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The Looping Starship Is Circling Houston

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Excited to get a teaser up from another of our new upcoming blogs, The Looping Starship. This one will cover Houston Sports, Texans, Rockets, 'Stros, Comets, et al. Here are a couple of items he recently wrote about the Texans.
- S.R.

Texans/Colts

I have to admit that I did briefly consider changing the name of the blog to "Arian Nation," but I was afraid I might attract that demographic of neo-Nazis who can’t spell very well:

1. We’ll get back to Arian Foster, but the first tip of the hat goes to the Texans’ offensive line and Vonta Leach. The run blocking in the game was spectacular. It was probably the best performance by that unit in franchise history. I’m not sure that I could even run a sub 5.0 forty anymore, but I could have run through some of those holes. They weren’t stellar in the passing game, but when you run block like that, it can be overlooked. Phenomenal effort.

2. You’ve converted me, Mr. Foster. You’re the man. Foster ran decisively behind his blockers with vision, power and just enough speed on his way to the best Opening Day rushing performance ever by a non-murderer.

3. While Foster isn’t going to rush for 200 yards every time he takes the field, the knowledge that the Texans are capable of doing this should make life much easier for Schaub and friends. Matt led the NFL in passing last season without a running game to speak of (or perhaps because of it). The running game that Kubiak has envisioned since taking over could make the Texans’ offense the most dangerous in the NFL.

4. Gary Kubiak has earned a well-deserved pat on the back for yesterday’s game. Credit to him for coming out of the locker room for the second half and deciding that we were just going to impose our will on the Colts. The first half ended with the way too familiar feeling that the Colts were going to come back and somehow walk away with the win in the second half, but Kubiak just decided that we weren’t going to let that happen. It was like the scene in "Tombstone" where Kurt Russell has just had enough and walks fearlessly into crossfire repeatedly mumbling "NO" and killing everybody in sight, and the Colts were our huckleberry in the second half.

5. Very quiet game from Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson. I’m sure they’re not complaining.

6. Great to see Owen Daniels back out there again. Not a lot of impact in the passing game, but it was his block that sprung Arian Foster on that critical 4th down play in the third quarter. If the Texans are going to take that next step, they’re going to need a healthy OD back on the field.

7. Mario was indeed super yesterday. He was in Peyton’s face from the moment he got off the bus. It was the first time I’ve ever seen the Texans throw off his rhythem and force him to make some throws he didn’t want to make. He may have only had one sack, but he disrupted the Colts’ offense all day long, and that is just as important. He just might be in for a monster season.

8. I might really like Peyton Manning if he didn’t play in our division. Dammit, I respect him. The Texans beat him up all day and he still lit us up for over 400 yards. He is still the best quarterback in the NFL today, and easily a top five QB in the history of the game.

9. Poor Connor Barwin. I had high hopes for him this season, and the injury was just gruesome. I’ve dislocated both my shoulders, and I can’t imagine how excruciating it must be to do it to your ankle. Get well, Connor. Meanwhile, if I’m Rick Smith, I’ve already spoken with Aaron Schobel and told him we have a blank check with his name on it.

10. I know I took the Texans to win this game, but the fashion in which they did it has raised my expectations to peak levels. The AFC is going to be incredibly competitive, but I have sincere hope for the first time that they might actually become a playoff team. Sunday will be a big test of their maturity…I think they’re a better team than the Redskins, but will they come out with guns blazing or will they have a hangover from the biggest win in franchise history?

But, Sunday is a liftime from now. I’m just going to savor this win for now. It’s been a long time coming.

_________________________________________

Your Houston Texans: 2010

"Second verse. Same as the first." – Herman’s Hermits, "I’m Henery the Eighth, I Am"

This is the year the Texans break through. This is the year they win ten or eleven games. This is the year they make the playoffs.

Yeah, we heard that last year. And the year before. So, what makes this year different? They didn’t drastically improve the roster. On paper, their schedule appears to be much tougher than a year ago. So, why is this the season that everything comes together?

OFFENSE

You must give Gary Kubiak and Rick Smith credit for believing in Matt Schaub. They could have traded up in the Draft to land JaMarcus Russell or Brady Quinn (don’t laugh, it sounded good at the time), but instead they swapped two second round picks for Michael Vick’s caddy, who was primarily known for playing well in preseason. Fast forward a few years, and Schaub has legitimately developed into one of the top ten quarterbacks in the league, and with some postseason success, you could put him in the top five. The 2009 NFL passing leader is still prone to one bad interception per game, but he runs the offense well otherwise, and normally puts the Texans in position to win.

So, Arian Foster is our running back? A guy who was an undrafted free agent a year ago? As I pointed out after the Dallas preseason game, I’m not sold on Foster yet, but I’m getting there. I don’t believe he’ll ever be an elite NFL back, but he has all the appearance of being a good fit in this system and a guy who could be very productive. I still believe Steve Slaton will have an impact this season. He is the home run threat that Foster isn’t, and if he can cure his fumbleitis and stay healthy, he should contribute and balance the Texans running game. However, Foster should be a much better goal line option than anything else the Texans had last season, and red zone efficiency is the biggest area in which the offense needs to improve.

I’m in love with a man, and that man is Andre Johnson. There just isn’t a better wide receiver active today. Andre has been everything you can hope for, and without the diva drama that comes with most elite wideouts. Kevin Walter may be listed as the number two receiver, but I expect Jacoby Jones to emerge as that guy this season. Nobody has ever doubted Jones’s talent, and it finally looks like his focus and work ethic have caught up with his physical gifts. I’m actually going to predict that Jones finishes the season with about 900 yards receiving. Owen Daniels was having a special season prior to blowing out his knee last year. If he is healthy, he should return to dominance as Schaub’s safety valve and one of the better receiving tight ends in the NFL.

