Scanning The Field: The Opponent Ahead

Alert the USDA: Over-hyped Beef Patties coming to Indianapolis

I am not buying the hype of the Houston Beef Patties this weekend. After being exposed all season its clear they aren't ‘Grade A' quality. 

Paul Kuharsky of ESPN said this was the perfect week for Houston to face the injury-plagued Colts. Injuries aside, I see this weekend's marquee AFC South matchup as just the opposite. 

Like their 4-2 start, Houston's team is reminiscent of a dingy burger joint where the meat looks great but you know indigestion lurks. History says be forewarned. The Moo Cows solid coaching and high-powered offense can inspire a daring sense of faith, but in the back of their minds Texan fans have to know its too good to be true. It's a similar feeling to that burger dive where the rich, savory smell pulls you inside and gives you a false sense of security. You try to convince your apprehensive buddies - "come on guys the menu says everything is well cooked, it will be fine!" 

After the win over the Colts and the fast start everything seems ordained. Your burger is juicy and satisfying, prompting you to tell your friends "See, you guys are just a bunch of negative Nancy's! What were you ever worried about? These beef patties are legit!" Then a beat down by the Giants in week 3 and a loss at Dallas (another horribly over-hyped Texas team) and that heavy weight- in-the-stomach feeling starts to creep up on you. You lose Demeco Ryans right before a Primetime visit to arch-nemesis Indianapolis and suddenly things are going downhill fast. Texan fans won't admit it, but they are probably somewhere around the ‘o crap my stomach feels really queasy right now' stage. Sorry guys, it's only going to get worse. 

Have I mentioned it's tough sledding playing against Peyton Manning who is 20-4 in night games? Or that the Colts have the second ranked pass offense, while the Texans stand dead last in pass coverage? What about the fact that Demeco Ryans, the captain, leader and brains of the defense, is lost for the year? (After the all the Colts injuries - I feel for you guys on that one). 

I hear grumblings... Pepto Bismol, Houston fans?

On Tuesday I wrote that the Colts should employ the blur (or stampede) offense that they ran in spurts with great success against the Redskins. Washington had no answer all night. Granted this offense is not an every-down offense. It will behoove the Colts to mix up their looks and paces, further keeping the Texans off balance. Sometimes taking a breather to huddle can help refocus the offense. But if ever there was a team to exploit with the stampede, the Texans are that team. 

Houston has one of the youngest and least experienced secondaries in the league. As a unit they are last in the league in nearly every statistical category and their starters have combined for 1 INT and 0 forced fumbles. The linebacking core, the strong suit of the unit until Ryans went down, can't even match that. Starting a mediocre second year corner back in Glover Quinn on one side and rookie Kareem Jackson on the other on top of losing the anchor of the defense doesn't bode well against the likes of Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne. The confusion in the Beef Patty secondary with an even more accelerated and frenetic pace will be catastrophic! 

More, louder grumblings...

Then again, Peyton already knows what its like having lit up the Beef Patties for 433 yards and 3 scores all on relatively quick up-tempo drives including a methodical 12 play 75 yard drive that took only 3:49 and didn't include a play longer than 20 yards.

Cramps starting....

Yet the Colts lost. Why? Because of the emergence of Arian Foster - someone the Colts will see in heavy doses early and often. If the offense can put up those huge numbers and still lose then something must change. The formula for Colts' defense isn't complex or exotic. The focus should be on simply correcting fundamental issues with tackling and making sure to take better angles to the ball carrier. Its no secret the defense must play better. Unfortunately there isn't a scheme to fix or mask the breakdowns. Until the Colt's defense can shore up these issues, the onus falls on the offense (really nothing new). The best way to neutralize the running game is to score early and to score quickly, deluding the opposing team into believing they need to accelerate their own play to keep up.  

Opposing teams around the league have certainly shown the old adage "the best defense is a good (prolonged) offense" to be true against the Colts by using their running backs to keep Peyton off the field. Shouldn't the Colts employ their version of that strategy: Start fast, score fast and let Freeney and Mathis play fast. Essentially ramp up the pace and lure the Beef Patties into doing the same. In today's pass-happy NFL, everyone knows the quickest way to score is through the air. Usually daring an elite quarterback to throw the ball is dangerous but for the Colts, it's an opportunity. The more Schaub drops back, the more Freeney and Mathis can wreak havoc (Err...be held on every single play. Sigh).  Of course its highly unlikely Houston would fall for such a trap right off the bat, but rattling the opposing QB is never a bad strategy and the effect will only be aided by the added bonus of the home-crowd noise. If the Colts can jump out front and get a few stops it could be lights out for Houston. 

The other advantage of the stampede is that against the Texans, it will mask the weaknesses of Peyton and the rest of the offense. One antidote to the stampede offense that the Redskins tried was the ‘time square defense' (thank you Gregg Easterbrook). The key is discipline and organization. The Redskins lacked both and looked completely lost. Other teams down the road may find it more fortuitous, but I doubt the Beef Patties will be included on that list. Historically, the Colts have struggled against two types of defenses: The 3-4 base defense and tough physical teams. 3-4 base defenses frustrate Manning because the 3-4 provides the defense an extra athlete to chase and cover the receivers. The offensive line has historically struggled picking up free blitzers - especially rushing from the linebacker spot - who come off stunt moves. The other advantage was that an athletic linebacker could drop in coverage and tail Dallas Clark. More physical defenses bother the Colts' rhythm and timing. This was on full display 2 weeks ago when the rugged Chiefs secondary bullied the Colt receivers forcing altered routes and missed throws. 

Fortunately for the Colts, the Texans don't use the 3-4 and aren't known for the physicality. Working out of the more traditional Base 4-3 defense, Houston, like the Colts, relies on their speed rushers Mario Williams and Antonio Smith (Freeney-Mathis lite) to put pressure on the QB and help the rest of the defense. If the Beef Patties try the Times Square defense, Williams will be less effective rushing from the standing position (it is more difficult to gain speed and leverage standing upright). If the defense stays in their base formation, it will be hard to mix up and disguise coverages on the fly. The University of Oregon, the inspiration for the blur, torched UCLA because the cuddle bear Bruins weren't capable of mixing-up their coverage. So far this season Houston has managed decent pressure, but imagine 300 pound Beef Patty linemen sprinting up and down the field all game long. Even Super Mario needs oxygen. Take away Williams and the defensive becomes even more pedestrian. That is a thought will make every Texans fan sick to their stomach.

Disclaimer: If I am wrong and the Texans prove up to the challenge I will eat my words and every beef patty that is sent my way. 

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