Texans vs. Eagles
Thurs., Dec. 2, 8:20 PM ET
TV: NFL Network, PHL17
Radio: 94 WYSP,
Both the Houston Texans (5-6) and the Eagles (7-4) are playing pivotal games in their respective divisional races on only 3 days rest... Gee, thanks, NFL Schedule Committee. Special thanks from the Texans who have to fly from Houston to Philly on a rainy Wednesday night...
But we as fans are partly to blame for these insane torture-gauntlet Thursday night TV games, because we like watching football on Thursday nights...and we drove up the ratings for the original media experiments so much that Thursday Night NFL is now a permanent part of the NFL culture.
More on the game coming up in a minute...but first, a tribute to a fallen warrior, a fellow sportswriter who paved the foundation for the regional sports blogs we all love to follow these days:
The sports world, the Raider Nation, and TFDS (Thoughts From the Dark Side) has lost a great reporter. And the Raiders community has lost a great friend. Thoughts From the Dark Side founder, co-owner, and senior writer Patrick Patterson has died of an apparent blood clot in his lung. He was just 38 years of age. It happened in the early morning hours, Thanksgiving day.
Patrick founded Thoughts From the Dark Side in 2005. Since then, he saw his "baby" grow into the site it is today--- one of the largest circulation regional sports blogs. It is because of him that TFDS has legitimate media credentials with the Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco/Oakland journalistic community.
His legacy lives on at www.tfdssports.com
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The big game Thursday night approaches rapidly. Playing without DE Juqua Parker and CB Asante Samuel, and with Dimitri Patterson and Joselio Hanson subbing for the IR'ed Ellis Hobbs and the banged-up Samuel, it could be argued that the Eagles may be at a personnel disadvantage on defense against a very potent Texans' offense.
Houston has a playoff offense. Matt Schaub (6-5, 230, 7th year, Virginia) has become a shrewd and careful quarterback who has learned to exploit every available weak spot in a defense. Schaub is brilliant at executing play-action passes downfield once he establishes his ground game. Arian Foster (6-1, 227, 2nd year, Tennessee) gets most of the credit for the run success of the Texans---and being an undrafted free agent, I'm glad for him. What a year he's having: 224 rushes for 1147 yards (a 5.1 YPC average), 13 TD's, and 48 receptions out of the backfield for another 453 yards!
But no slight to Foster, a lot of the credit must go to the Houston offensive line, which employs a zone blocking scheme that will be a challenge for the Eagles front seven to solve. The Houston line may not be "gifted and talented" physically, but they are intelligent, quick and extremely competitive (maybe a better word: nasty). In a way, the Texans may be the most difficult and complicated offensive line challenge the Eagles face all year.
Schaub rides his O-Line and knows how to use it. It's what makes all the other good stuff go. It allows him that extra half-second on every play-action fake to find Andre Johnson (6-3, 223, 8th year, Miami), arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL. It gives Johnson that extra half-second to get open downfield. Johnson can bust a game wide open at any time...he's averaging 6 catches and 85 yards per game, but is always a threat to hang twice that average on the stats board in any given outing.
Defensively, the Texans are underrated. Everyone dismisses Houston's defense as "soft". My reaction: Don't be a slave to the media! In actuality, Houston has upgraded the speed and athleticism of its defensive side of the ball over the past two seasons.
Defensively, the Texans have gotten better the last three weeks for a variety of reasons. One is having the same personnel on the field for three straight games. Another is moving defensive coordinator Frank Bush from the press box to the sideline where it's easier to listen to - and to encourage - players.
But a third big reason, and possibly the biggest: Brian Cushing (6-3, 250, 2nd year, USC) is back at outside linebacker.
Brian Cushing was a force in last Sunday's game against Tennessee, combining with his fellow defenders to hold RB Chris Johnson to a mere 5 yards rushing...
Cushing is the guy who could ruin a lot of plays for Vick and the Eagles. You remember Cushing, don't you? Last year he had one of the greatest rookie seasons of all time, almost immediately establishing himself as one of the best outside linebackers in the NFL. Roaming sideline to sideline and making huge plays, he started every game and was second in the AFC with 133 tackles. He also had four sacks, four interceptions and two forced fumbles. Opposing QB's had to account for him on every play. Cushing played with the kind of speed and emotion that raised the play of all defenders around him, since the football brain quickly learns: "I better make this play in front of me, because if I don't, Cushing will get to it first!"
Then there was the nightmare beginning to the 2010 season for Cushing. He tested positive for a banned substance in the HGH category. He was suspended for 4 games. When he returned, he seemed unsure of himself, and then he was moved to middle linebacker for two games where he wasn't as free to roam the field and make plays.
But now, and just in time for the big game with the Birds (thanks a lot, Brian), Cushing is back at the same position and the same level he was playing last season.
On Sunday against the Titans, Cushing had his best game of the year, making four tackles behind the line of scrimmage, knocking down two passes and hitting rookie quarterback Rusty Smith three times.
Houston's coaching staff is convinced Cushing can make a difference against Vick and the Eagles.
"He's finally got his feet underneath him," Texans DC Frank Bush said. "It took him awhile to get back in the groove, but he's doing a damn good job for us now. He just elevates the whole team."
"Anytime you miss a month of football, it's hard to come back," Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said. "You see that all over the league. It was the same thing for Duane (Brown, OT). He just started playing his best football the last couple of weeks. We probably impeded Brian's progress a little bit because we only had two healthy linebackers. He's back where he belongs and is very comfortable."
"I feel I'm a lot more active," Cushing said. "I'm a lot more comfortable back in the groove of just playing football again. Overall, we're playing better as a defense, and I'm more productive."
The Texans have reduced their margin of error to almost zero, and if they don't at least split with the Eagles and Ravens these next two games, they're unlikely to stay in playoff contention.
"Overall, I've got a good feeling about this team right now," Cushing said. "It's a momentum thing. Football is a game of momentum. We've got to keep the same mindset and continue to push hard."
"I know what we did last week against a rookie quarterback is not the same as going up against Vick...he's one of the best play-makers in the NFL," Cushing said. "But if we want to be the team we know we can be, we have to come away with a victory."
And you thought this game was gonna be easy for the Eagles?
(Source Quotes courtesy of Richard Justice and The Houston Chronicle)