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Midweek report

In Houston, they’ve had their problems

Jerod Mayo had a top-notch game against Jacksonville. Jerod Mayo had a top-notch game against Jacksonville. (Robert E. Klein/For The Globe)
December 30, 2009

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An AFC scout breaks down the Texans:

“The biggest thing about [wide receiver] Andre Johnson are his physical tools - the size and speed. The thing with him is he can run by people, and has the strength and size to go up and get the ball. And the scheme works to get him the ball. They run him off play-action, on crossing routes. The coordinator [Kyle Shanahan] does a nice job of getting him isolated on corners. He’s a very rare physical specimen. I think the height, weight, speed combination is unmatched.

“[Quarterback Matt Schaub] has a strong arm, and he gets the ball downfield, but he’s got weaknesses. He has issues with accuracy; he’ll miss and throw errant balls. And he can get rattled if you generate pressure. He’ll start putting balls up for grabs, and he’s had some untimely interceptions. He’s got the arm to make all the throws, but he will turn it over.

“[Tight end Owen] Daniels being on IR, that was a big part of their game, and they had a lot of momentum with him in there. [Kevin] Walter is a bigger, physical possession receiver, and Jacoby Jones has really good speed and gets downfield. [David] Anderson’s their Wes Welker. He’s limited athletically, but he’s quick. They’re deep at receiver, so they will go three- and four-receiver sets, especially since Daniels has been out. The problem is it’s exposed them in pass protection. They’re more effective running play-action, being in those two-tight-end sets and having the defense thinking run.

“Since they lost their guards, [Mike] Brisiel and [Chester] Pitts, they haven’t run it well. They did last year, and that opened everything up for them. They’ve become more one-dimensional, and it’s hurt them later in the season. Teams can tee off on the pass rush without worrying about recovering for the run.

“The young tackles, [Duane] Brown and [Eric] Winston, will be good, but they’re weak on the interior and have struggled to get push. They’re a little better in pass protection than the run game. They’ve got younger players who haven’t developed yet, they’re still growing. They do lack size on that line, and that’s another reason they’ve struggled in the run game - they get pushed around by bigger players. [Chris] Myers will have real issues with [Vince] Wilfork, if Wilfork plays.

“When they lost [running back Steve] Slaton, they tried Ryan Moats, and they’ve got bigger backs like Chris Henry and Chris Brown. Moats gets it most of the time. And as much as they’ve tried, it’s hard for them to get going. They do have the ability to go two tight ends, but their tight ends are more pass catchers, athletic types. As an offense, they’re not as versatile, so you could go nickel all game.

“They have some good players on defense. Mario Williams and Antonio Smith are solid at end. [Linebacker Brian] Cushing is a Rookie of the Year candidate, and a really, really good player who’s physical in run support. And [linebacker] DeMeco Ryans is established as one of the top players in the league. Their problems are in the secondary. There are a lot of issues there.

“[Cornerback Dunta] Robinson has been disappointing. Bernard Pollard’s been a good run stopper for them, but they have two other safeties playing, and none of them are great in coverage. [Tackle Amobi] Okoye hasn’t developed. And they traded for Shaun Cody there. So defensive tackle’s an issue, too.

“Teams have been able to run the ball on the interior and throw off them. Cushing’s a bigger guy, so he has issues in coverage. Against Indy, he had problems covering the tight ends. But the No. 1 problem really is the secondary. The recurring theme is that they haven’t added a safety. It’s going to be a problem with [Tom] Brady’s ability to distribute the ball, when they spread them out.

“Jacoby is a good returner, he’s got good speed, he’s been a productive return guy for them. There’s been nothing exceptional there. Earlier in the season, Kris Brown struggled with field goals in big spots. They had problems in back-to-back weeks with that.’’

