Once again we got to talk with Texans blogger Claire Mullins from the State of the Texans blog. Big thanks to Claire for sharing with us once again!
1. The Colts are locked into the fifth seed, but Houston needs to win to stay ahead of Denver for the #1 seed. How important is homefield advantage for this Houston team in the playoffs?
Very important, although the bye is more important in my opinion. That extra week would do wonders for the coaching staff's ability to game plan and (hopefully!) work out some potential in-game adjustment options. Since we can count on neither the Broncos losing to KC or the Patriots losing to Miami, a win for the Texans against the Colts will be pivotal not only for the bye, but for home-field advantage.
2. Paul Kuharsky, among others, voiced the opinion that Andrew Luck should have been the AFC's third QB over Matt Schaub. What are your thoughts?
Here's the deal. Luck has done a tremendous amount for Indianapolis this season. He has been pivotal to the change in the team's offensive production this season. I believe Schaub was chosen over Luck for a number of reasons. A) Many votes were placed prior to some of Schaub's less impressive performances. B) The fact Luck is a rookie and that may have worked against him against the QB talent in the AFC. C) Most importantly, look at the numbers: http://espn.go.com/nfl/statistics/player/_/stat/passing/sort/quarterbackRating/year/2012/seasontype/2
. In almost every category, Schaub bests Luck. My question would lie more with Roethlisberger over Schaub than Luck.
3. Watt killed the Colts in Week 15, and is having a DPOY-type of year. How important is he to the Houston defense, and how have opponents limited him this season?
Have opponents limited Watt this season? Maybe when he's triple teamed, but otherwise he's relentless and quite successful in his attempts to get to the quarterback or defend passes. With 20.5 sacks on the season, he needs 2.5 more to break Michael Strahan's single season sack record. I think Christian Ponder had an interesting method of dealing with Watt last week. When Ponder started to go down at the hands of Watt, he managed to get the ball out at the last possible minute. This kept Watt from getting two additional sacks and tying the record.
Essentially, J.J. Watt has been the pass rush this season. Without him, the Texans defense would be many times less potent, as evidenced in the past several games. Watt's 20.5 sacks is the 6th most in NFL history and equals the number Lawrence Taylor had in 1986, the last year a defensive player won the NFL MVP. Add into the sack total (not to mention the fact Watt is an interior lineman,) Watt's contributions regarding hits on QB, tackles for loss, tackles, passes defended and forced fumbles and J.J. Watt runs the Texans defense.
4. The Texans were fairly conservative last time around, and it allowed the Colts to hang around. Is this a concern going into both this week and the playoffs?
We hope not! Conservatism will get you no where once teams figure out how to dissect your offense and defense, as appears to be the case for the Texans. Fans clamor for more in-game adjustments, which Gary Kubiak seems almost loathe to do. The offense will always be run first, but when teams manage to stymie the run, a more stable, less wild passing game is of utmost importance. On the defense, many players are appearing less athletic as the season wears on. This is another reason the bye would be so vital to the Texans.
5. Andre Johnson has had a phenomenal year once again, but may be on the down side of his career. Looking back, where does he stack up against great/pseudo-great receivers of AFC South history (Harrison, Wayne, J. Smith, D. Mason, etc.)?
If you compare the systems from which each of these WRs come from, it's difficult not to say Andre Johnson is the most capable. After all, Johnson spent 2003-2006 catching passes from David Carr and in 3 full seasons of 4, had 2 1140+ yard receiving seasons. Every year Johnson has played a complete season, minus his rookie season, he has accomplished well in excess of 1000 yards. Taking into account the systems of Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison and Jimmy Smith, Johnson has a case for the most accomplished. Harrison has a slightly higher yearly yardage average, but given he had been receiving passes from a system that was pass first, Johnson's numbers are that much more impressive. I'm not including Mason in the equation since his season averages are well below those of the other AFC receiving stars.
6. Houston has never won in Indy. Do they get their first this week?
If there's a time to get that particular monkey off the Texans' back, now would be the time. With so much at stake the Texans can scarcely afford to leave Indy with an L. It will definitely not be easy. Luck to Wayne and Luck to Hilton are fierce obstacles but if the Texans offense is on, J.J. gets his sacks and the secondary shows up, the Texans can escape with home-field advantage plus the bye they so desperately desire. The vibe coming from the locker room is all business. We can only hope the game plan is in place and adaptable and the Texans take any air out of the return of Pagano they can.