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St. Louis Rams at Houston Texans: Preview and Pick
St. Louis Rams at Houston Texans: Preview and Pick
The Houston Texans are having big problems at quarterback. Matt Schaub threw yet another interception that was returned for a touchdown, making it his fourth such feat in the last four straight games. The loss to the 49ers as put the pressure squarely on the Texans to win this weekend when they host the St. Louis Rams who are off an impressive win against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
St. Louis Rams at Houston Texans Odds
The NFL betting line for this game opened up with the Texans listed as a touchdown favorite. This comes as no surprise as the betting public as lost faith the Rams. In fact up to this point over 80 percent of the early wagers are coming in on the Texans despite the recent woes on the football field. The line is sitting on the key number of seven, but it could easily change leading up to kickoff so make sure to check out the latest line at the top rated online sportsbooks.
The Rams won last week, but beating the Jaguars is not that impressive. The Jaguars have been outscored by 112 points through 5 games, tied for the 2nd-worst point differential through 5 games since the merger. The Texans have big problems at the quarterback spot.
Matt Schaub is the first quarterback in NFL history to throw a pick-6 in four straight games. In fact, Schaub struggled on passes traveling 10 or fewer yards downfield, averaging 4.0 yards per attempt and throwing a career-high 3 interceptions on such throws. Coming into the game, the 49ers had held opponents to a league-low 58.2% completion rate on short passes, but only had one interception on such throws. This game will be a must win for the Texans as well as Schaub as he tries to win back the home crowd and get this team back on the winning track.
The latest NFL betting trends for this game uncover some ugly trends for both teams in this game. Houston is 2-3-1 straight up in its last 6 games and St. Louis is just 1-4-1 straight up in the last six games. The Rams are also an ugly 4-15-1 straight up in the last 20 games on the NFL highway. The total has gone under in 4 of St. Louis's last 5 games on the road and the Texans are 15-7-1 straight up in the last 23 games overall, despite the recent losing streak.
St. Louis Rams at Houston Texans Pick
With plenty of time to go before kickoff of this week, I will wait to announce my pick when we get closer to game day. Check back the day of the event for my pick on this great game.
It would probably go without saying but St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher confirmed Monday afternoon that rookie Zac Stacy would get another start at running back this week against the Houston Texans.
“Yes, I think we’ll probably start this game off the same way we did yesterday,” Fisher said matter of factly.
Considering that Stacy's 78 yards on 14 carries represented better production than the Rams had as a team in the first four games, it's a no brainer for him to get another opportunity this week.
We discussed extensively what Stacy brought to the table against Jacksonville as he jumpstarted a woeful rushing attack with his hard-charging style and ability to gain yards after contact. Those were traits Fisher took notice of when he watched Stacy work against the Jaguars.
“(I) would’ve liked to seen him get more carries, but that was the way the game went," Fisher said. "He was hitting the hole and he had yards after contact -- the violent yards, we refer to them at the running back position. He got to what he needed to do in the passing game and I thought in protection he was excellent.”
Stacy's performance did come against the worst rush defense in the league but the ability to get yards after contact was a significant step forward from what the team's other backs had done in the first four weeks. Putting into statistical context, Stacy gained 32 yards after contact, averaging 2.29 per carry. Entering the game, the Rams averaged 1.15, meaning Stacy nearly doubled their production in that regard.
The test will be a little tougher this week on the road in Houston, though the Texans have struggled against the run in their own right. Houston is allowing 126 yards per game on the ground, tied for 27th in the league in that category.
Houston Texans tight end Owen Daniels suffered a non-displaced fibula fracture late in Sunday night's game against the San Francisco 49ers and is likely to miss four to six weeks, a source told ESPN.
Daniels is tied for the team lead in touchdowns, having caught three scoring passes. Garrett Graham, who also has three TD catches, will replace Daniels in the starting lineup.
