Can the Bucs beat the Texans on Sunday? If you ask me: no. Anything can happen on any given Sunday, of course, but this is a very tough matchup for the Bucs - or for any team in the league. The Texans have a great offense buoyed by a strong running game, while their defense has made a huge turnaround under Wade Phillips.
The 2010 Texans couldn't stop anyone in the passing game - even Mark Sanchez. The 2011 Texans, on the other hand, have been much improved, in large part thanks to free agent addition Johnathan Joseph. The Texans are ranked seventh overall in defensive DVOA: tenth in run defense, and fifth in pass defense. And they will face a Bucs offense that has struggled to move the ball consistently.
And there's no reason to believe the Bucs won't struggle to go downfield against the Texans. Josh Freeman has been inconcistent this year, while the Bucs running game has been pretty good. Unfortunately the Bucs have often abandoned the run game after falling behind in games - and that has happened a lot. More than all but three teams in the league, in fact.
On defense, the Bucs have a major problem. They have been good against the run in some games, but have really struggled in others. And the Texans run a zone-blocking scheme which has baffled the Bucs before. The Bucs will have their work cut out for them, and will have to see great play from their defensive line to stop the run.
There is some light, however. The Texans will be without Andre Johnson on Sunday, which means the Texans will rely on play-action passes to move the ball through the air. If the Bucs can stop the run, they can force the Texans to play pass-first - and if they can do that, they have a fighting chance.
That's easier said than done, however. The Texans are really good at play-action passes and this requires the Bucs' secondary and linebackers to play with very good discipline. And stopping that running game isn't exactly easy either. The last time the Bucs faced a strong zone running team they had to resort to run blitzes on almost every down to stop them. Will they have to do that again?
In the end, I can't see the Bucs winning. I don't think they can stop the Texans' running game consistently, and once they fall behind they will be try to pass the ball on a very good pass defense. That's a recipe for disaster. I think the Bucs lose 28-14. I do think two players have a good chance at a great game, however: Michael Bennett could face a backup right tackle, while Legarrette Blount could have a good day - if the Bucs can stick with the running game.
What do you think the final score will be, and who do you think will have a good game?