November brings cold weather and the harsh reality of the NFL's midseason. For the Texans, that's the realization that despite some impressive young talent, they still don't have enough of the pieces to be a wining football team. For the Giants, it's the worry that mounting injuries could derail their quest for the Super Bowl — just like they did last year. Here's a look at how the two teams will matchup this weekend.
HOUSTON TEXANS (2-5) AT GIANTS (5-3)
(Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS)
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL There are some reasons for the Texans to feel optimistic about their defense, but the hopes for a bright future must be tempered by the reality that at present, this unit stinks. The run defense is giving up 4.5 yards a carry, and the secondary has surrendered 12 touchdown passes while nabbing just one interception.
On the positive side, the last few weeks have shown steady improvement by defensive end Mario Williams, the first overall pick in this year's draft. After a slow start, Williams has come on strong, registering 3.5 sacks over the last four games. More importantly, he has started to become a disruptive presence, and that can only make life easier for the Texans secondary.
The other reason for optimism is rookie middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans. Houston's second round pick this spring tops the team with 63 tackles. He is a leader both on and off the field, and Ryans is on the fast track to being an NFL star.
Right now, though, the Texans defense just isn't very good, and the Giants will try to prove that Sunday with their balanced attack. Gusting winds at the Meadowlands last week forced the Giants to rein in their passing game, and the forecast is similar for Sunday.
Tiki Barber had a hard time running against the Buccaneers last week, but the Giants' rushing attack game was buoyed by the continuing emergence of backup Brandon Jacobs. The powerful running back had several long runs while giving Barber a rest, and he has scored a touchdown in each of the last three games.
One area that should concern the Giants is the diminishing contribution of Amani Toomer. The veteran wideout had a career high 12 catches in the week two contest at Philadelphia. In the five games that have followed, he's made just 13. Most of Toomer's receptions have been short ones — two-thirds of his catches this year have been for 10 yards or less. If he isn't more productive, defenses will stick Plaxico Burress with double coverage on every down.
WHEN THE TEXANS HAVE THE BALL Houston quarterback David Carr was benched at halftime last week after committing three turnovers in the first half. Statistically, he's having the best season of his career, leading the NFL with a 70.5 completion percentage, but his inability to hold on to the ball is keeping his team from capitalizing on the successes of their offense. Last week, for example, the Texans held the ball for 36 minutes and outgained the Titans 427–197 on offense, but they still lost 28–22.
Head coach Gary Kubiak has insisted that Carr will remain as his starting quarterback, but clearly, the pressure for Carr to start delivering on his promise has intensified. The Texans have built an impressive array of talent around him, and now they expect Carr to start producing wins.
That talent starts with wide receiver Andre Johnson, who leads the league in both receptions (56) and receiving yards (669).The addition of veteran receiver Eric Moulds has forced opponents to be more balanced in their pass defense. Rookie tight end Owen Daniels gives David Carr a nice target in the red zone. He leads the team with five touchdown receptions.
Houston's running game was in disarray early in the season, after Domanick Davis went on the injured reserve list late in training camp. Over the last couple of weeks, rookie Walli Lundy has emerged as the featured runner, but it's not yet clear if he'll be a long-term solution. Lundy is a powerful northsouth runner who can pound the ball between the tackles, but he lacks the speed to get outside. The knocks against him in college were that he had trouble staying healthy and he fumbled too much.
If Carr can keep things going and hold on to the ball, the Texans might give the Giants a run for their money. The major concern for Big Blue is the rash of injuries to their linebacking corps. LaVar Arrington is out for the season, and both Brandon Short and Carlos Emmons are battling injuries. The Giants signed Chris Claiborne this week, a seven-year veteran who can play all three linebacker positions. They'll also use Reggie Torbor and rookie Gerris Wilkerson to fill-in on the outside.
KEYS TO THE GAME The Texans have not won on the road since December 26, 2004. Still, the Giants need to see this as a classic trap game. First, the Texans are a young team with talent on both sides of the ball. Quarterback David Carr will be fired up, looking to prove himself after being benched a week ago. Second, the Giants have to avoid looking past the Texans to their big matchup with the undefeated Bears next weekend. If they lose their focus, they could lose the game.
Lahman's Pick: Giants 31–17