The schedule falls beautifully for the Arizona Cardinals and Houston Texans to remain undefeated following Sunday’s games.
Both 3-0 teams face home games against less-than-daunting opponents.
The Texans play host to the Tennessee Titans (1-2) at Reliant Stadium as part of the NFL’s seven-game early slate. The Cardinals play host to the Miami Dolphins (1-2) at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale as part of a five-game afternoon/evening slate.
By the time the New York Giants (2-1) and Philadelphia Eagles (2-1) hit the field for Sunday’s night game, there should be three 4-0 teams (figuring the Atlanta Falcons (3-0), also playing at home, beat the Carolina Panthers (1-2) in an early game).
Of course, we all know that what makes perfect sense on paper, more often than not is absolutely meaningless in reality. Like, say, the Vikings dominating the 49ers, or similar craziness.
The Cardinals are certainly vulnerable against a mercurial Miami team that looked weak in losing on the road at Houston, strong in winning at home against a weary Oakland bunch coming off a late Monday night game, and then a little bit of both last week before falling apart in the fourth quarter and overtime in losing to the Jets.
The Dolphins are statistically one of the league’s better offensive teams in yards (369.3), time of possession (31:10) and rushing (175.7). Defensively, they give up 373.7 yards and 22.0 points per game but are stout against the run (66.3).
The Cardinals, while fielding one of the league’s more impressive defenses through the first three weeks (holding opponents to 316.0 yards and 13.3 points), also roll out one of the league’s least productive offenses, ranking near the bottom in yards(262.3), passing (181.0) and rushing (81.3).
Quarterback Kevin Kolb, whose wife gave birth this week to their third child, remains the starting quarterback. But the Cardinals’ struggling running game took a hit this week when Beanie Wells was placed on injured reserve. Ryan Williams figures to get the bulk of the carries against Miami.
The overwhelming key to success for the Cardinals lies in Kolb’s ability to manage the offense without giving the ball away and defensive domination. The Cardinals rank second in the league in sacks and fumble recoveries, numbers built terrorizing the following three quarterbacks: Russell Wilson, Tom Brady and Michael Vick.
Ryan Tannehill, the Dolphins’ raw rookie quarterback, ranks last in the league in QB rating (58.3) and among the worst in passing yards per game (205), first downs (27.1) and completion percentage (52.9).
While he has been sacked only four times, Tannehill has not taken advantage of his ability to run, averaging just 2.7 attempts and 2.0 yards per game. The converted college receiver, who had only 13 collegiate starts at quarterback at Texas A&M, figures to be in for a long, hot Arizona afternoon against the likes of Darnell Dockett, Calais Campbell, Daryl Washington, Kerry Rhodes and Co.
Bold prediction: If the Cardinals take care of the ball and cash in their opportunities, they will win this one easily. If Kolb is up late with the baby — as new dad’s tend to be — and his decision-making suffers, the Dolphins could pull the upset.
If there’s a similar doomsday scenario for the Texans, I can’t think of it. There’s always the possibility of the total Niners-lose-at-Minnesota head-scratcher. But rarely does that happen at home, especially for a team as complete as the Texans have proven to be thus far.
The Titans are so out of whack, their points-for/points-against differential of minus-46 is dead last in the league. Their offense is among the league’s worst in most key categories. The exception is passing, where they rank among the top 10 with second-year scrambler Jake Locker at quarterback.
Defensively, the Titans are allowing 463 yards and 37.7 points per game, among other league-low numbers.
Houston should be able to do just about everything it wants against Tennessee. And when we’re talking Texans, we know that means pounding the rock. Arian Foster and Ben Tate face a defense allowing 150 yards per game. Feeding those two and building upon the league’s best time of possession average (36 minutes, 34 seconds) figures to be the game plan for quarterback Matt Schaub and the Texans.
Like their Arizona brethren, the Texans will rely on a stout defense. The Houston D has allowed only 255.7 yards and 14.0 points per game in victories over Miami, Jacksonville and Denver. Furthermore, Houston is plus-4 in takeaways while Tennessee is minus-3.
The Titans easily could be winless.
They lost at home to New England in the opener and then on the road at San Diego. Only the hard-to-figure Detroit Lions kept the Titans from 0-3. The Lions scored 25 fourth-quarter points on the Titans and had the ball in overtime with a chance to either win the game or extend it and instead botched a fourth-and-1 play and Tennessee won, 44-41.
Despite blowing 20-9 and 41-27 leads, scoring 44 points and surviving a game like that tends to give teams like the floundering Titans a little something we like to call: Hope.
Others may write it off as bizarre or an aberration. True that.
Still, the Titans made NFL history in that victory by scoring five touchdowns of 60-yards or more and did it in various ways: Punt return, fumble return, kickoff return, pass reception and circus catch of jaw-dropping proportions — when receiver Nate Washington reached around a Lions defender to catch a pass against the guy’s back, secured it, lifted the ball over the confused DB’s helmet, turned and ran for the score.
Furthermore, the Titans got a career day from Locker, the first-year starter, who put up a passer rating of 113.0 with 29 completions, 378 yards and two TDs. He also rushed for 35 yards.
Locker presents a challenge that the Texans defense has not faced this year against the raw Tannehill, second-year Jacksonville starter Blaine Gabbert and a 36-year-old postoperative Peyton Manning. None of them have the mobility of Locker.
But he is also the team’s leading rusher, which isn’t a positive considering he shares the backfield with onetime 2,000-yard rusher Chris Johnson. This doesn’t figure to be CJ2K’s wake-up call from his two-year post-payday hangover.
Bold prediction: Texans churn for nearly 250 yards on the ground, possess the ball for almost 40 minutes and win by three-plus scores.
That’s how it looks on paper, at least.
Following on Twitter @JD_Parenti