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NFL Preview - Philadelphia at Houston
NFL Preview - Philadelphia at Houston
A pair of teams seeking to finally slam the door on troubling 2005 campaigns will meet at Reliant Stadium on Sunday, as the Houston Texans play host to the Philadelphia Eagles in the '06 lid-lifter for each.
The Texans posted a league-worst 2-14 record in 2005, a showing that prompted the firing of head coach Dom Capers after four years on the job. Capers was replaced by former Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who will have the challenge of turning around a franchise that has gone a combined 18-46 in its brief history. Kubiak has already met with his share of obstacles since taking the helm, not the least of which was last week's announcement that starting running back Domanick Davis would miss the 2006 season with a knee injury. Davis' situation shines a bright spotlight on the team's decision to pass up USC running back and 2005 Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush with the No. 1 pick in the April draft. Houston used the top selection on North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams.
Also looking for a bounce-back year will be the Eagles, who followed up their NFC title showing of 2004 with a dismal 6-10 campaign last season. Philadelphia was beset by major injuries in 2005, including a sports hernia that ended quarterback Donovan McNabb's season nine games in. McNabb and the Eagles franchise were also embroiled in the much-publicized, year-long soap opera concerning wide receiver Terrell Owens, who was suspended in November for conduct detrimental to the team and subsequently released in March.
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The Eagles won their only all-time meeting with the Texans, downing Houston by a 35-17 count in 2002. Philadelphia last traveled to Houston for a regular season game in 1991, defeating the Oilers, 13-6. Philly head coach Andy Reid is 1-0 in his career against the Texans, while Kubiak will be facing both Reid and the Eagles for the first time as a head coach.
EAGLES OFFENSE VS. TEXANS DEFENSE
McNabb (2507 passing yards, 16 TD, 9 INT) appears fully recovered from the injuries that hampered him in 2005, as evidenced by a strong preseason that saw him post a sparkling 112.7 passer rating. The big question for the offense will be the work of a receiving corps that struggled after Owens' departure last season. Recently acquired ex-Saint Donte' Stallworth (70 receptions, 7 TD) and holdover Reggie Brown (43 receptions, 4 TD) will be McNabb's primary receivers in Week 1, with tight end L.J. Smith (61 receptions, 3 TD) providing a presence over the middle. Smith and running back Brian Westbrook tied for the team lead in catches a year ago. Seeking to protect McNabb will be an offensive line that struggled with its own injuries last season, a predicament that helped lead to 41 sacks allowed. A healthier group gave up eight sacks during the 2006 preseason, including four of McNabb.
Houston sought to upgrade a formerly-deficient pass rush by adding Williams, the 6-7, 295-pound defensive end who notched 14 sacks as a junior at N.C. State in 2005. Williams and fellow starting DE Anthony Weaver (33 tackles, 2 sacks with the Ravens) will be working out of the team's new 4-3 set, with former outside linebacker Jason Babin (4 sacks) likely to be featured in throwing situations. An enhanced pass rush should make life easier for a young Texans secondary that notched a grand total of six interceptions in 2005. Safeties Glenn Earl (2 INT) and C.C. Brown (79 tackles, 1 INT) are both back in the starting lineup along with cornerback Dunta Robinson (1 INT), and former backup Lewis Sanders (1 INT) has unseated the disappointing Phillip Buchanon at the other corner.
Reid has suggested that he would like to strike a better pass-run balance in 2006, which should mean more carries for the oft-electrifying Westbrook (617 rushing yards, 3 TD). The fifth-year pro out of Villanova has as many 100-yard games receiving (3) as rushing in his career, but will likely get a chance to improve upon that output in 2006. Westbrook was bothered by a sprained foot during the preseason, but is believed to be fully healthy heading into Week 1. Slated to spell Westbrook is Correll Buckhalter, who will make a triumphant return to the field after missing both 2004 and 2005 with knee injuries. Buckhalter, a fourth-round draft pick out of Nebraska in 2001, rushed for 542 yards and scored nine touchdowns for the Eagles in 2003.
