Texans Finally Put Two Halves Together; Defense Finds Pulse
So who the hell are these guys? And more importantly, have the guys calling the shots figured something out?
The Texans' defense pitched a third consecutive second-half shutout in Sunday's 28-17 road victory against a very good Bengals (4-2) team, stifling what was the league's leading rusher -- Cedric Benson -- in the process.
The former Texas star rushed for just 44 yards on 16 carries - by far his worst performance of the season - and the Texans (3-3) limited Cincinnati as a team to only 46 yards on the ground. That comes after Oakland and Arizona rushed for only 45 yards each in the past two weeks.
How did things turn around so quickly?
"Our team knew it was a big game," head coach Gary Kubiak said, according to post-game quotes release by the team. "We went smaller this week up front. We've had five ends and three inside players, and it scares you, but we've been more active."
Among others, that means more playing time for second-round draft pick Connor Barwin, whose speed makes him a force opposite Mario Williams at defensive end and contributed to his first career sack on Sunday.
Because of moves such as that, much of the credit -- incredibly -- has to go to defensive coordinator Frank Bush and the rest of the defensive coaching staff. The Texans were lights-out with their halftime adjustments, setting a franchise record by holding the Bengals to just six yards on nine third-quarter plays.
"We have come a long way," linebacker and defensive captain Demeco Ryans said. "I feel like we are being a lot more consistent. That's the key for us. We have had spurts of being good. We're putting together 60 minutes now."
As usual, the defense's star was rookie linebacker Brian Cushing, who appears poised to turn the NFL's defensive Rookie of the Year race into a runaway. Kubiak gave Cushing one of the game balls after the former USC star forced two fumbles and clinched the game with an interception in the final two minutes.
"He makes his biggest plays during the toughest times in games," Kubiak said of Cushing. "He's a tough competitor. It probably stems from the types of games he played in week-in and week-out in college."
The other game ball went to quarterback Matt Schaub, who completed 28 of 40 passes for 392 yards and four touchdowns while directing an offense that's almost become good enough to take for granted.
The Texans passing offense now ranks fourth in the NFL, while Schaub leads the league in touchdowns with 14. He's also second in total yards with 1,810.
And most importantly, a guy some considered injury prone hasn't missed a snap all season. For the first time in the history of the franchise, the Texans are finally able to say they have true stability at the game's most important position.
"We are executing our plays and doing what we do naturally," Schaub said. "We're making plays downfield. I can't talk enough about our offensive line and how it allows me to step up and have time."
But can the Texans handle success? So far, the answer has been a resounding no, after victories at Tennessee and home against Oakland were followed with losses to Jacksonville and Arizona.
The next two weeks -- home against San Francisco and at Buffalo -- should tell the tale for the duration of the Texans' season. The Texans are far more talented than both teams, and with two wins, the Texans are 5-3, on pace for 10 wins and likely a playoff berth.
Lose one, though, and they're only 4-4 at the halfway point and then headed to Indianapolis. It's why efforts like Sunday, both from the players and staff, have to become the norm.
"In order for us to go where we want to go, we can't be satisfied," receiver Andre Johnson said. "I think the biggest thing about [Sunday's] game is that we played football for a full 60 minutes for the first time this season."