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Leftovers: More Birds on a Thursday

Feb 2, 2010, 2:31 PM EDT

Cheerleaders

Our cheerleaders will not go unrepresented.

At least they didn’t have too much time to think about the last one. Following their brutal loss at the hands of the Bears on Sunday, the Birds are right back in action tonight against the 5-7 Houston Texans. While I’m sure they’re all very thrilled to be there, the truth of the matter is the Texans’ defense may be just what the doctor ordered for an offense that has suddenly sputtered the past two weeks.

First you have to give credit to New York and Chicago. Giants’ defensive coordinator Perry Fewell drew up an excellent gameplan, sending overload blitzes to push Michael Vick out of the pocket to his right where he’s not as comfortable. And the Bears, their front four simply won the battle up front most of the day.

With that out of the way, if the Eagles’ offense doesn’t rebound tonight, there may be some larger issues at work. Those were two of the stingier defenses in the league. The Texans, on the other hand, have one of the worst.

Specifically, their secondary is the problem. While Houston ranks eighth in the NFL in run defense, that’s more likely because opponents are too busy throwing the ball against them. Only the New England Patriots are worse in allowing yards through the air, and quarterbacks are dropping a league leading 102.8 rating on the Texans. That’s good news for Vick, who still rocks the best with a 106.0.

As the Texans Chick mentioned in her Q&A with Enrico, some of that can be traced back to the inexperience of several of their defensive backs. However, that unit looked much better last week against the Titans when newly acquired Jason Allen was inserted into the lineup. Recently waived by the Dolphins, Allen figures to play the role of stopgap going forward.

Second-year corner Glover Quin was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week with three interceptions, but you can’t make your name picking off third string QB Rusty Something-or-other. With rookie Kareem Jackson coming on in nickel situations, this trio is still adequate at best, which is being kind. The Eagles’ receivers should have little trouble beating this group, including a pair of mediocre safeties, who have allowed the most passing plays over 40 yards with 13.

So the Eagles should be able to score touchdowns. After last week’s debacle, the defense is probably the graver concern.

First and foremost, the guy the Eagles absolutely have to stop is Arian Foster. Not many people knew much about Foster entering the season, but it didn’t take long for that to change. Now he is the NFL leader in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, with 1,147 and 12 respectively. He’s also a threat catching the ball out of the backfield, with 48 receptions for 489 yards. His 1,600 total yards from scrimmage are third highest.

It’s been a major shift in philosophy for Houston. Last year, Matt Schaub threw for the sixth-most yards in NFL history, almost a third of them to stud wide receiver Andre Johnson. Now Foster sets up most of what they do. He has the most touches in the league, and is so versatile they occasionally bring him in motion to line up as a receiver. He also sets up their play-action nicely, as defenses are loading up in an effort to stuff the run.

If the Birds can limit the damage by Foster, it will go a long way toward shutting down the rest of the offense. After he and Johnson, there aren’t really any other dangerous weapons in the huddle. Schaub has also eaten just one fewer sack (24) so far this season than he did all of last, so protection could be a focal point if the offense is forced to become one dimensional.

Of course, stopping that duo is easier said than done, especially if the Eagles are without Asante Samuel again, who is questionable. Andre Johnson is quite possibly the best in the business, and it’s hard to envision little Joselio Hanson or rookie Trevard Lindley matching up well. If Jay Cutler can have a career day throwing the ball that band of misfits when Samuel isn’t back there, just imagine what an elite player like Johnson could accomplish.

While it’s not going to be fun for the Eagles to get back out there just four days after a physical road game, they definitely have an advantage over Houston in that respect. Tough as it is for either locker room to play on short rest, the Texans had to travel halfway across the country. The Linc is always a hostile environment, and the temperature is expected to drop below freezing. It will be interesting to see what the energy level is like from those guys once the contest gets underway, especially if they face any adversity in the early goings.

Photo by Al Bello / Getty Images