When New Orleans hosts Houston on Sunday in its second straight home game, you’ve likely read as much about the Saints as you possibly can.
But what about the Texans?
That’s where A View From the Other Side comes in. Every Friday during the Saints' season, WWL-TV.com will ask five questions to at least one beat writer covering the Saints’ opponent that week.
This week we were able to nab a good one – Brandon C. Williams, the Rapid Reporter for CBSSports.com. He has covered the franchise periodically since 2004 and is the former sports editor of the Galveston County Daily News. Williams is a freelance writer and broadcaster who has worked with Fox Sports, Scout.com along with serving as the general assignments/sports writer for the Houston Chronicle.
WWLTV.com: We talked about this in the preseason on the radio, but now that we're two games into the season, does Houston remind you at all of New Orleans in 2009?
Brandon Williams: There are similarities, yet one has to keep in mind that the Saints had reached the NFC Title game in 2006; if there is a Saints team the Texans remind me of, it’s the ‘06 squad. Houston didn’t change head coaches, but the addition of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has provided a similar impact that the arrival of Sean Payton did for the ‘06 Saints.
Like the ‘06 Saints, the Texans are playing in a weak division that is in the midst of change with the Colts forced to adjust to life without Peyton Manning, the Titans ushering in the post-Jeff Fisher era and the Jaguars trying not to run the legs off Maurice Jones-Drew. Sunday is a statement game in that it gives the Texans a chance to prove they belong in the upper echelon of the AFC, but as S Glover Quin told me on Thursday, “"If they want to call it a statement game, what kind of statement is it? If we win, what are they going to say? 'They're for real?' We still have 13 more games left to play. If we lose, what are they going to say? 'They're a joke?' We still have 13 more games left to play."
WWLTV.com: Wade Phillips has brought a new energy to the defense and after two games they're the No. 1-ranked unit in the NFL. This, though, is their first real test against a high-powered offense, and no, Indianapolis does not count this year! Have the defensive players shown enough that you think they'll handle their first test fine?
Williams: To a man, they’re ready to face the Saints. All throughout camp, they had to deal with accusations of being a ‘soft’ defense, and it is an insult they take personally. This unit knows the fate of the 2011 season rides on them; the offense will score points with anyone, and Sunday is one hell of an acid test for them to prove they can contain (because I don’t think you can completely stop the Saints’ offense) an elite scoring attack.
This is the moment that can give a defense a sense of confidence that carries throughout the team. Phillips has instilled an attacking style and attitude that flows throughout the defense. If a Brian Cushing or Antonio Smith can create a turnover early, it’s likely to cause a frenzied sense of blood in the water.
WWLTV.com: Mario Williams has gone from a hand-on-the-ground defensive end in a 4-3 to a stand up outside linebacker/defensive end in a 3-4. Have you noticed any drop-off in his game in preseason and the first two games or is he more explosive now?
Williams: Drop-off? No. Rather, Williams has embraced the role from day one and has two sacks and a forced fumble thus far. At 6’6, 283, he still has some adjusting to the rare times he is asked to drop into coverage, but Williams’ 4.6 speed allows him to move past tackles without having to come up from the ground.
What it has shown is that putting a TE to block Williams is futile. The Colts used Dallas Clark as added protection for Kerry Collins in the opener, and the results were disastrous. Williams mauled Clark and forced the Colts to readjust their packages; that Clark was in to block is a sign that teams must account for Williams yet also have to keep rookie DE J.J. Watt in mind if double-teaming Williams is in their plans.
WWLTV.com: With Arian Foster hampered by a hamstring injury, it's likely that Ben Tate will once again be the main guy for Houston. Why do you believe the second-year player out of Auburn has done so well despite having missed 2010 and some of the preseason with an injury?
Williams: Keep in mind the Texans drafted Tate in the second round in 2010 with the purpose of competing for the starting role before he suffered leg and ankle injuries and opened the door for Foster to lead the NFL with 1,616 yards. Coach Gary Kubiak said that Tate stayed determined by spending extra time on the playbook and remained focused despite missing much the early portion of camp with injuries.
Tate (5-foot-11, 214 pounds) has shown he gets better as the game goes on. He had 12 straight carries in the fourth quarter of last Sunday’s win at the Dolphins. Don’t be fooled: while he has displayed workhorse skills, Tate has home run speed and -- like Foster -- can be productive in the passing game. The only question surrounding Tate is whether he can stand up to the Saints’ pass rush. I’m sure Gregg Williams will provide an answer by 3:30 p.m. on Sunday.
WWLTV.com: What does Matt Schaub do particularly well and how do you see him attacking the Saints' defense through the air - short passes spread around or specifically targeting Andre Johnson?
Williams: Schaub is an underrated game manager who has become a complete quarterback in the midst of his prime. He has reduced his gambling nature while also improving his accuracy, hence his league-leading 71.7 completion rate.
Andre Johnson is the best receiver in the NFL. He’s going to be the featured target and the Saints must account for his whereabouts. He and Schaub have mastered the play-action that allows Johnson to run deep while Schaub either dials him long distance or the coverage provides Schaub to hit WR Kevin Walter, TE Owen Daniels or third wide Jacoby Jones, each of whom will be single-covered.
Keep this name in mind: FB James Casey. The converted TE is versatile and will line up in the slot, at his old position and will move in motion. Casey could be very dangerous near the goal line.
--Bradley Handwerger, WWLTV.com Sports Reporter