Face To Face: Arian Foster

October, 25, 2014
Oct 25


Tune in to ESPN2 at 8p.m. ET on Tuesday 10/28 for the full versions with all our NFL stars.
HOUSTON -- Brian Cushing missed practice this week with the knee that's been surgically repaired twice acting up in the past few weeks.

"People kind of tend to forget how much the knee's gone through," the Houston Texans linebacker said. "I sure haven't. I sure haven't forgotten. I'm kind of reminded about it every day."

It was an ACL surgery during the 2012 season that knocked him out, and his recovery from that injury went well. Cushing returned at the beginning of the 2013 season playing as well as he ever has. Then he suffered another injury on the same knee while being blocked in Kansas City. His ACL remain intact, but he broke his leg and tore his lateral collateral ligament.

Having had two surgeries on the same knee in the past two seasons hasn't been easy on his knee. He's dealt with some swelling, pain and the possibility that if he continues to play without some rest his knee could get worse.

"We're going to make the best decision for myself (and) the team," Cushing said. "I think we all can agree the last couple weeks I haven't really been myself. It's been really hard on me. Any time I go out there I want to put the best of myself out there to help the team win. If it's to a point where I'm really not with my play and where I am with my health, that's what we're going to do."

Cushing will travel to Nashville with the team tomorrow and work out his knee before the game. The last two times a player has done that (Arian Foster in New York and Jadeveon Clowney in Pittsburgh) the determination that they wouldn't play came even before on-field workouts. Cushing, though, says that he's felt better with the rest he's gotten this week.

"There's nothing I want more than to play," he said. "That's the objective right now. We'll see how it goes."
HOUSTON -- When the Texans' offense was really hitting its stride on Monday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, it was able to do so on the back of a potent running game led by Arian Foster. With Foster, the Texans sliced through Pittsburgh's defense, scoring on their first drive for only their third first-quarter touchdown of the season and second first-drive touchdown.

After the first quarter, though, the running game struggled. When the running game struggled, so did the rest of the Texans' offense. It illustrated how important it is for the Texans to run the ball well, especially given that they have an elite running back but don't have an elite quarterback.

Consider these stats from ESPN Stats and Info: In the first quarter Foster rushed seven times for 73 yards, all between the tackles. That's an average of 10.4 yards per rush with 6.3 yards after contact per rush. In the next three, Foster had 11 rushes between the tackles and dropped to 2.7 yards per carry and 1.7 yards after contact per carry.

It happened because of Pittsburgh's adjustments after getting so thoroughly dominated on the ground to start the game.

"Linebackers were flowing very fast to try to stop our run and try to get in their lanes," Texans left tackle Duane Brown said. They also started to blitz us more to try to throw off our zone scheme some. I think that was, and they brought Troy Polamalu in the box more so those few things I think were their adjustments to what we were doing."

It's not something they'd seen much of on Steelers film.

"Not as much; not as much," Brown said. "I didn’t see anyone have as much success early on as we did to start a game off."

Adjustments will happen in games. The Texans' coaches and players' ability to react to those adjustments dictated that the Texans' fast start didn't translate to a win.
This pick became more difficult with the Titans' switch to rookie Zach Mettenberger at quarterback this week. Sometimes a quarterback who has put essentially nothing on film can surprise an opponent enough to beat them.

I don't believe that will happen this weekend.

The Titans think Mettenberger could provide a "spark." The problem is, they've got plenty of offensive problems besides their quarterback situation, enough that they trail the Texans' struggling offense in nearly every category: yards per game, yards per play, rushing yards per game, passing yards per game, sacks allowed per pass attempt and first downs per game. Defensively, the Titans rank 23rd in points allowed per game while the Texans rank 11th.

Prediction: Texans 17, Titans 10
Reading the coverage of the Houston Texans...

Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick knows he can do better, writes Kristie Rieken of The Associated Press. "I know I can do better," he said. "Some of it mentally, some of it physically, but my thing is just continuing to get better every week, continuing to understand the offense better, continuing to run it at a faster pace and mentally speeding everything up."

John McClain of the Houston Chronicle provides his perspective on Texans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney's comments from Thursday, and on the potential battle between Clowney and Titans tackle Taylor Lewan. Clowney and Lewan played against each other in one game during college when Clowney was at South Carolina and Lewan was at Michigan. It was the game that produced Clowney's most famous hit, though Clowney didn't beat Lewan to make that play.

Here's Ryan Mallett's interview yesterday, as posted by HoustonTexans.com.

ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter says the third round has become a sweet spot for finding hidden gems at running back. "Here's some new and random data for teams to factor into their in-depth analytics: Every three years dating to 2005, the third round has produced the best running back in its class and one of the top backs in the game."
HOUSTON -- Inside linebacker Brian Cushing missed practice for the second day in a row Thursday, but Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien declined to rule him out for Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans.

"Coming off that injury postgame there's a lot of soreness," O'Brien said. "We have to ease him back into the week. He's day to day. We'll see how he is tomorrow. We'll bring him to Tennessee and see how he is before the game."

O'Brien flatly denied a report that Cushing will miss this weekend's game and could be out until after the Texans' bye week.

As he has done many times, O'Brien praised Cushing's character on and off the field and his work ethic. He acknowledged Cushing has been frustrated.

Cushing has been working his way back this season from his second knee surgery in as many years. He tore his anterior cruciate ligament during the 2012 season and returned in 2013 playing at a high level. In his first game back he returned an interception for a touchdown.

Then Cushing suffered another injury to the same knee last October in Kansas City. There, he broke his leg and suffered a torn lateral collateral ligament.

"As long as he's able to go, we're going to let him go," defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel said.
HOUSTON -- If Jadeveon Clowney plays this weekend in Tennessee (which is looking very likely), the Houston Texans will probably use him on third downs to rush the passer.

Watch out Zach Mettenberger. (Though Clowney did not sack Mettenberger when he faced him in 2012)

"You can put him in on third down and just rush the passer with him and see how that goes," defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel said. "That's what we've talked about that defensively and that's what it would be the head coach says okay."

Texans coach Bill O'Brien did his usual "Dr. Clowney" bit when told Clowney said he felt ready to go. He did sound optimistic about Clowney's chances to play and said he's getting better every day.

Clowney participated in a fully padded practice today. He was listed as limited on the injury report.

He talked about the fact that his knee will bother him a little bit, but it's something he has to push through. I asked O'Brien if the injury, at this stage in its recovery, was one that could get worse if he played on it.

"Any guy in that locker room that’s played a good deal of football is always going to have soreness especially in their joints," O'Brien said. "Whether ankle joint, knee joint, elbow joint or hip joint. Whatever it is, there’s going to be some level of soreness, especially after a physical practice or a physical game. We’re always concerned for the player. The player’s health is No. 1 in our mind. [But] we’re never overly cautious about it because we know that there’s soreness involved in the sport."

So can a rookie who hasn't been through this before confuse pain from an injury with pain from football?

"I think all rookies go through that," O'Brien said. "When you’re playing in college and you have to go to class and you have afternoon meetings and you practice. And then you go to study hall and then you have all these different things going on as opposed to the NFL where you have all day to meet, watch film, take care of your bodies in different ways ...

"Rookies we try to teach them about that. Some of them catch on right away, some don’t. I’m not putting Clowney in any category. A younger player has to really learn how to understand his body and understand how to take care of it as he goes through his rookie year."

Inside Edge: Texans-Titans

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23


ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando delivers stats to help you make a pick for Houston at Tennessee.
Asked about getting first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney back on the field for this Sunday, Houston Texans defensive end Jared Crick was measured.

"We'll see what he does in the game," Crick said. "He's coming off a big break. I guess only time will tell."

It is exciting for the Texans to get their star outside linebacker back, but it's best not to expect he'll be able to play exactly as he did before. Clowney is not quite in football shape, and that will take some time. Bill O'Brien doesn't plan to force too many plays on him too soon.

That type of game management was something the Texans did with Clowney during the preseason when he only took 29 snaps. He still managed to make some eye-popping plays, including that big hit and sack against the Falcons in Week 2 of the preseason.

It only takes one snap for Clowney to do something memorable. Having him back, as it seems likely the Texans will, gives Houston an extra pop, no matter how limited his playing time is.

Clowney says he'll play Sunday

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23

HOUSTON -- Texans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney says he'll play through his remaining soreness Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.

"I'm the best I'm going to be this season, I feel like," Clowney said. "Take it and go ahead and play football."

Clowney, the top overall draft pick this year, tore his meniscus during the first half of the Texans' season opener against Washington. He suffered the injury when he came down awkwardly after jumping to bat a pass. He had surgery Sept. 8 and returned to practice Oct. 17, the Friday before the Texans played the Pittsburgh Steelers on "Monday Night Football."

Clowney tested his knee on the field in Pittsburgh but did not play. He was OK running full speed ahead, but changing direction caused problems.

"It's coming along all right," Clowney said of cutting on his knee. "The knee's going to bother me a little bit, but there's some stuff you gotta push through and come out here and play."

