I’m working with Moore Sports Head https://mooresportshead.wordpress.com/2015/09/30/atlanta-falcons-vs-houston-texans-breakdown/ to give a preview/breakdown of the Week 4 game between the Houston Texans and Atlanta Falcons. We will try to choose a marquee NFL game every 3 weeks and give our thoughts. In this matchup, I’ll look at the Texans and Moore Sports Head will cover the Falcons. Both teams enter this game as polar opposites. Houston relies heavily on their stingy defense led by JJ Watt while the Falcons rely on the dynamic offensive duo of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. Something will have to give in this early season matchup.
The Texans at 1-2 will travel to Atlanta (3-0) on Sunday for what is sure to be an exciting game. Both teams are tied for first place in their respective divisions. The reason this game is huge for Houston is because they’ll take on divisional foes in weeks 5 and 6 (VS Indianapolis 10/8; at Jacksonville 10/18). That means they need to come out ready to play this Sunday to avoid a 1-3 start. Houston opened the season with a home loss to Kansas City (27-20) and a road loss at Carolina (24-17) in week 2. They were able to get their first win of the season by beating Tampa Bay 19-9 in Houston. Atlanta will be their 3rd NFC South opponent of the early season. With the AFC South being one of the weaker divisions in the NFL – each team is currently 1-2 – it is crucial for Houston not to drop another game against the NFC South.
Slow starts and trailing at halftime has been the theme of the first three games for Houston. Brian Hoyer (18/34, 236 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 1 fumble) started game one and to put it nicely was not very good. As a result he was benched with 6 minutes remaining in the season opener and Ryan Mallet took over. Mallet (8/13, 98 yards, 1 TD) led the Texans on two scoring drives and the rest is history. Wide Receivers DeAndre Hopkins (9-98 yards 2 TD) and Nate Washington (6-105) led the way in that one. The defense was able to keep Jamaal Charles in check but gave up 243 passing yards and 3 TDs to Alex Smith. 2 of those TDs went to Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce.
Did you notice that I didn’t mention the rushing attack in week 1? Well week 2 wasn’t any better. The Texans managed a measly 61 yards on 23 carries while throwing the ball a whopping 58 times! Mallet (27-58, 244 yards 1 TD, 1 INT, 1 rush TD) got the start in game 2 and had a so-so day. Facing a respectable Carolina defense and falling behind early made the day rough. Also add in that the offense was horrible on third down for the second consecutive game (3/14 VS Kansas City; 5/19 VS Carolina). The Texans were gashed on the ground defensively allowing 172 yards (76 by Cam Newton). Newton was also able to hit Greg Olsen 6 times for 70 yards.
In week 3 the Texans were back at home and were able to correct some of their problems from the first 2 games. Houston got their first win of the season despite trailing at the half. They had a balanced attack offensively (46 rushes VS 39 passes) and got a big day from Alfred Blue (139 yards and 1TD) as a result. Houston offense was able to win the time of possession battle while piling up 413 total yards and converted 8 of their 18 third down opportunities. Mallet went 24-39 for 228 yards w/ 1 TD & 1 INT. Hopkins had another good day with 8 catches, 101 yards, 1 TD. The defense stepped up and allowed only 57 yards on the ground.
The Texans still have issues to correct if they want to beat Atlanta. A good place to start is penalties and turnovers. They’ve committed 26 penalties this season and have a negative 2 in the takeaway/giveaway category. They will also need to start fast and keep the ball away from Atlanta. That means building on last week’s rushing totals and better success in 3rd down situations. The Falcons are 23rd in the NFL in total defense and allow 24 PTS/GM but have a plus 2 in takeaway/giveaway. On defense I’m sure the Texans already know about Atlanta’s high-powered offense – 3rd in total offense and averaging 29.7 PTS/GM – led by Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. Ryan is 2nd in the NFL with 946 passing yards and is top 10 in a number of quarterback statistics. Julio has been all world in 3 games with a league leading 34 receptions and 440 yards (146.7 yds/GM) along with 4 TDs. Houston enters Sunday’s game 12th in total defense allowing 20 PTS/GM and 224 Passing Yards/GM. They only have 4 sacks in 3 games. Three of those are by Mr. JJ Watt. However on the positive side the Texans defense is top 5 in passes defended with 18 and opposing offenses have only converted 21.1% of their 3rd down opportunities against them. Success by the defense on 3rd down will be huge. The quicker they get ATL’s offense to the sidelines the better.
Houston will have chances to score on Sunday. The question hovering over them is “will they take advantage of those chances?” They’ll need another balanced attack led by Alfred Blue. Mallet will also need to protect the football and be more efficient. He’s thrown an interception in both of his starts and has an unimpressive 53.6 completion percentage. I expect for DeAndre Hopkins – team leader in receiving (22 catches, 252 yards, 3 TD) – to see some attention which means the field should open up for Nate Washington and Cecil Shorts III. On defense, the pass rushers should be happy because they’ll get plenty of attempts to get their sack totals up. This is also an opportunity for Jadeveon Clowney to have a breakout day. He’ll be close to his home state South Carolina and I’m sure many of his friends and family will be watching. The Texans will also need to force some turnovers. That’s an aspect they’ve been lacking so far. They currently have 2 interceptions and no forced fumbles. Also need to keep an eye on Devonta Freeman. He had a solid day running the ball VS Dallas and will look to do the same this week.
In a surprise choice I’m taking the Texans to win on the road 27-24. I think they’ll have a balanced attack on offense and their defense will get after Matt Ryan to increase their sack and turnover totals. Randy Bullock was waived by the Texans. The former kicker for Houston was 5-6 on field goal attempts and 3-5 on extra points. The Texans replaced him with Nick Novak who kicked for San Diego last season was released by the Chargers during the preseason.** The Texans will need Novak at his best as every point will be needed. I hope he avoids a “Kickers ain’t shit” moment in his return.
*All stats courtesy of http://espn.go.com/nfl/statistics