Tale of the tape
BAILING OUT BRACE: The Ron Brace-as-starting nose tackle experiment ended abruptly during the first series of the Jacksonville game, when it was clear Brad Meester was having his way with the rookie. One solution - moving Mike Wright (smallish for the position as he is) inside - was obvious. Another wasn’t. Myron Pryor, selected as a defensive end 167 picks after Brace, was key in the line’s ability to rotate and get Wright snaps at his natural 5-technique position. And he did more than take up space there, showing discipline at the position uncommon for a rookie. On the Jaguars’ first possession of the second half, on a first and goal at the 7, Pryor kept Meester at bay and shed the veteran center as David Garrard tried to tuck the ball and run.

MORE MAYO: Jerod Mayo probably came back a little too quickly from his knee injury and, as a result, hasn’t been quite the same player he was as a rookie. But he’s starting to come around, with his lateral movement and ability to take on blockers seeming to improve. Two plays you can pull out illustrate it. On the first play of Jacksonville’s second possession, on an isolation play, Mayo took on fullback Montel Owens in the hole and disengaged him quickly enough to bury Maurice Jones-Drew about a yard from the line of scrimmage. Then, in the third quarter, the Jaguars came out in “21’’ personnel, which forced the Patriots to keep their base defense on the field, in turn creating a matchup with Mayo covering Jones-Drew in the right flat. Garrard recognized it, and dumped the ball off to his back, but Mayo got out there quick enough to take Jones-Drew down before he could turn it upfield.

ON THE RUN: Brady mentioned yesterday on WEEI that the offense has seen a lot of exotic coverages to deal with Randy Moss and Welker. And he added that the running game taking advantage will help everyone. The Patriots’ first scoring drive opened with the offense employing two tight ends and a single back, Sammy Morris. Before the snap, the two safeties fell about 15 yards off the ball, and at the snap, they both started backpedaling into deep halves. So those two players were, in essence, out of the play. Because of that, Morris had to make just two cuts to burst into the open field. Eventually, one of those safeties, Gerald Alexander, helped take Morris down - 21 yards downfield.

RUSHING ALONG: The best thing that the “UFO’’ or “Radar’’ or “Mooing Cow’’ - whatever you want to call the Patriots’ walk-around defensive front - has done is create winnable matchups for the pass rushers. And eventually, teams are going to have to show a little more respect to Tully Banta-Cain, who is not elite but is clearly this defense’s best pressure man. He ate up his matchups with backs. He got matched up with receiver-turned-tight end Ernest Wilford - by way of a six-man rush - and trucked him before nailing Garrard. And his sack came as he was singled up with third tackle Jordan Black, lined up at tight end, out of the base defense. The negative with the “UFO’’? The Jaguars showed its vulnerability against the run; a couple of great individual plays saved longer runs in certain situations.

BRADY IN COMMAND: A big part of Brady’s success was excellent protection. But maybe the most encouraging play by the quarterback came when the blocking broke down; it showed that his ribs are getting well and he’s feeling more confident. On the third-quarter play, the Jaguars brought six rushers, and Quentin Groves beat Logan Mankins inside. But as Groves approached Brady from his blind side, the quarterback instinctively ducked, leaving the defensive end to fly over his back. Brady gathered himself and fired a bullet at Welker, breaking off his option route, for an 8-yard gain.

Player spotlight
Coming off his Defensive Rookie of the Year honor, Mayo had much to live up to.

Not only was he expected to become the on-field Ray Lewis for the Patriots’ defense, he also was expected to channel Lewis from a leadership perspective. And then, in Week 1, he sprained his MCL against Buffalo.

Though that is considered a six- to eight-week injury, Mayo was back in less than a month, for the Denver game in Week 5. He has struggled some since, but he seemed to break out Sunday.

“It was probably one of his most productive games, I will say that,’’ defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “I don’t know if it was his best game; it was one of them and it was certainly a very productive game, which we needed from him. Whether or not it was his best, I don’t know.

“He’s had some other games where maybe he didn’t have as much production, but maybe because of what he was doing or what we were doing with him, people were devoting more attention to him and letting somebody else get some more play or more tackles or whatever. We were very happy with the production and want to see that continue.’’

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