Eagles-Texans Preview: A New "House of Pain"?
The date was December 2, 1991, when the Philadelphia Eagles visited the Houston Oilers in the Astrodome. The Eagles had the No. 1 ranked defense across the board and the Oilers were the best offense in the NFL. They were so good; Houston nicknamed their dome, "The House of Pain" because of how often they blew out their opponents. Well after the Eagles defense destroyed the Oilers offense, en route to a 13-6 win by sacking Warren Moon 4 times and forcing 5 turnovers (and forcing many receivers to the trainer's table), the late Jerome Brown said, "They brought the house, but we brought the pain."
That delightful memory of what great defense was like has nothing to do with this matchup, but it's fun to remember those days, isn't it?
The Oilers are long gone, replaced by the expansion Texans, and now they play in NRG Stadium. The Eagles have never lost in Houston; 3-0 in the Astrodome and 1-0 in NRG. But these are two completely different teams, so let's take a look at this particular matchup.
The Eagles (5-3) are coming off a loss to the Arizona Cardinals, but haven't lost two in a row since the beginning of the 2013 season, while going 12-3 in games started by Nick Foles. The Texans are 4-4 after beating up on the Tennessee Titans last week, which broke a three-game losing streak.
Eagles Offense Versus Texans Defense
After setting the NFL on fire last season, Foles is having a down year, to say the least. He threw only four interceptions in the 11 starts from the time he became the starter last season through the first three games this season. In his last four games, however, Foles has thrown seven interceptions. Including fumbles, the Eagles have turned the ball over 12 times in the last four games. That's extremely bad news when facing a Texans team whose 17 takeaways are second most in the NFL. Foles is a lowly 28th in completion percentage (59.2) and 26th in yards per attempt (6.8). And his 12 TDs and 7 INTs are a far cry from last season's 27 TDs and 2 INTs. Of course, even with his down year, Foles still has the Eagles pass offense ranked No. 6 in the NFL (283.6 yards per game) and 5th in overall yardage (398.7 ypg). That seems like a good matchup against a Houston defense that is ranked 28th against the pass (271.4). But let's just hope Chip Kelly learned his lesson from last week's loss and doesn't call 63 pass plays again.
While Foles has only been sacked 7 times all season, they will be facing the best defensive player in the NFL, J.J. Watt. Watt has 7 sacks this season, including 5 in the last 3 games. He also has the most sacks in the NFL (38) since the start of the 2012 season. While it's good for the Eagles that they are getting back center Jason Kelce for this game, it's bad news that RG Todd Herremans is going to try to play with a torn bicep. The Texans move Watt all over the place looking for good matchups, but expect Herremans to see a lot of him on Sunday. But that isn't the only weapon the Texans have on defense, as the first overall pick in May's draft Jadeveon Clowney returned to the lineup last week and is an athletic freak, who can disrupt an offense from his OLB position.
If the Eagles can slow down Watt and Clowney, expect Foles to look for Jeremy Maclin, who is having a career year with 39 catches for 632 yards and 6 TDs. (DeSean who?) The Texans' CBs, Jonathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson are decent, but they can be exposed. Also expect Foles to find THE Zach Ertz (24 receptions) often over the middle. Houston safeties D.J. Swearinger and Kendrick Lewis won't be able to stop Ertz. The Texans have given up 15 TD passes, but are a respectable 8th in scoring defense.
The Eagles running game was M.I.A. early in the season thanks to the injuries along the offensive line. LeSean McCoy averaged only 2.7 yards per carry through the first four games, but is averaging 4.7 ypc in the last three games. The Eagles should also get Darren Spoles back from a sprained MCL, which will help in both the running and passing game. The Texans are decent against the run, after a rough start to the season, and are ranked 12th (108.2 ypg) in the NFL. Houston is hoping to get LB Brian Cushing back from a left knee injury for this game, but it doesn't look promising. Expect a nice balanced attack from Chip and the Eagles offense after last week's debacle in the desert.