The offensive line is not an elite unit, but they are productive. Eric Winston is excellent at right tackle, and should become a Pro Bowler at some point. Across the line, Duane Brown is efficient at left tackle, even if he isn’t as dominant as one would hope. The big area where the Texans need to improve is on the interior of the line, where the Texans have been unable to consistently open up holes in the run game. The undersized Chris Myers is not a starting center on a great line, and that is something the Texans once again failed to address. Apparently, Antoine Caldwell will start at one guard position, and that should be an improvement. Free agent acquisition Wade Smith will start at the other.

DEFENSE

Mario Williams is very good, but he was drafted to be great. He may never be Reggie White or Michael Strahan, but he needs to be a guy who consistently puts heat on the quarterback. He is still prone to disappear or be irrelevant for stretches of games, and that is what is separating him from being elite. I didn’t care much for Antonio Smith at the beginning of last season, but as 2009 went on he grew on me as a tough, nasty defensive player. He is a capable second defensive end, and hopefully, Connor Barwin makes good as the pass rushing specialist the Texans hoped he would be.

Our defensive tackles suck. No way to sugarcoat it. Amobi Okoye and Shaun Cody are both undersized defensive tackles who get bullied in the run game, and don’t generate enough pressure in the passing game to make up for it. This is without question the biggest hole on the defense.

The Texans actually might have one of the better 4-3 linebacker starting units in the entire league. However, it is well documented that they will be without the services of NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and Overtrained Athlete Syndrome victim Brian Cushing for the first four games. If I didn’t believe Cushing, I would be really worried that his performance last year was the by-product of advances in modern science and that he may not actually be that good. But since I know his positive test was just the effect of him working harder than every other athlete ever and naturally producing a hormone that nobody else has ever naturally produced, I have no worries at all. Fortunately, DeMeco Ryans is one of the best inside linebackers in football, and Zak Diles has been very capable on the weak side. Hopefully, Xavier Adibi and Darryl Sharpton can supply a sturdy band-aid for the first four games.

Why did the Chiefs dump Bernard Pollard? I don’t get it. Pollard was the vocal, head-thumping, brutal safety we’ve been longing for since the team’s inception. He was an absolute steal from the roster cuts scrap heap. Eugene Wilson isn’t the answer at free safety, but he isn’t a gaping wound, either. I am worried about the Texans’ trio of young corners: Glover Quin, Brice McCain and first round pick Kareem Jackson. Quin and McCain both played surprisingly well last season, and Jackson has the pedigree you look for, but that is a lot of youth and inexperience for a team that plays Peyton Manning twice a year.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kris Brown isn’t your kicker anymore. That is all that you really need to know. We trade Brown’s strong leg for Neil Rackers’s much more reliable one, and if there is any reason to think the Texans might be better in 2010, this would be it. Brown cost the Texans a couple of games last year. Period. Matt Turk is a decent punter, and Jacoby Jones is dangerous in the return game when he is able to keep the football.

THE SCHEDULE

I can’t overstate how important the first game is. Beating the Colts, the bane of our existence, would set the tone for a playoff season. Lose, and it’s just same crap, different year. Obviously, losing one game doesn’t doom your season, but I think that mentally and emotionally it would be hard to overcome for a team that hasn’t exhibited much toughness to this point. It’s as big as a game can be for the season opener. I’m very reluctantly calling it a win.

The Texans are better than the Redskins, but that won’t be an easy win. I’m predicting a loss here…this is a trap game in between Indy and Dallas. Obviously, we all want to beat the Dallas Cowboys because we hate them. Or, more accurately, we hate their Houston-area fans and don’t want to have to listen to them pollute sports radio that next day. The Cowboys are much better than they looked in Reliant a few weeks ago, but with a slate of injuries, we might be catching them at the right time. I’m calling a win, but this is a coin flip. Don’t sleep on the Raiders, they actually have a two-dimensional offense this year, and that game will be a dogfight in Oakland. Texans barely pull this one out.

Then, we get medical marvel Brian Cushing back just in time to host the Giants. The Giants are schizophrenic, so that is a hard one to call, but I like the Texans at home. Then Kansas City at home. I actually think Kansas City will be better than expected, and I think we’re due for a loss.

The bye week is followed by a trip to Indy, and I will not predict the Texans to win in Indy until they’ve actually done it. San Diego will come to Houston, and I just don’t have a good feeling here. We will travel to Jacksonville and take care of business, but won’t be able to do the same against the Jets in New York. Bud Adams will make his annual trip back home, and this time we’ll give him the shitburger he so rightfully deserved last season (and every season).

It won’t be sunny in Philadelphia for Eagles fans. Texans will get a much-needed road win. We will come home for the Ravens in what should be a really good game, but I see Baltimore pulling that out. Onward to Tennessee, and as joyful as it would make me to sweep Bud for the season, I don’t see it happening. We’ll win our last two at Denver and home for Jacksonville.

So…9-7. Again. Second verse, same as the first? Hopefully, that gets us into the postseason this year. If there isn’t a Curtis Painter sighting in Week 16 or 17, we might have a chance. The Texans have a brutal schedule, and 7-9 wouldn’t be shocking. I think 7-9 would be more likely than 11-5. However, I agree with the consensus that the Texans will either be 9-7 or 10-6, and that in Week 17, we’ll be hoping for Team X to win and Team Y to lose to finally get into the postseason.