The Texans lead the NFL in plays run using two tight ends, so Daniels' departure could also lead to the emergence of rookie Ryan Griffin, a sixth-round draft pick this year.
Daniels, 30, has been one of the Texans' most consistent offensive players the past two seasons, during which he's missed only two games. He has 24 receptions for 252 yards this season. His last major injury was in 2009, when he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in Week 9.
The St. Louis Rams may have found a halfway stable answer at running back with Zac Stacy, who had 14 carries for 78 yards in last week's victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Stacy's individual output in Week 5 was more than the group's collective outputs in each of the first four weeks. There's no doubt the hapless opponent had something to do with the production but the rookie made the most of his opportunity when it was presented to him.
Stacy will start this week's contest against the reeling Houston Texans, who are surrendering the 11th most fantasy points to opposing running backs this season.
Stacy sat out Wednesday's practice but Rams coach Jeff Fisher is confident Stacy will be "fine" Sunday.
Houston Texans starting tight end Owen Daniels has been placed on injured reserve with a designation to return because of fractured fibula, which means Daniels will miss at least eight weeks of play. It's still early but Houston's season just keeps getting worse; as Tom detailed below, Daniels has been the second most-targeted Texan thus far this season. Read on for more on how Houston plans to fill what should be a fairly big void, including what to expect from now No. 1 TE Garrett Graham.
The absence of Daniels surely will be felt by the team, as ESPN Texans reporter Tania Ganguli notes: "For what they like to do, they need two capable tight ends. Houston leads the NFL in two tight-end sets. They've used the formation on 208 snaps this season, more than twice the league average of 96 snaps. Seven of Houston's touchdowns have come on the formation. However, their yards per attempt are among the lowest in the league. The Texans have used the formation slightly less during the past three games than they did in the first two of the season, which were both wins."
Texans quarterback Matt Schaub will start Sunday against the St. Louis Rams, a decision coach Gary Kubiak said Wednesday he did not come to lightly.
"Tough decision," he said. "Real tough. I feel like it's the best thing for our football team this weekend and so there was a lot of thought put into it, a lot of evaluations."
On Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, Schaub threw three interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown. He became the first player in NFL history to throw interceptions that were returned for scores in four straight games.
The Texans (2-3) have lost three in a row after winning in Weeks 1 and 2.
"I need to be better and I'll be the first to admit that, so I can understand why he was torn in that decision," Schaub said. "But I have confidence in my abilities and him deciding to start me this week, let's go play ball."
Schaub was 19 of 35 for 173 yards in the 34-3 loss to San Francisco. He was benched for the final quarter in favor of third-year backup T.J. Yates.
"I've worked really hard to be in this position, to be the quarterback of this team," Schaub said. "So my focus is to go out and give my team a chance to win on Sunday."
Yates, a fifth-round draft pick in 2011, made five starts, including two playoff games at the end of the 2011 season. Schaub suffered a Lisfranc injury that year and was replaced by backup Matt Leinart, who promptly suffered an injury in his first start.
Yates finished that game against the Jacksonville Jaguars and then started the rest of the season. He threw for three touchdowns, three interceptions, was sacked 15 times and had a rating of 80.7.
After the loss in San Francisco, Kubiak said Schaub was still the starter. The coach also said he would see where things went during the week.
On Wednesday, he echoed those thoughts.
"We talked to him about my process and what I go through to look at things so he understands where I'm coming from," Kubiak said. "We had a good meeting. I told him what I'm going to do and we moved forward."
Texans offensive coordinator Rick Dennison paused when asked if Schaub appears to have put Sunday's game behind him.
"My meetings with him he's been fine," Dennison said. "We installed the offense, he understands what we're trying to do. It's business kind of as usual. Everybody's kind of in their routine. … We're behind it, we're ready to go."
- No big plays off play action
Play action has been a staple of the Texans’ offense under Gary Kubiak. Since taking over as head coach, the Texans have used play action on 24 percent of their pass attempts, tied for the third-highest rate in the NFL.
