hensley: With enthusiastic applause. Kubiak has done so well in his first season that there's a fear he could be one-and-done in Baltimore. He transformed the NFL's 30th-ranked run game to the league's fifth best, and that's without a single carry by Ray Rice. He has quarterback Joe Flacco on pace for career highs in passing yards and touchdowns. And he has the Ravens' offense on track for its first top-10 finish since 1997. Kubiak's biggest influence has come on the offensive line, which has thrived in his zone blocking system and straight-forward pass protection schemes. There has been some criticism of Kubiak recently. His personnel groupings have begun to tip off defenses on what to expect. Kubiak was also too conservative against the Jaguars last Sunday and didn't take enough deep shots against a vulnerable secondary. Overall, this is the best Ravens offense in recent memory and Kubiak deserves a big chunk of the credit.

Speaking of Kubiak, he was the head coach for the Texans for eight seasons. That's over half of the franchise's existence. Will his return to Houston bring out any extra emotions from fans or the home crowd? Or do you think this reunion is a nonfactor?

Ganguli: Well, I'll tell you this: that complaint about the personnel grouping sounds familiar. By the end of his tenure here there was a feeling things got too predictable offensively. I remember an uproar last season after Richard Sherman picked off Matt Schaub for one of the infamous pick-sixes. Sherman and other Seahawks talked about how they knew exactly what was about to come on that play. Last season was such a catastrophe people were glad to see Kubiak go despite all he accomplished during his tenure here, two division titles, the first ever playoff wins in franchise history, etc. But I think enough time has passed that there will be some nostalgia and warm feelings toward him. People appreciate what kind of person he is even if they thought the Texans needed a change. He was also very well liked in the building, the kind of guy who was kind and knew everybody's name, so I know his reception will be warm among Texans employees.

Sticking with the former Texans, what's made Justin Forsett so successful?

Hensley: Even though Forsett had just the one season in Kubiak's system -- 2012 in Houston -- he had the most familiarity in the one cut-and-go scheme. Forsett's comfort level showed in the vision and patience that it takes to be successful in this type of run game. What has surprised the Ravens is Forsett's ability to break tackles at his size (5-foot-8, 198 pounds). His 14 runs of 20 or more yards are tied with DeMarco Murray for most in the NFL. What can't be overlooked is the play of the offensive line, which has created big running lanes. Forsett is averaging 3.89 yards before contact, which is tops among running backs this season. The consistency of the running game, which was absent last season, is a big reason the Ravens are closing in on a playoff berth. With two games remaining, Forsett is considered the Ravens' most valuable player.

The Texans have run the ball 474 times, the most in the NFL. With the Texans' unsettled situation at quarterback, will they rely even more on the run? Is this the biggest X factor for Houston?

Ganguli: They certainly did last week when rookie quarterback Tom Savage was thrown into a game nobody expected him to have to play in. Savage played nearly three full quarters with a heavy dose of Arian Foster and also some Alfred Blue and Jonathan Grimes. It's harder to run the ball when the passing game isn't a threat, but if the Texans start Case Keenum this weekend, they'll have a guy who is familiar with the offense enough that they might be able to be a little more creative. Their running game is always the foundation of what they do and they are lucky to have a talented running back in Foster. There are few better when Foster is healthy, and he is now.

What is the biggest challenge the Ravens' defense will pose to a Texans offense that will be starting a quarterback who didn't begin the season on their roster?

Hensley: The pass rush. The Ravens come after quarterbacks from all angles. Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs crash the edges. Pernell McPhee, Timmy Jernigan and Courtney Upshaw collapse the middle of the pocket. Dumervil and Suggs are the headliners. They're the NFL's best pass-rush duo, combining for 28 sacks -- which is 4.5 more than any other tandem. Dumervil has already set the franchise record with 17 sacks, and Suggs' five-game streak of at least one sack is tops in the NFL. The Texans have done a solid job of protecting the quarterback this season, allowing 23 sacks this season. But the Ravens are in a groove lately with 14 sacks the past two weeks. This pass rush has become a necessity because their banged-up secondary is vulnerable to the big play.

Whenever any team plays the Texans, the hot topic is J.J. Watt and rightfully so. But, outside of Watt, who plays the biggest role on the Texans' defense in this matchup with the Ravens?

Ganguli: Watt certainly is a problem for any offense that plays the Texans. This defense played a phenomenal game last week against the Indianapolis Colts and a lot of that had to do with the creativity the Texans showed schematically, especially with their secondary. They bottled up one of the most potent passing offenses in the league and neutralized receiver T.Y. Hilton. Of course, the challenge will be different against the Ravens -- they'll have to stop that productive running game. To that end, Ryan Pickett is a guy to watch. He's their big, stout nose tackle who was signed during the season precisely because the Texans were having trouble stopping the run.