The Texans ranked dead last in the NFL against the run last season, a situation that prompted new defensive coordinator Richard Smith to alter both his personnel and the overall look of his unit. The new middle linebacker is rookie DeMeco Ryans, the team's second-round draft pick out of Alabama, while Morlon Greenwood (112 tackles) and Shantee Orr (50 tackles, 7 sacks) will flank him on the outside of the team's three-linebacker scheme. Greenwood was the team's leader in tackles in 2005, his first season in Houston after coming over from Miami via free agency, and Orr paced the club in sacks. Seeking to stop the run at the point of attack will be veteran Seth Payne (58 tackles, 4 sacks) and fellow interior lineman Travis Johnson (26 tackles, 1 sack). Johnson, the team's first-round pick out of Florida State in 2005, started just three games as a rookie.
TEXANS OFFENSE VS. EAGLES DEFENSE
The loss of Davis robs the Texans of their most consistent offensive weapon of a year ago, a player that came up just short of 1,000 yards in only 11 starts in 2005. Houston will now turn to rookie Wali Lundy, a sixth-round draft choice out of Virginia, as its primary rusher. Lundy, who accumulated over 3,000 yards and scored 52 touchdowns in four years as a Cavalier, averaged 5.5 yards per carry in the preseason. Assuming backup roles will be holdover Vernand Morency (184 rushing yards, 2 TD) and recently-acquired ex-Giant and Bronco Ron Dayne (270 rushing yards, 1 TD with Denver).
Seeking to slow Lundy, Morency, or whoever does the running for Houston will be a Philadelphia defense that ranked just 21st against the rush last season. Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson has made slight personnel adjustments in the interests of gaining better production against the run, inserting second-year pro Matt McCoy at weakside linebacker to replace the departed Keith Adams, and tabbing 2006 first-round draft pick Brodrick Bunkley (Florida State) for a key reserve role at defensive tackle. Otherwise, the run-stoppers are familiar, with Jeremiah Trotter (119 tackles) back at middle linebacker, Dhani Jones (70 tackles) returning on the strong side, and Mike Patterson (44 tackles, 3.5 sacks) and Darwin Walker (25 tackles, 2.5 sacks) slated for starting duties on the interior line. Trotter was named to his fourth career Pro Bowl last season, after leading the team in tackles.
The problems at running back could lead Kubiak to take a more pass-oriented approach on Sunday, a situation that will cast quarterback David Carr (2488 passing yards, 14 TD, 11 INT) and his much-maligned offensive line in the spotlight. Carr has been sacked 208 times in four pro seasons, including a league-high 68 times last season, and Houston did not upgrade its line significantly in the offseason. Third-round draft choice Charles Spencer (Pittsburgh) is slated to start at the all-important left tackle position on Sunday. If he has time to throw downfield, Carr will look to wideouts Andre Johnson (63 receptions, 2 TD) and Eric Moulds (81 receptions, 4 TD with the Bills). Johnson is seeking to revert to his Pro Bowl form of 2004 after a difficult '05 campaign, while Moulds will be trying to make his mark in Houston after 10 productive years with Buffalo. The Texans figure to feature frequent two-tight end sets, with rookie Owen Daniels (Wisconsin) and ex- Bronco Jeb Putzier (37 receptions with Denver) likely to garner significant time.
Charged with the directive of limiting Johnson and Moulds on Sunday will be an Eagles secondary that failed at times to live up to its reputation a year ago. Cornerback Lito Sheppard (3 INT) and safeties Brian Dawkins (77 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3 INT) and Michael Lewis (107 tackles, 2 INT) all made the Pro Bowl in 2004, but watched as the team's ranking in NFL passing defense drop from 12th to 21st in 2005. Sheppard appears back after missing the final six games of last season with a broken ankle, and will again start opposite Sheldon Brown (4 INT). The secondary group is hoping to benefit from a strengthened pass rush, which now features ex-Saint Darren Howard (3 sacks with New Orleans) in addition to holdover Jevon Kearse. Howard had 44 sacks in six seasons with the Saints, including a pair of 11-sack years. Trent Cole (5 sacks) will be added as a third pass-rusher on a situational basis, with Howard moving inside to tackle.
The Texans are young and unsure of themselves in all the wrong places, a situation that a veteran group of Eagles should have little trouble exploiting. Howard, Kearse, and the Philadelphia pass rush should spend the better part of the afternoon tormenting Carr, and the raw Lundy won't be able to do enough in the run game to keep the Philly defense off-balance. Houston is improved defensively, and McNabb and the Eagles don't figure to have a field day, but they will move the ball consistently enough to help aide a winning effort.
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About the Author: -> Predicted Outcome: Eagles 22, Texans 7, Make your bet at BetMaker, and grab your bonuses, you deserve NOW.