This season the Texans are not only using play action less frequently (17 percent of pass attempts), they are using it differently. None of Schaub’s play action passes this season have been thrown more than 20 yards downfield, a stark contrast to the previous two seasons.
In fact, Schaub’s average play action pass has been thrown 3.8 yards downfield this season (9.7 yards the previous two seasons), a deeper average than only Blaine Gabbert. As a result, the Texans have only four 30-plus yard pass plays, tied for 26th in the NFL. None of those pass plays for Texans have come via play action.
-Too much Foster?
Despite double-digit touchdowns in each of the previous three seasons, Arian Foster's ground efficiency has dipped every year since his breakout 2010 season.
Arian Foster Yards per Rush
Last 4 Seasons
The reason for Foster’s dip in production may just be overuse. Foster has a combined 1,230 rushes and receptions since the start of the 2010 season, 101 more than the next highest player.
The Texans already have a capable backup on the roster in Ben Tate. Tate has averaged 2.2 more yards per rush than Foster this season on 56 fewer rushes and has shown an ability to break through tacklers in his career.
This season, Tate has averaged 3.6 yards per rush after first contact, best of any player with 20 rushes. Tate also led the NFL in 2011 in average yards after contact.
- No TD for Andre Johnson
Whether it’s Schaub’s decision-making, the play calling or a defensive mindset, Andre Johnson just can’t find the end zone.
Most Targets Without a TD
Andre Johnson 56
Vincent Jackson 41
Emmanuel Sanders 38
Davone Bess 38
Johnson has the third most targets this season (56) and no touchdowns. When the Texans do get in scoring range, Johnson hasn’t been the go-to guy. Johnson is the fourth-most targeted Texan in the red zone this season, and of the Texans’ eight throws into the end zone, Johnson was the target on only one.
St. Louis Rams rookie Tavon Austin received a game ball for his efforts as a punt returner last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars though a simple glance at the box score would leave most wondering why.
That’s because Austin’s official stat line in returning punts doesn’t account for his team’s continued inability to execute special-teams plays, particularly punt returns, without a flag raining down on the field.
The Rams’ six special-teams penalties against the Jaguars cost them 125 yards of field position, bringing the season total to 17 special-teams infractions, one more than the offense and defense combined. Of those 17, 12 have come on punt returns and seven have resulted in half the distance to the goal yardage mark-offs.
Against the Jaguars, Austin had three returns totaling 81 yards called back for various infractions. He should have had 92 yards on his four returns but instead finished with a meager 15 for an average of 3.8 per attempt.
A clearly frustrated Austin left the locker room quickly after the game, eye black still visible. On Monday, Rams coach Jeff Fisher said he attempted to keep Austin’s spirits up, thus the game ball offering. “Yeah, I gave him a special-teams game ball for having 91 punt return yards in the game,” Fisher said. “So, he’s happy.”
Asked if his ploy worked, Fisher said it did and that he also took some time to show Austin what his punt return numbers would look like were it not for the continued accumulation of penalties on his returns.
Fisher’s numbers would have Austin carrying a return average around 10 yards per attempt to go with 257 yards and highlighted by an 84-yard return for a touchdown that was called back. Austin’s current numbers fall well short of those lofty statistics as he has 57 yards on 17 returns, an average of 3.4 yards per chance and a long of 14. Fisher doesn’t believe the penalties on the returns would have affected Austin, making them all the more maddening.
It’d be easy to understand why Austin would be frustrated at this point with the continued penalties but he’s doing his best to be supportive of his teammates.
“The only thing that matters is my team, they keep on trying,” Austin said. “That’s the only thing that matters to me and I will do the same thing week in and week out and hopefully they’ll stand.
“We’re definitely getting better at it. We have just got to keep working, keep drawing up good schemes and hopefully our plays keep getting bigger and bigger.”