HOUSTON -- Texans coach Bill O'Brien opened his news conference by saying he wouldn't be making the announcement we awaited.

In the interest of a competitive advantage, O'Brien will not be telling us who his starting quarterback will be this weekend. One reporter asked O'Brien how the team handled not knowing, and O'Brien replied that the team has a pretty good idea. They're installing the game plan now.

He did say Andre Johnson practiced Wednesday and caught passes from both quarterbacks Thad Lewis and Case Keenum.

"Both these guys, Case and Thad, are out there working hard," O'Brien said. "Right up until game time, that's going to be the way it is. Those decisions are decisions that have to be made. ... If you guys can, just move to the next subject, because you're not going to find out who the starting quarterback is."

O'Brien has gotten a better idea of where Keenum is since signing him off the Rams' practice squad on Monday. Keenum spent all season in St. Louis, partly on the active roster and partly on the practice squad.

As I began to ask about Keenum's improvement from the way he took sacks last season, O'Brien jumped in saying he wasn't interested in last year. After some prodding he offered this:

"He's a much better quarterback in my opinion than he was last year. He's definitely improved. He's improved in all areas as a quarterback. Understanding your scheme, understanding your system. Again it's in the past. I don't really care about what happened last year with Case, I really don't. It's all about what he's doing right now that he's here and how we can get him to understand our game plan against Baltimore."

He was much more at ease answering a question requesting his thoughts on both quarterbacks.

"Let's start with Thad," O'Brien said. "The thing I like about Thad, I've known him since he was 17 years old. He's got really good poise. He's got a good, quick release. He's a smart guy. He's a guy that I noticed right away when I worked with him as a college freshman, nothing was too big for him. He could go in there as a freshman and play Florida State, play Miami. That's the one thing that stood out to me. With Keenum, the one thing that stands out to me about Case is he's a very bright guy, he's a hard working guy. They're both hard working guys. I think Case has really good recollection. Here's a guy that hasn't really been here in four months. Comes right back into the fold yesterday and has a good recall of what we were doing back when he was here."

Case Keenum glad to be back home

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
HOUSTON -- Case Keenum channeled his former coach Art Briles when discussing his return to the state of Texas and to the Houston Texans franchise.

"It means a lot," Keenum said. "This is home. This is home for me. I heard a coach say the other day that I really admire, 'When I die they're gonna bury me in Texas.' They're not going to bury me in St. Louis. I'm very thankful for the opportunity that the Rams gave me. ... Great organization, great team up there. I really enjoyed my time up there but I'm very excited to be back."

The Texans signed Keenum off the Rams' practice squad this week after losing two quarterbacks to injuries in one game. Keenum spent the past six weeks on the Rams' practice squad, and he also spent time on the active roster there as they picked him up after the Texans waived him on Aug. 31.

"It was a [whirlwind] of a couple hours," Keenum spoke of when he got the phone call the Texans wanted to sign him. Texans coach Bill O'Brien talked with Keenum either very late Sunday night or early Monday morning. By Monday, Keenum was in the Texans' facility working to catch up.

"Some recall, some not," Keenum said when asked how much he recalls of the Texans' offense. "Having to catch back up to what they're doing now. I'm just working on it one day at a time."

Keenum started eight games for the Texans during their late-season skid last season. When the Texans fired coach Gary Kubiak, owner Bob McNair said he wanted to see Keenum start the rest of the season, but an injury got in the way. The new Texans staff released Keenum as soon as they traded for Ryan Mallett.
A quick observation of quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tom Savage and how they played in the Houston Texans' 17-10 loss in Week 15:

This is the second time this season I'm doing one of these about quarterbacks who won't be playing in the next game. So goes the Texans' luck at the position as both Fitzpatrick and Savage are out with injuries. The Texans will now turn to Case Keenum or Thad Lewis, though on Monday, it sure sounded like Texans coach Bill O'Brien thought Keenum's familiarity might make him the right choice.

Fitzpatrick completed 3 of 6 pass attempts and broke his leg very early in the second quarter on a very characteristic scramble. He's not a guy who likes to slide. In an interview with Fox Sports Southwest's Patti Smith last week, he explained that he thinks sliding increases his chance of getting hurt because he's not coordinated enough to do it properly and he also knows not sliding could earn him a few extra yards. In this case it did, but he was tripped on his way down, then had a large defensive player fall on him. You admire his toughness, but on Sunday the cost was not worth the few extra yards.

Thrown in suddenly, Savage grew up a lot during the course of a game in which he made a lot of mistakes but also showed promise on a few plays. His botched handoff to running back Arian Foster was one of those mistakes, and he sailed a few passes that could have given the Texans a stronger chance to win the game. Late in the third quarter, he threw a beautiful deep ball to DeVier Posey that gained 30 yards and kept a field goal drive alive.