HOUSTON VS DETROIT PREVIEW By Brad Lorkovic (LORK 88) I’m not sure if my heart can take this anymore. Everything since Hurricane Ike has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride. Contending with division rivals, heart-breaking losses, and a last second win have many of us feeling this is the most exciting season we’ve ever had. This upcoming week we host the Detroit Lions, one of two winless teams left in this NFL season. Their season has been marred with injuries, disappointment, and drastic changes, but that doesn’t make them a pushover in the least bit. They’ve progressed slowly but surely over the season and lost in the closing seconds against a tough Minnesota team. Detroit will definitely be looking to take us out and get in the win column. Question is, do we play like we know we can and take care of business, or does Detroit creep up on us? Houston’s Running Game vs. Detroit’s Run D: For the most part this season, Detroit’s run defense has been sub par. They’ve allowed Adrian Peterson and Frank Gore to both have big games against them as well as Michael Turner’s 220 yard performance. They did do a solid job against Chicago’s Matt Forte slowing him down and kept him under 4.0 YPC. However, they haven’t done a great job with their tampa 2 defense. Their starting DTs this season are Chuck Darby and Cory Redding. Darby is questionable for this game, but fits the tampa 2 scheme. Redding hasn’t been as effective since Shaun Rodgers left, although he’s athletic for a DT. The DEs for Detroit are Jared Devries and Dwayne White. DeVries has been with Detroit his entire career and is decent overall. White has shown more of a pass rusher, but has a good motor. At LB, Ernie Sims can fly all over the field. The other LBs are Paris Lennon and Alex Lewis. Lennon is the veteran of the group and is a solid, wrap-up tackler. Lewis is in his first year as a full time starter, similar to Zach Diles. For Houston, I like our match-up. We normally struggle when a team has a monster DT, and Detroit doesn’t have one. Their defense does has some speed, so I like our match-up more inside than anything. Houston’s Passing Game vs. Detroit’s Pass D: Detroit has one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL. It doesn’t help too much that Leigh Bodden and Travis Fisher are questionable. With those 2 doubtful, that leaves Brian Kelly and Keith Smith as potential starters. Kelley was a former starter for the Buccaneers (yes, another one) who knows the system, although he has lost a step. Keith Smith is normally the nickel/dime CB who actually had the most interceptions last season, but has had the extra playing time thrusted upon him. At safety is Dwight Smith and Daniel Bullocks. Bullocks was out last year with a season-ending injury but has bounced back pretty well so far. Smith came over for the Vikings after starting his career off in Tampa Bay. Their pass rush is mostly Dwayne White with some help from DeVries. White is very quick off the ball and is a smart rusher. For us, we need to challenge Detroit vertically, especially if they’re thin at CB. As much as I like White, I don’t think Duane Brown will be in too much trouble compared to some of the other players he’s gone against. As long as we’re smart and don’t make mistakes are passing game should flourish. Detroit’s Rushing Game vs. Houston’s Run D: The Lions running game has slowly started coming together. I actually compare it to ours in a way. Rudi Johnson is the veteran who grinds it out while Kevin Smith is the threat to breakout the long run. They haven’t done as much in the past few weeks but that has more to do with facing 2 teams who rank in the top 5 in run defense. Along the offensive line is mostly veterans,and might be hit with some changes. Jeff Backus is at LT and has started every single game in his career for them. Their first round draft pick Gosder Cherilus has been benched in favor of George Foster who’s very familiar with the Denver ZBS. The guards are where some changes might happen. Manny Ramirez (wreck’em Tech) is starting at RG while Damion Cook might start while they rest Mulitalo. Cook has spent the past 2 years in the CFL and AFL. Domanic Raiola is the starter at center. For us, we need to get penetration in the middle and disrupt their flow. They’re been running the zone blocking scheme from what I understand and I’m not overly worried about Johnson or Smith beating us on the edge. Detroit’s Passing Game vs. Houston’s Pass D: Jon Kitna is officially on the IR, so the focus this week is turned to Dan Orlovsky, the former UConn standout. Orlovsky has confidence and can go downfield, but definitely lacks the experience. This is his first time ever being the true starter. As far as his targets go, Calvin Johnson is definitely his go-to guy. He’s got size (6’5” 235), speed (4.35 40), and great hands. The other WR opposite CJ won’t be Roy Williams after getting traded to Dallas but Mike Furrey. He had a breakout year in 2006, but has seen his role reduced since then. Furrey is far from a deep threat and is a true possession WR. The WR in the slot will most likely be Shaun McDonald, a WR who spent the beginning of his career with St. Louis towards the end of the ‘greatest show on turf’ era along with Furrey. McDonald is more quick than fast, but can create space. At TE is Michael Gaines and Casey Fitzsimmons. Both have great size but aren’t a serious receiving threat. For Houston, the key will be to keep an eye on Calvin Johnson with a safety on top. I’m not worried about Furrey or McDonald going deep, but they will go across the middle at will. The other serious threat will be to watch the RBs out of the backfield. It’s been a bit of a weakness for us in the past. POSITION BATTLE QB Advantage: HOUSTON RB Advantage: PUSH WR Advantage: HOUSTON TE Advantage: HOUSTON OL Advantage: HOUSTON DL Advantage: HOUSTON LB Advantage: HOUSTON CB Advantage: HOUSTON S Advantage: DETROIT K/P Advantage: PUSH RET Advantage: HOUSTON X FACTOR OF THE GAME: DUNTA ROBINSON, CB Call it honoring his return or having lofty expectations, but you know that the eyes of every Houston Texans fan will be on him when he steps onto the field. After a horrific injury, most were worried he wouldn’t return this season or to the same form. Well he will be taken off the PUP list, but how will he perform? Regardless of if he’s a bit rusty, having his presence alone in the secondary should be a huge impact. He’s a vocal leader who will do whatever it takes for the team, and we need that in the secondary. Bennett was supposed to be our new leader, but it became apparent that he wasn’t ready for that role. Now the king gets to return to his thrown. KEY FACTORS TO THE GAME 1) Please win a turnover battle. I don’t know how we won last game turning the ball over a total of 4 times throughout the game and in critical spots. We won’t win too many more like that if we keep showing a negative sign next to turnover difference. All it does is give the other team great starting field position and put our average defense in difficult spots on the field. We need to be smarter on offense as well as force turnovers on defense. I like our chances as long as we don’t falter on the turnover battle and give Detroit the ball in scoring position (which is what Minnesota did and barely snuck out with a win). 2) Can we get someone other than Mario Williams to get pressure on the QB? He’s an all pro DE so it should be expected, but it’s worrisome that nobody else can get to the QB effectively and constantly. Bulman has shown some potential (especially last game) as has Thompson (the only other person on the team to get a sack), but we need someone else who can get consistent pressure. I don’t care if it’s Amobi, Johnson, a blitzing LB, or someone else, as long as our pass rush keeps improving and we learn that Mario Williams isn’t our only pass rusher. 3) This isn’t necessarily directly related to a particular side of the ball, it’s an all around message we need to keep in mind. Don’t underestimate Detroit. While they may be winless thus far, it doesn’t guarantee anything. Miami might of thought the same thing against us last week when we ended up winning, same goes for St. Louis (although Clinton Portis admitted that they underestimated the Rams). No team in the NFL will ever roll over and die; they will keep fighting it out. I have huge confidence this week in Houston, but that doesn’t mean we should take Detroit lightly this week.