Texans Offense Versus Eagles Defense
The Texans offense is 17th overall (352.5 ypg), but that's not because of their stellar passing offense that is ranked a lowly 26th (213.1 ypg) with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. Fitzpatrick's 87.7 QB rating this season, is the highest of his career, which is kinda sad. He has 9 TDs and 7 INTs (28th in interception percentage), which is also kinda sad. He is the prototypical game-manager. Of course, the Eagles pass defense is terrible once again. They are ranked No. 26, while giving up 266.9 yards per game. While WR Andre Johnson is no longer a dominant force in the passing game, he is still very good. Johnson (46 rec., 551 yards, 1 TD) should be able to easily torch Eagles CBs, Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams. The good news for the Eagles is that safety Nate Allen probably won't be giving up long TDs this week, since he may miss the game due to injury. And the most amazing stat I ever saw is that as bad as the Eagles defense is, they have held opponents to a league-best 57.3 completion percentage. I'm not even sure how that's possible.
The real offensive force for the Texans is RB Arian Foster. Foster is second in the league in rushing with 766 yards and is averaging 5.2 yards per carry for the NFL's 5th ranked rushing attack. He has four straight 100-yard rushing performances and has gone over the century mark in six of seven games overall this year, including 151 yards and two scores against the Titans last week. He even added a receiving TD against Tennessee, which makes him one of the most dangerous players in the NFL this season. The Eagles run defense is ranked 21st (116.7 ypg), but they've been much better lately, holding the Giants and Cardinals to a combine 156 yards rushing. The Texans love to run stretch plays and their offensive line does a good job in the run blocking department, so it will be very important for the Eagles front seven to be disciplined against a great cutback runner like Foster. It's a good thing that Mychal Kendricks should be back to playing more than just the 22 snaps he got in the dime package last week. But it will be really interesting to see how LBs DeMeco Ryans and Connor Barwin play against their former team. Ryans said there are no hard feelings about the Texans trading him to the Eagles, but I bet he has something to prove to his old team.
Who is the better RB?
The Eagles are the class of the entire NFL on special teams this season. They get Sproles back on punt returns this week and are using Josh Huff and Chris Polk on kickoff returns. All are capable of taking one to the house. The coverage teams have scored two TDs on blocked punts and punter Donnie Jones is still doing a great job of pinning the opponent inside the 20 yard line on a consistent basis. Plus rookie kicker Cody Parkey has made 14 of his 15 FG attempts, while 9 of his last 11 kickoffs have been touchbacks. Houston's punt coverage unit is ranked 31st in the NFL and their kickoff coverage unit isn't much better. Their returners, Danieal Manning and Keshawn Martin are nothing special. Ex-Eagle Damaris Johnson is the backup to both, but he's not much of a threat either. Punter Shane Lechler used to be the best punter in the NFL, but he is 28th in net average this season. Kicker Randy Bullock is 27th in the NFL in touchback percentage.
Chip Kelly lost his mind and became Andy Reid last week, causing the Eagles to blow a very winnable game in Arizona when he tried to throw on every play. Hopefully he learned his lesson and will get back to having a more balanced attack. If not, he'll likely get his QB killed this week. Philly fans know Houston coach Bill O'Brien as the guy who bailed on Penn State as soon as the first NFL team looked his way. He also probably learned a few good things working for that Belichick guy in New England and seems to be building a nice team down in Houston. Time will tell if he can have the same kind of rookie season that Kelly enjoyed last year with the Eagles.
"The House of Pain" Game
This would be a scary matchup for the Eagles if the Texans had a good QB. Thankfully for the guys in green, Fitzpatrick is average at best. The Eagles will need to concentrate on stopping Foster, while also being careful not to focus on him so hard that they let someone like Andre Johnson or speedster DeAndre Hopkins get behind them for a long TD. (Hopefully Nate Allen is too hurt to play). Meanwhile, the Eagles offense will have to do what no other team seems to be able to do and that's slow down J.J. Watt. The best way to do that is probably to use a balanced attack, so the Texans can't just concentrate on rushing Foles.
The thinking here is that the Eagles have the better team overall and the Texans won't be able to score enough to get the win, even in their own house. And while it might be a new "house" down in Houston, the Eagles should still bring the "pain" of a loss for the Texans.
Eagles 34 - Texans 24