In his first game back, Clowney won't take his full workload. Coach Bill O'Brien has said the Texans will ease him back into his usual playing time after missing six weeks.

"Just going to practice, working on my craft," Clowney said. "[I need to] get back in football shape. I've been running, but it's still not the same as running around on the football field."

(Read full post)

Texans vs. Titans preview

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
They are two teams with new head coaches trying to install big changes.

The Houston Texans are only 3-4, but it’s a mark that has them in second place in the AFC South.

The Tennessee Titans could pull even with the Texans with a win Sunday at LP Field.

ESPN Texans reporter Tania Ganguli and Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky got together to discuss the game.

Paul Kuharsky: Ken Whisenhunt’s culture change in Tennessee is a slow process featuring a lot of talk about things being a process. How do you rate the pace of Bill O’Brien’s impact with a similar culture-changing project?

Tania Ganguli: I think that's also a work in progress here. Players liked his style when he became their coach. He made some changes that gave them less freedom, but everything he did was with a purpose. He kept players in the team hotel for training camp and he arranged the trip to Denver, when the team spent a week together after training camp, both for team-building purposes. It's hard to change a team's mentality, though. I still heard a few players in the postgame locker room in Pittsburgh bring up last season after losing that game, and comparing the way they felt then to now. It seemed a bit ominous to me because those players forgetting all about last season's disaster is important so they don't fall into some of those same mental patterns of expecting something to go wrong.

Same question to you. You say Tennessee's process is slow, but are you seeing signs that the culture is actually changing? And what culture needed to change?

Paul Kuharsky: I think in a lot of ways guys have become immune to losing and content with gradual, incremental progress. The trade of Akeem Ayers to New England for next to nothing spoke to one issue. A guy in a contract year showed little fight and determination to change his standing with coaches, and the Titans were relieved to get him off the roster. Guard Chance Warmack isn’t a bad guy, but he hasn’t played up to his first-round pedigree and told me last week he’s not frustrated by the pace of his progress, that it’s a process at a developmental position. Too many guys think like that, and it doesn’t give off the sense of urgency for which Whisenhunt is looking. Yes, it’s a process. It’s a too-slow process so far.

J.J. Watt is a singular force, but The Wall Street Journal recently illustrated that his best work doesn’t correlate very well with wins. Just how much can he influence a good game for Houston? What’s the chance we see Jadeveon Clowney work with him in Nashville?

Tania Ganguli: His good games influence the Texans in a big way, but he can't do it alone, especially against capable quarterbacks. One thing quarterbacks consistently say about Watt is that he changes the way they have to play. He changes how quickly they have to get rid of the ball and how aware they have to be. Good quarterbacks and experienced quarterbacks are better at handling that and exposing holes in coverage and such than younger or bad quarterbacks, so Watt's impact tends to be greater against teams whose quarterbacks fall in the latter group. There's a decent chance Clowney will work with him in Nashville. I didn't expect him Monday night because he didn't practice basically all week and got his feet wet on Friday. He'll practice all this week.

So, do the Titans have a better chance with Zach Mettenberger than with Jake Locker or Charlie Whitehurst ?

Paul Kuharsky: Whisenhunt is making the bold move. There is certainly a nice upside with Mettenberger, and he fits the Whisenhunt quarterback mold. First and foremost, he will want to stand tall in the pocket and deliver passes, and he's got a giant arm. If it goes well, there is a new hope. If it doesn't, they can talk of working for the future. I looked at the upcoming schedule and saw reasons to be protective of the rookie. Having Watt working against struggling right tackle Michael Oher and average right guard Chance Warmack puts Mettenberger at some risk. But a rookie signal-caller playing for a bad team is going to face some brand of risk in virtually every game, and at some point a team simply needs to let him take that plunge. So we've reached that point. He'll probably get hit by those defenders. He'll also probably hit a big play or two against a team that's given them up.

Ryan Fitzpatrick was with the Titans last year and he threw too many picks. Ken Whisenhunt thought Whitehurst would be a better veteran backup. How’s Fitzpatrick run the offense and can we expect to see one of the younger alternatives starting this season?

Tania Ganguli: Fitzpatrick still throws picks. When he's not doing that, he's done some nice things. He's mobile enough to keep a play alive, he's tough and willing to sacrifice his body a bit. But that's a big thing to remove from the equation. His turnovers come at very inopportune times. A fumble against the Colts ended the Texans' comeback bid. He threw an interception against the Steelers during that 24-point hailstorm to end the first half. The way Texans coach Bill O'Brien explained that play was interesting. He said he and quarterbacks coach George Godsey expected that Fitzpatrick would have a checkdown available on that play, but because of some mistakes with routes the play didn't unfold as they had hoped. Of course, when your options break down, the only choice isn't to throw an interception, and that play really showed one of Fitzpatrick's limitations.