Of course, the special-teams penalty problems extend beyond just the punt return unit. Against Jacksonville, cornerback Brandon McGee ran into Ace Sanders, who called for a fair catch and cost his team 15 yards and cornerback Janoris Jenkins jumped offside on a field goal and an extra point.
Special-teams penalties aren’t new to the Rams under Fisher and special-teams coach John Fassel, either. In 2012, the team drew 25 special-teams flags, second most in the league. They had just three in the first five weeks last year and are clearly on a more alarming pace this season.
In looking around the league, it doesn’t appear there’s more of an emphasis on throwing flags on special teams. Rams opponents have been flagged eight times this year. Fisher hasn’t agreed with all of the calls going against his team, either.
“We have an unusually large number,” Fisher said. “We’ll get it corrected. But again, the confidence in the room -- the guys are good. I think everybody else in the world, after a long return, can look for a flag. We’re not going to because we’re not going to play that way.”
The most common thread among the flags is the relative youth of the players on those units. Youth is not an excuse but the Rams are working with mostly rookies or second-year players, particularly on punt returns. Many of those players don’t have a lot of special-teams experience.
Linebacker Ray Ray Armstrong, McGee and receiver Stedman Bailey have combined for nine flags and all three are rookies. While some advocate benching or cutting players to hold them accountable, that’s easier said than done given that Fassel doesn’t exactly get to pick and choose from the team’s entire pool of players for special teams.
Instead, Fisher is preaching consistency and confidence that as players mature they’ll get better.
“That’s just the special-teams world,” Fisher said. “I’ve got tremendous confidence in the whole group in the room and Coach Fassel. It’s very important to them. They work very hard. It’s going to turn around. We’ve got an outstanding returner and an outstanding scheme. We put each of the fouls in perspective, discussed them -- ‘How do you avoid them?’ whether in fact it was a foul or not. So, I’m confident that we’ll get it behind us.”
It’d be one thing if this was just a five-game sample size but including last year’s problems, it appears there’s a deeper trend forming. Of course, the numbers have grown worse this year so it seems unlikely that things will continue at this exaggerated rate.
Three days removed from establishing a season-high scoring total in a 34-20 win over Jacksonville, the Rams’ offense is preparing for one of its most difficult challenges to date.
While the Houston Texans have lost three straight following a 2-0 start to the season, their defense is not to blame. Houston boasts the league’s top defensive unit, holding each of their five opponents to fewer than 300 total yards. They lead the league by allowing just 260 total yards, including 134 through the air, which would be the lowest opponent passing yard average since 1982 if maintained for the rest of the season.
“There’s no doubt that they’re a very talented defense,” QB Sam Bradford said. They’re very good as a whole. They don’t really have a weakness, so it’s going to be a big challenge for us. Handling J.J. Watt and the guys they have up front, you watch the tape and they do a good job getting after the quarterback. It’s going to be a group effort this week.”
Bradford passed for 222 yards last week, while the Rams piled up a season-best 143 yards on the ground. Bradford has been held below 200 yards passing just once this year. A similar performance this week would serve as a key milestone, as Houston has not allowed a 100-yard rusher, 100-yard receiver or 200-yard passer through five weeks.
The Houston defense has been buoyed by the return of safety Ed Reed, who has added a veteran presence to an already talented secondary. Third-year defensive end J.J. Watt serves as the centerpiece of the Houston defensive front, and Fisher has gone to great lengths to ensure the Rams are prepared for the All-Pro.
“We’ve got a red jersey on every snap in practice because you have to know where he lines up. He’s one of the better defensive players you’ll face. He’s very disruptive, quick, relentless. If he can’t get there, he bats the ball down, but most of the time he gets there with consistent pressure. We have our hands full with him.”
The Houston Texans are mired in their roughest stretch in almost two seasons, greatly because of some poor play from quarterback Matt Schaub.
However, coach Gary Kubiak plans to stick with him as the Texans try to avoid a fourth straight loss Sunday against the visiting St. Louis Rams.
