Keys to the Game Revisited: Houston

Posted Oct 14, 2013

The Key: Maintain Offensive Balance: The Rams made significant strides in this area against Jacksonville, finishing with 36 rushing attempts to 34 pass attempts. The increased focus on the running game helped the Rams gain a season-most 143 yards on the ground. RB Zac Stacy will receive his second consecutive start Sunday, following a breakout performance last week against Jacksonville that included 78 rushing yards on 13 carries. The Rams will be up against the league’s top-ranked defense, with Houston limiting their opponents to 260 total yards of offense, including 134 through the air. By contrast, Rams QB Sam Bradford is off to the best five-game start of his career, and has been held to fewer than 200 yards passing only once this year.

The Answer: For the second straight week, the Rams produced more rushing attempts (25) to pass attempts (16). Rookie RB Zac Stacy turned in his second strong performance in as many weeks, finishing with a career-high 79 rushing yards on 18 carries. While the Texans managed to prevent its opposing quarterback from surpassing the 200-yard threshold for the sixth consecutive week, the Rams were still productive through the air. Despite establishing a career- low in passing yardage with 117, QB Sam Bradford threw for three touchdown passes and registered a career-best passer rating of 134.6.

The Key: Stopping the Run: While Texans QB Matt Schaub enters this week with a 67 percent completion rate and WR Andre Johnson is averaging nearly nine receptions per game, much of the Houston offense still runs through RB Arian Foster. After a slow start to the year, Foster has averaged 100 yards rushing and five receptions over the last two weeks. Foster is joined in the backfield by Ben Tate, who has been productive in a reserve role, averaging 6.2 yards per carry.

“We have to be really gap sound and be on our game getting off blocks and leveraging the ball and all those things because they are both really good backs,” Rams defensive coordinator Tim Walton said at his Thursday press conference. “They can one cut guys, can stretch you and then hit the ball up inside, and they can get on the edge. They both have had a lot of success in the league running the football, and they keep you well-balanced because they also catch the ball out of the backfield well, also.”

The Answer: The Rams struggled against the Houston running game for much of the game. Foster finished with a season-high 141 yards rushing, 98 of which came in the first half. St. Louis’ run defense did perform well in the red zone, however. Facing a 2nd-and-goal from the St. Louis 5-yard line and poised to narrow the Rams’ first-half lead to 10-7 with over eight minutes remaining in the second quarter, Houston was forced to settle for a field goal. The Texans would never move to within a single possession again.

The Key: Shutting Down Watt: Since entering the league in 2011, J.J. Watt has established himself as one of the league’s premier defensive players. Watt led the NFL with 20.5 sacks in 2012, and has already piled up 3.5 sacks in five games this year, in addition to being a force against the run. Much of the Rams’ success on Sunday could hinge on their ability to limit Watt’s influence.

The Answer: The Rams’ offensive line put together perhaps its most complete performance of the season in Houston on Sunday, providing enough lanes for 99 rushing yards on 25 carries, and did not allow a sack for the third time this year. Watt was a non-factor for the majority of the game, as he did not register a single tackle and landed just one quarterback hit.