Reporting Paul Gallant
You’ve had over a week to digest the end of the Texans season. And as I discussed last, it was a tough end to stomach. Especially knowing when Matt Schaub is your quarterback for the foreseeable future. That’s not good, seeing as he doesn’t appear capable of leading a team to a Super Bowl. And barring a dramatic turn of events, that likely won’t change next season.
Still, this is the NFL. With three or consistent weeks of efficient execution – plus a couple of breaks sprinkled in the mix – any talented team is capable of taking home the Lombardi trophy. Take a look at the Ravens – a team the Texans stomped 43-13 in late October. Five weeks ago we giggled at their Super Bowl chances. Now they’re laughing all the way to New Orleans.
The Texans obviously need to improve their roster, something I’ll address later in the week. But I think they can learn a great deal – and hopefully adapt their strategies – based on what just happened on Championship Sunday.
The Patriots Are Not What We Thought They Were
They’re explosive on offense. They have an all-time great at quarterback. But as has been the case since their last championship in 2004, they are far from unbeatable.
The Ravens seem to prove that every chance they get. Outside of the Giants, (3-1 including 2 SB wins over the Pats since 2007), no team has played the Patriots tougher than Baltimore since 2007. The Ravens are 3-4 against New England – never losing any of those games by more than 6.
How do they do it? Pretty simple.
On defense, they won by brutalizing Patriots receivers and running backs at every opportunity. The defensive personal fouls committed by the Ravens early set an early tone yesterday. Sure they cost Baltimore 15 yards each time. But the message was sent. New England’s offense looked beaten up by the middle of the third quarter. And that was before Bernard Pollard sent Stevan Ridley to another planet.
On offense? It only took the Ravens an entire half. But towards the middle of the third Baltimore finally realized how awful the Patriots’ secondary is – especially without the injured Aquib Talib. On a scoring drive that took the lead for good, Jim Caldwell called 9 passes on a 10 play touchdown drive. New England was on its heels the rest of the game.
I’m not sure the Texans have the defensive personnel to put the Patriots offense back in the stone age the way Baltimore can. Still, they had plenty of success passing on New England just over a week ago. Their offensive woes reared their ugly head when they went to the ground against a tough front 7, and saw themselves in second and long situations.
Adding a dependable target with some speed could open things up a bit in the passing game. Unfortunately – that’s assuming that Schaub finally takes a shot down field.
Grow A Pair
You can’t win in this league without being aggressive. You don’t have to play that way all the time. But when the situation calls for it, you have to have the balls to make a tough decision. In the Gary Kubiak era, we’re all too familiar with that NOT happening.
The two teams left standing? They DID have the stones.
The Ravens sure have them. After losing two in a row, Baltimore fired offensive coordinator and nincompoop Cam Cameron, replacing him with Jim Caldwell. The next week in Denver, the Ravens suffered maybe their worst loss of the season to the Broncos. Since that game, Baltimore QB Joe Flacco has thrown 10 touchdown passes and 0 interceptions.
Coincidence? Who knows. But don’t you wish the Texans had those same cajones to deal with a dreadful special teams unit, and maybe its leader Joe Marciano?
The 49ers flashed their brass ones by sticking with Colin Kaepernick at quarterback, even after his predecessor Alex Smith (who only led the team to an NFC Championship last year) returned from injury. It’s not often that an incumbent starting quarterback gets completely replaced after getting hurt for a few weeks. The last major example I can remember was Bill Belichick sticking with Tom Brady over Drew Bledsoe back in 2001. If I remember correctly, that panned out pretty well…
Speaking of Belichick, he lost his mojo against the Ravens. When you have one of the most explosive offenses in the league, you are doing yourself a disservice by kicking on 4th and two or less in enemy territory. The Patriots did that twice in the early goings of Sunday’s game – at Baltimore’s 12 (kicking a field goal) and 45 (punting). You don’t wind by being complacent in this league. Belichick apparently forgot.
Don’t Be Like Mike
The days of Joe Flacco being my punching bag appear to be over. The man has sacked up for the past two post-seasons. Luckily, Falcons head coach Mike Smith can easily fill the void.
Smith isn’t the worst coach in the world. But his 1-4 post-season record is…bad. And he did a terrible job this post-season. He blew a 20-0 halftime lead against the Seahawks last week, then barely hung on for the 30-28 win (despite calling a timeout WAY too early for the game winning kick, which when paired with a botched squib kick gave Seattle a chance for a Hail Mary win). And Sunday, he blew a 17 point lead, and saw his vaunted aerial attack score zero points in the last two quarters. With second halves like those, it’s pretty clear that the guy struggles to make half-time adjustments.
Unfortunately for him, the teams that win typically championships are typically great at them. Both Harbaugh brothers did that on Sunday. Just as they’d evolved and adapted their game plans as the season wore on. As a result, they’ll be duking it out for the Lombardi trophy two weeks from now in the Big Easy.
And unfortunately for the Texans, that’s something that Kubiak and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips didn’t do during their 2-4 finish to 2013.
Just take a look at both Patriot games. Outside of making Danieal Manning their kick returner, did their approach to attacking New England change in the slightest? Nope. Offensively, they kept forcing the same vanilla offensive (run, run then pass off the run) and defensive (5 blitzers, 5 in man coverage, and one deep) schemes.
If the Texans want to go further in 2013, all that will need to change.