After scoring 61 points to beat San Diego and Tennessee, Houston (2-3) has been outscored 87-32 during its first three-game slide since the final three weeks of the 2011 season. The two-time defending AFC South champions would match the longest losing streak of Kubiak's eight-year tenure with another loss Sunday.
"I think it's a huge game," said Kubiak, whose team has lost four straight home games versus NFC opponents. "It would be big either way, but, yeah, it's big because of what we've gone through these past three weeks.
"I see a group of guys that are very close, very committed to each other, very hurt ... the only way you fix things is you go back and play and do things better. I can't wait for that opportunity to get here."
Whether Schaub is as eager remains to be seen.
The 10-year veteran has thrown for eight touchdowns and two 300-yard games, but he ranks 26th in the NFL with a 76.9 passer rating mainly because he's totaled nine interceptions after having 12 all of last season. Three plays into last Sunday's 34-3 loss at San Francisco, Tramaine Brock returned Schaub's interception 18 yards for a TD, marking an NFL-record fourth consecutive game a quarterback has had a pick taken back for a score.
He was intercepted three times on the night and replaced late by T.J. Yates, who led Houston to its first playoff win when Schaub was hurt two seasons ago.
"I'm better than I'm playing and our team's better than we're playing right now," said Schaub, who has thrown two TDs and six INTs over the last three weeks.
Though Kubiak said the team "can't survive" if Schaub continues to make those kinds of mistakes, he's not ready to make a switch even though some Texans fans are burning Schaub jerseys and a sign over one Houston area freeway is calling for his ouster.
"You watch the struggle and you just want to be a part of the solution," Kubiak said. "You want to be a part of helping him work his way through that.
"The only way I know how to do it is you play our way through that stuff."
Kubiak admits there's concern about Schaub's confidence.
"That's only natural," he said. "For some of those things to happen to you over a period of time, yeah you worry about that. But the reason he's played a long time is because he's very tough mentally, physically."
Facing a Rams defense that has only three interceptions and could be without lock-down cornerback Cortland Finnegan (thigh) for a second straight week might help Schaub get back on track. He went 28 of 40 for 367 yards with a TD and no picks in the Texans' 16-13 win at St. Louis in 2009 in the teams' last meeting.
Schaub's struggles have not slowed down Arian Foster, who has totaled 289 yards over the past two weeks with 200 coming on 48 rushing attempts. The three-time Pro Bowler was limited to 227 total yards through the first three games.
St. Louis' defense has given up a league-worst 169.3 rushing yards per game over the past three weeks.
The Rams (2-3) hope to avoid a fourth straight road defeat by building on last Sunday's 34-20 win over lowly Jacksonville that snapped a three-game skid. After totaling 18 points the previous two weeks against Dallas and San Francisco, St. Louis led 24-10 at halftime against the winless Jaguars. Matt Giordano snapped the Rams' 11-game, first-quarter touchdown drought when he returned an interception 82 yards.
"We looked at (last Sunday) as if it was the home opener and we just had a poor preseason," coach Jeff Fisher said. "So, we've got 11 games left on the schedule."
Fisher could again lean on rookie Zac Stacy, who gained 78 of the Rams' season-high 143 rushing yards to revive a ground game that totaled 189 through the first four contests.
The Texans are the NFL's best against the pass, allowing 134.2 yards per game, but like the Rams yield an average of 126.0 on the ground - tied for 27th in the NFL.
St. Louis' Sam Bradford has been sacked 13 times and completed only 54.5 percent of his passes over the past three games, but he has five touchdowns and one interception in that span.
The Rams hope Finnegan can return to match up with Houston's Andre Johnson, who has 21 receptions for 355 yards and a TD in two games against the Rams. Johnson's 37 receptions lead the AFC, though he has yet to catch a touchdown pass.
Tight end Owen Daniels, second on the Texans with 24 catches and tied for the team lead with three TDs, is dealing with a leg injury that leaves his status uncertain for Sunday.