It's hard to beat a well-rounded fighter. That phrase, which is often used in boxing and mixed martial arts, also applies to football. One-dimensional teams don't win consistently in the NFL.
Earlier this season, the Houston Texans relied on their high-flying offense to win a shootout against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on the road. On Sunday night, the Texans showed just how well-rounded they are, using their rugged defense to push around a physical Chicago Bears squad and prevail 13-6.
Championship teams win games like the Texans won Sunday. The deck was stacked against them, and they still found a way to get the job done. They were up against an elite opponent, on the road, playing in prime time during a driving rainstorm. Good teams keep those types of games close. Great teams find a way to win them.
Houston didn't look flashy on offense, but the Texans ran the ball effectively with Arian Foster (102 yards on 29 carries). His aggressive, one-cut running style was a perfect fit for the poor conditions at Soldier Field. Texans quarterback Matt Schaub had an underwhelming game with just 95 yards through the air, but he did toss the contest's only touchdown pass. He turned the ball over twice, but considering the opponent and the field conditions, that was an achievement.
The Texans' defense was the story of the game. The unit produced more jarring hits on Sunday night than any other NFL team in any other game I've watched this season. On the Bears' very first offensive play, Texans safety Danieal Manning unloaded on tight end Kellen Davis, forcing a fumble. Later on, linebacker Tim Dobbins landed a devastating blow on Jay Cutler that eventually knocked the Bears quarterback from the game (and drew a penalty for unnecessary roughness). The physical defensive play was key in forcing four Chicago turnovers.
The Texans made a very strong statement. They've now beaten up on two of the NFL's perennial bullies, the Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears. There will be other games that require the Texans to show more finesse and flash; Sunday night provided a test of their toughness. They passed.
Didn't see this coming
Every week, at least one result catches me off-guard. The Tennessee Titans' 37-3 trouncing of the Miami Dolphins was the one Week 10 outcome I absolutely didn't see coming.
The Dolphins had won three of their previous four contests. Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill hadn't thrown an interception in four straight games. Miami's defense hadn't allowed an opposing rusher to top 100 yards in the past 22 games. Apparently, the Titans weren't impressed, because they traveled to Miami and completely dominated the Dolphins.
Tennessee's defense suffocated Miami's offense. The Titans forced four turnovers, allowed just 54 rushing yards and produced a defensive touchdown. They let the Dolphins convert just two of 13 third-down opportunities. The Dolphins' longest play from scrimmage was a 17-yard pass.
The Titans' offense didn't have any trouble moving the ball against the respected Dolphins defense. Quarterback Jake Locker tossed two touchdown passes and running back Chris Johnson racked up 126 yards on the ground, adding a touchdown. Locker had more rushing yards (36) than anyone on the Dolphins' offense.
The Titans looked faster, fresher and more focused than the Dolphins on both sides of the ball. I was very impressed with Locker. His ability to create plays with his legs gives the Titans' offense a new dimension. Tennessee's defense has been inconsistent all season, but the unit was very aggressive on Sunday, and it paid off. The Dolphins still have a chance to land a postseason berth, but they can't afford many more days like that one.
Three startling statistics
1) The Baltimore Ravens scored 55 points at home on Sunday; the Jacksonville Jaguars have scored just 44 points at home all season. The Ravens did whatever they wanted offensively against the hapless Oakland Raiders. Baltimore could've put up more points, but quarterback Joe Flacco was pulled early, and his replacement, Tyrod Taylor, threw the ball just once in the fourth quarter. At the other end of the spectrum, it's difficult to believe just how inept the Jaguars' offense has been this season. That they've put up just 44 points in five home games is hard to fathom.
2) The New England Patriots have scored more than 25 points in seven of their nine games this season; the Philadelphia Eagles have yet to top that mark once. The Patriots' offense has been very consistent this season. The unit is incredibly balanced and always finds ways to expose the weaknesses of opposing defenses. The Eagles' offense has been hit with numerous injuries, but I'm still shocked that they haven't been able to generate more points.
3) Over his past four games, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has rushed for 629 yards and five touchdowns while averaging 7.7 yards per carry. I've run out of words to use to describe Peterson. He continues to prove he's the NFL's best runner on a weekly basis. He's now had three straight games with a run of 60-plus yards. Peterson is the definition of a freak.
Bucs powered by youth
The 5-4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are one of the hottest teams in the NFL. On Sunday, the Bucs knocked off the San Diego Chargers to collect their third straight win. Rookie running back Doug Martin has garnered a lot of national attention over the past few weeks, but he's just one of many talented youngsters on Tampa Bay's roster. Take a look at just how young the Bucs' key contributors are:
Josh Freeman, QB, 24 years old: Freeman has been the key player in the Bucs' turnaround season. In the offseason, Freeman dedicated himself to getting in better physical shape, and he's played solid football all year. He has all of the tools to be one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks.
Doug Martin, RB, 23: Martin has rightfully received high praise for his play this season. He has 862 rushing yards, tied with Titans running back Chris Johnson for fourth-most in the NFL. He also has been a dangerous threat out of the backfield, racking up 296 receiving yards. Martin should have multiple Pro Bowl appearances in his future.
Mike Williams, WR, 25: Free-agent acquisition Vincent Jackson (29 years old) has been Freeman's top target this season, but Williams is also enjoying an outstanding campaign, and is second on the team with 31 catches and five touchdowns. He's also averaging an impressive 18.3 yards per catch. He and Jackson give Freeman two legitimate home-run hitters on the outside.
Lavonte David, LB, 22; Mason Foster, LB, 23: David and Foster have combined to make one of the NFL's top linebacker tandems. David leads the team with 81 tackles, while Foster is right behind him with 63. Their play is the main reason Tampa's defense is the NFL's stingiest against the run, allowing just 80.1 rushing yards per game.
Mark Barron, safety, 23: Barron still has some rough areas to smooth out when it comes to coverage, but he has provided a physical presence in the middle of the Bucs' defensive backfield. He's currently third on the team in tackles (54) and has delivered numerous "wow" hits against opposing pass catchers.
Michael Bennett, DE, 26: A very underrated player, Bennett currently leads the Bucs with six sacks, and has forced three fumbles, too. He can create pressure with both speed and power.
Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.