In Houston, the Lions have a Problem

November 21st, 2012

DLD Editor: Jeff Risdon

The Lions host the annual Thanksgiving Day affair with the Texans this year’s featured guest. Houston comes to Ford Field at 9-1 and tied for the best record in the league with Atlanta.

The Texans have earned that record, more so than the Falcons. Houston is a well-coached team with few deficiencies and good balance on both sides of the football. That makes playing four full quarters of strong football an imperative for victory. Detroit has struggled stringing together top-level effort, especially offensively, from quarter to quarter.

The Texans don’t typically suffer from that problem. They highlight the importance of dedication to balance, something that Jim Schwartz just doesn’t have. Texans Coach Gary Kubiak will keep pounding Arian Foster even if he runs through a spurt of 4 carries for 10 yards. One of the keys for the Lions is to keep Foster from breaking the long runs. Easier said than done, because the Texan blocking up front is consistently strong and creates nice cutback lanes, and Foster has the vision and burst to hit them and keep on chugging all the way to the end zone. Their offensive line has a way of frustrating opposing defensive lines with their propensity to cut, chip, and play a little too aggressively to the whistle. Suh & Co. up front will have to keep their wits about them.

Then there is the Matt Schaub to Andre Johnson connection. Last week they erupted for one of the most prolific days in NFL history, with Schaub throwing for 527 yards. The venerable Johnson caught 273 of those on 14 receptions, including the game-winning touchdown in overtime. Johnson is really the only wideout that defenses worry about for Houston, as neither Kevin Walter nor rookie Keshawn Martin offers much of a threat other than a complementary chain mover.

Where the Texans really present problems for Detroit is in how they utilize their tight ends. That faux screen play with the tight end releasing out the backside, the one that Jermichael Finley of all people caught and scored on for Green Bay last week? That’s a staple of the Houston offense, and they run variants of that type of play to both Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham. Both tight ends are capable of stretching the seam and creating after the catch, and both run very precise routes. Schaub has excellent accuracy over the middle and he knows exactly where his receivers like the ball. They run a lot of play action, and with Foster being such a threat as both a runner and receiver, staying positionally disciplined and patient is critical to shutting them down.

Offensively, the Lions have a real challenge in facing Houston. No team allows fewer first downs per game, and no defense is better on 3rd down. JJ Watt (deservedly) gets all the attention, but he is far from the only impact player on the Texans defense. Antonio Smith is having a great season at the other end spot, and outside backers Connor Barwin and Brooks Reid reliably generate pressure. Barwin has played much better of late after a slow start, and he is the sort of relentless brute that the Lions perennially struggle against. Complicating matters is Jeff Backus and his wonky hamstring, which appears to be serious enough to keep him out of the lineup for the first time since 2001.

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