Stephanie Stradley, AKA TexansChick from the Houston Chronicle was kind enough to do a Q&A with us. Follower her on Twitter @StephStradley and check out my answers to her questions on the TexansChick blog. Big thanks to Stephanie for taking the time to answer my questions.
Raidersblog: How much of a difference has Wade Phillips made to Houston’s defense? Has scheme played as big of a role as the additions of Joseph and Watt and a healthy Cushing?
Stradley: “The biggest difference in the Wade Phillips hire is sort of a institutional confidence. The previous two defensive coordinators were first time coordinators. The Texans have had the youngest starting defenses in the league since Gary Kubiak started in 2006.
Inexperienced DCs + Inexperienced Players = A defense ranked by Football Outsiders as 31st-2006, 30th-2007, 29th-2008, 20th-2009, 31st-2010.
When Phillips took over, he had a clear plan of the players he did not want to retain and which ones he wanted to target in free agency and in the draft. Pretty much every off-season move the Texans made on defense made a lot of sense this year. They had a proven defensive philosophy, and sought to get players that fit that philosophy. They are still a work in progress but you can certainly see more playmaking.
Most obviously, instead of being at the bottom of the league in sacks, they are currently tied for 5th with 12 sacks. To put that in context, in 2010, they ranked dead last with sacks at 30.”
Raidersblog: Arian Foster has been productive in the zone blocking system favored by Gary Kubiak. While many teams try and fail at using this system, Kubiak has been successful whether it be Steve Slaton from a few years ago or Foster and Ben Tate more recently. What has been the key to the Texans’ rushing success and how much of it is the system?
Stradley: “No team does solely man or zone blocking, and the Texans are not an exception. The reason why more teams don’t do predominately zone effectively is that it takes time to get the right offensive linemen to run it and who become accustomed to playing together. Patience isn’t something a lot of franchises have.
Though this is a great system for a running back (See Shanahan’s Bronco teams forever), it’s an even better system for special backs with good vision. The offense runs much better when Arian Foster is the backfield because he has great vision, and he is much more experienced at pass protection.”
Raidersblog: The Texans will be without Andre Johnson this week, but the Texans have been able to win without Johnson before. Being that Johnson is one of the best receivers in the league, how have the Texans been able to adjust without having him?
Stradley: “The Texans offense is basically the old school Shanahan offense. It’s a player-friendly offense that had the ability to make stars out of players that other teams did not value out of the draft such as Terrell Davis and Rod Smith. These players used their skills to take advantage of the system but may not have been noticed in less offensive-friendly systems. There is always a place for the ball to go.
Kubiak inherited Andre Johnson, and certainly has taken advantage of his unworldly skills. He gets targeted even when he is not open because he rarely gets true single coverage except from dumb people who like TDs scored on them.”
Raidersblog: Who are players that Raider Nation may not know of that could have an impact on the game, in a positive or negative way?
Stradley: “Everybody on the Texans offense who not an offensive linemen is a possible, legitimate pass target. So that means TDs can come from players other than ones named Arian Foster and Owen Daniels. They’ve run 2 and 3 TE sets. There are no blocking-only TEs on the offense.
James “Thor” Casey is become the Swiss Army knife of the offense. He plays the FB position, but also can play some TE and WR. He’s an athlete, not ideal size for either FB or TE. He has very good hands and when he is on the field as a blocker for Arian Foster, teams still have to respect the pass. In the game against the Saints, Casey had 126 yards receiving. He’s a very difficult matchup.
Kareem Jackson and Jason Allen have been splitting time at corner across from Johnathan Joseph and have been targeted by opposing quarterbacks. Jackson missed the last game due to a knee issue. They haven’t been tested that much this season due to the pass rush, but when the pass rush has failed, it has become a little ugly. Texans are very thin at corner.”
Raidersblog: If you were game planning against the Texans, what would you do?
Stradley: “Do not give up on the run. Teams have been able to run on the Texans, especially plays that penalize overpursuit. Opponents have given up on run after a while because the Texans have played with the lead for most of the season.
Captain Obvious point with Schaub: Need a pass rush to get him out of his rhythm. If he gets on a roll, it doesn’t matter who the receivers are.”
Raidersblog: How is Mario Williams adjusting to the 3-4 defense? Is he primarily pass rushing? How much does he drop into coverage?
Stradely: “His primarily role is to wreck shop in the pass rush. He will drop back occasionally, and he is remarkably mobile for someone of his size. Phillips and his staff have mostly worked on his technique. He’s looked pretty dominant.”
Raidersblog: I went to school with Danieal Manning, how is he playing and do the fans have a soft spot for him because he is from Texas?
Stradley: “I’m not sure how many fans know a ton about Manning. He was acquired in a very short off-season, put to work. But they love him mostly because he is an actual safety, a position that’s been an issue for the team since the beginning. “Safety” for the Texans in the past has meant “The Guy So Far Out Of The Play He Doesn’t Show Up on the TV Screen.””
Raidersblog: Predict the score…is this a trap game for the Texans coming off a big win against Pittsburgh? The Texans have only faced two quality opponents. Is this team as good as commonly believed or are we still waiting to see its true colors?
Stradley: “Can’t say I’m a big score prediction person because I believe with the way that luck, injuries works with NFL games, that every time you’d play you’d get a different score and often with closely matched teams, a different result.
It’s crazy that the Texans been able to win as much as they have in the past with no defense. This year, it truly appears that they have a defense. And their special teams have been outstanding. It’s the most optimistic off-season I’ve experienced with the team, and they are ahead of what I expected for them.
My guess? I’ll say Texans 31, Raiders 28. I’m guessing it will be more of a track meet, big play game. Both teams are near the top of the league in average points. I think the biggest risk to the Texans is not so much a trap game but rather immediately adjusting to the loss of the best player on offense.”
Again, big thanks to Stephanie for agreeing to the Q&A exchange. If you didn’t already check out my answers to her questions on Stephanie’s Chron.com blog.