The Texans lead the league in forced turnovers, but only have a margin of plus-2 because they turn the ball over at a high rate. Will the Titans be able to take advantage of Houston's trouble with ball security? And will it help that they know Fitzpatrick well?

Paul Kuharsky: The Titans are right there with a plus-2. They had some significant takeaways in Washington, one that followed a terrible dropped interception, bailing out cornerback Jason McCourty. I don’t know that they have a big advantage facing Fitzpatrick, though a couple of guys such as McCourty and safeties Michael Griffin and George Wilson might have a special sense of something they can predict and jump. Everyone playing good defense should have chances against Fitzpatrick who the Titans know firsthand has a propensity for forcing it.

Reading the coverage of the Houston Texans ...

We begin today's RTC with a writer who's been a staple of these but unfortunately won't be anymore. Yesterday was the last day of CSN Houston and with it go two fine reporters who covered the Texans daily in James Palmer, who handled the television side, and Dave Zangaro who handled the print side. Zangaro writes, one last time, about Andre Johnson and the Texans' need to get him the ball more. Against Pittsburgh, he didn't really get going until the fourth quarter.

Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is once again facing a team he used to play for -- this one more recently than the last. Fitzpatrick spent longer in Buffalo and had a stronger emotional tie to the Bills than he does to the Titans. But having been there just last year, the players on the Titans are more familiar to him.

Sean Pendergast of the Houston Press addresses the Texans' lack of complementary football, something necessary because they don't have a quarterback who can mask their flaws. If you are a Texans fan, this will be painful for you because it goes through several specific instances where each phase of the game went wrong all together.

Here is the Monday night game column from Culture Map's Chris Baldwin, which I missed in yesterday's RTC. He describes Steelers fans pouring beer on the Texans as they left the field in Pittsburgh.

Titans give nod to Zach Mettenberger

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22

The Tennessee Titans have decided to start rookie Zach Mettenberger at quarterback against the visiting Houston Texans, a league source told ESPN's Adam Caplan on Wednesday.

The sixth-round draft pick out of LSU will get the start Sunday over Charlie Whitehurst, who has led the Titans to one win and two losses in his starts this season for the injured Jake Locker

The Tennessean earlier reported that the Titans planned on starting Mettenberger.

Locker has missed the past two games with a bruised thumb and another game with a wrist injury.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt had said Locker would throw Tuesday and they would assess how he responds.

Whisenhunt has also said nothing has changed in his thinking about the Titans' quarterbacks, meaning Locker will return as the starter when healthy.

The Titans (2-5) will be looking to avoid a sixth defeat in seven games when they host former Titans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Texans (3-4).

After dropping four straight, the Titans edged previously winless Jacksonville 16-14, then lost to Washington last week.

Whitehurst was 17-of-26 for 160 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in the 19-17 defeat to the Redskins. 

Information from ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky and STATS LLC was used in this report.

(Read full post)

Houston Texans inside linebacker Brian Cushing hasn't been himself lately as he works to return from last season's knee surgery for a broken leg and torn LCL.

Citing a source, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reports that Cushing's knee has been bothering him enough that he will miss at least this week's game against the Tennessee Titans.

Cushing missed Wednesday's practice, spending time in the training room instead. He certainly didn't play like he has in the past, and Texans coach Bill O'Brien was asked about his progress Monday.

"I think in dealing with a lot of these guys over the years that are coming off of knee injuries, that first year back, it always takes them a while to get back into the swing of things," O'Brien said. "I think if you look back at some of the guys I've dealt with that have come off of knee injuries, maybe it is eight, nine games into it where they're truly trusting their knee and they're full-speed."

The Texans have eased Cushing back from last year's injury. What's interesting about this is that two years ago Cushing tore his ACL and when he returned from that injury last season, he was outstanding right away. This could be a function of having had multiple injuries to the same knee, though the injuries were to different parts.

Cushing's leadership is important to the Texans, and when he's healthy his play makes a big difference.

"I can't say enough about Brian Cushing and what he means to this team as far as his leadership," O'Brien said. "I think he's a heart-and-soul type of guy. He's been a great guy in this organization. He's a tough guy and he'll continue to get better and better coming off of that knee injury."

Mark Schlereth breaks down the hypothetical trade deadline deal, in which the New England Patriots would trade QB Tom Brady for Texans WR Andre Johnson and Houston's 2015 first-round draft pick.