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NFL Preview - St. Louis (2-3) at Houston (2-3)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Can the season get any rougher for Matt Schaub?
The Houston Texans quarterback is embroiled in what has been a slow and disappointing start and looks to get back on track when the St. Louis Rams pay a visit to Reliant Stadium Sunday.
Schaub and the Texans had high expectations entering the 2013 season and were even pegged by many to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. However, things have changed dramatically and Schaub's poor play has contributed to the unexpected 2-3 start. Schaub and Arizona's Carson Palmer are tied for second in the NFL with nine interceptions - three behind Eli Manning of the Giants.
Schaub has thrown an interception in every game this season and has had an INT returned for a touchdown in each of the last four games, an NFL record. Schaub was even benched by head coach Gary Kubiak in the fourth quarter of Sunday's embarrassing 34-3 loss at San Francisco. Backup T.J. Yates relieved Schaub of his duties, but Kubiak said Schaub is still the starter.
"Yeah, he is. Like everything I do, I'm sitting here today and obviously we got home very early in the morning, I'm in an evaluation stage right now, today and tomorrow," Kubiak said earlier this week. "I'm trying to figure out what's the best way for us to go be successful this weekend. Every player is a part of the evaluation, and our quarterback is too. But yes, he is our quarterback."
Kubiak called a team meeting Wednesday morning and is hoping the pow-wow can put a stop to Houston's three-game slide following a 2-0 start. In two of those three losses, the Texans have been outscored 64-12 and the other loss was a 23-20 setback in overtime.
Perhaps putting a scare into the players with an unexpected meeting will work, but it won't do much with the fanbase. According to Sports Radio 610, an irate fan went to the home of Schaub and wanted to confront the quarterback about his poor play. No arrests were made and the angry individual reportedly took pictures of Schaub and his family. Schaub, who was intercepted three times against the 49ers, is married with three young daughters.
To make matters worse, a Houston area restaurant is offering a "Matt Schaub special" burger, which a patron can "Pick 6" toppings for the high-priced sandwich. Another local burger place is willing to give a free quarter-pound burger on Oct. 12 to anybody with the name Matt.
Texans cornerback Danieal Manning is familiar with quarterback struggles and was part of a Chicago Bears team that went through similar strife. Then Bears QB Rex Grossman was criticized quite often before turning his season around back in 2006, when Chicago reached the Super Bowl. Grossman was able to overcome the pressure and rally his team. Manning sees the similarities.
"(It's) similar toward the heat and all the slack he's been getting," Manning said of Schaub. "What happened on that team is how they were able to prevail with all that. They just continued to rally around Rex."
Manning added that the defense can help by creating more turnovers and forcing opposing offenses off the field so that Schaub can get the ball in his hands more often. The Texans, who last loss four in a row twice in 2010, own just two interceptions and have forced four fumbles, recovering only one.
It's not as if the Texans can't move the football when they have it. Houston ranks seventh in the NFL with 390.8 yards per game despite Schaub's ineffectiveness. Wide receiver Andre Johnson is tied for second in the NFL with 37 receptions and leads the team with 407 yards receiving, while running back Arian Foster sits 89 yards shy of 5,000 rushing yards for his career. Foster ranks second in the AFC and sixth in the NFL with 390 yards rushing, and has caught a pass in 88 straight regular season games.
Meanwhile, the Rams were able to halt a three-game losing streak with Sunday's 34-20 win over the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars. Sam Bradford had his best game of the season with 222 passing yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a QB rating of 105.3. He is off to the best start of his career and is sixth in the NFL in completions (126) and tied for fifth in the league with 10 touchdown passes. His 85.7 passer rating and yardage total are the highest through four games.
Bradford, who has thrown a TD pass in nine straight games, hit seven different receivers and Austin Pettis came through with 49 yards and two touchdowns on four receptions. Pettis leads the Rams with four touchdown catches and rookie Zac Stacy carried the ground load with 78 yards on 14 touches in his first NFL start. Stacy helped the Rams gain a season-high 143 rushing yards.
St. Louis' highest scoring output helped the team snap a three-game losing streak and stay in the hunt in the NFC West. The Rams are in a stretch in which they'll play the four AFC South members over a six-week span and the run started against the Jaguars. Rams head coach Jeff Fisher was pleased with the performance after losing to the 49ers 35-11 on Sept. 26.
"Seemed like a long 10 days, but it was a good win for us," said Rams coach Jeff Fisher. "Thirty-six rushes and 34 pass attempts, balance suggests that you're keeping the ball and creating third down situations that are convertible. Still got a long way to go."
Fisher's club is also in the midst of playing four of six games on the road and last won two in a row during a three-game winning streak from Nov. 25- Dec.9 last season.
St. Louis and Houston are meeting for the third time and the visitor has won both games in the series. The Texans, who joined the NFL in 2002, posted a 16-13 win in the previous meeting with the Rams on Dec. 20, 2009.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Look for Schaub to bounce back and finally put an end to giving the other team free points. Schaub has decent numbers against NFC teams at home, passing for 13 TDs with eight interceptions. He has faced Fisher plenty of times from the coach's days with the AFC South-rival Tennessee Titans.
"Matt is an excellent quarterback," Fisher said during a conference call. "He's won a lot of games. Personally, I've faced him many, many times and I know what he's capable of doing."
Fisher added that the Rams defense will have their hands full with Houston's offense, which also includes Johnson and Foster.
"We have to be disciplined," Fisher said. "We've faced obviously some good passing offenses, but this one in particular because, not only the drop-back, but the play-action game is outstanding. This is probably one of our biggest challenges to date."
The dynamic yet quiet Johnson averages an NFL-record 81.5 receiving yards per game and needs one catch to extend his franchise-record streak of consecutive games with a reception to 107. Johnson, of course, has a history with Rams cornerback and former Titan Cortland Finnegan, who missed last week's game with a thigh injury and is questionable Sunday. Johnson and Finnegan came to blows in a game and both players were ejected.
Foster, meanwhile, is beginning to heat up and is averaging 100 rushing yards per game in his last two. He has five 100-yard performances in the past eight contests against the NFC.
At least St. Louis won't have to worry about Texans tight end Owen Daniels, who is reportedly expected to miss a chunk of time with a broken fibula sustained in Sunday's loss to the 'Niners. Daniels is second on the team with 24 receptions for 252 yards and his three touchdown catches ties him with tight end Garrett Graham for the team lead.
St. Louis' defense recorded three turnovers against the Jags, posting two interceptions to one fumble recovery. Safety Matt Giordano returned an interception 82 yards for a touchdown and the Rams are hoping to keep Schaub's dubious streak intact.
Rams defensive ends Robert Quinn (5 sacks) and Chris Long (1 1/2 sacks) will try to rattle Schaub up front and force him into poor throws. Long may have a low number in sacks, but has 11 hurries and seven QB hits. He led the Rams with 11 1/2 sacks in 2012.
Kubiak still has trust in Schaub, but by no means is he pleased.
"I'm obviously very disappointed in turning the ball over and I'm trying to make a decision what I think gives us the best chance to win Sunday, Kubiak said earlier in the week."
A tidbit of advice for Kubiak would be to keep plugging away with the same philosophy because it worked the first two weeks and all of last season. Schaub will correct his mistakes with another solid week of practice and will once again get the best of Fisher. Johnson and Foster may have a say in Sunday's win as well.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texans 30, Rams 21
10/10 15:40:55 ET