Two big games on Sunday answered a lot of questions, confirming once again that defense trumps offense anytime things get sticky.
Houston's win over Chicago was no thing of beauty, unless you're a dyed-in-the-wool lover of defense. Despite the fact that both offenses came into the game ranked in the top five in the league in most major categories, it was the two top-five defenses that stole the show.
On Friday, I put out into the ether three questions that I thought would be answered in that Houston-Chicago match and I think I got the answers I was looking for.
First, I asked if the Houston offense was for real. I said that, in order to the Texans to win, they would need a balanced attack, to get running back Arian Foster into the game early and to limit their turnovers as much as possible.
Well, I'm not so sure the Texans O is for real after being more-or-less controlled by the Bears defense all game. Sure, Houston won but the Texans managed to gain only 215 net yards in the contest.
As I expected, however, Houston focused on balance and got Foster going early. He carried the ball 8 times in the first quarter alone, picking up 41 of his game-leading total of 102 yards. That kept the Bears' rush at bay a little bit. Amazingly enough, Matt Schaub's net passing total was seven yards less (at 95) than Foster's rushing number.
My prediction that Houston would have to limit their turnovers to win the game came true as well: though Schaub threw two picks, Foster continued to take care of the ball, refusing to give up a fumble to the attacking Bears defense. By limiting their TOs to two, the Texans won the game.
My second question had to do with whether or not the Chicago O line could handle J.J. Watt and the Texans' front seven. Coming into the game, the Bears were giving up 3.5 sacks per game while Houston was averaging three sacks themselves.
The Bears O line surprised everyone on this night, giving up only one sack in total and contining to open up holes for their runners to the tune of five yards per carry. Part of the credit has to go to the Chicago coaching staff for moving their quarterbacks around in the pocket, throwing plenty of roll-outs into the game plan. But the O line did its job.
I should point out as well that Cutler got knocked out of the game on play where he himself had broken out of the pocket and actually crossed the line of scrimmage. I'm not sure you can blame that one on his offensive wall either.
Third, I asked how Houston could stop Chicago receiver Brandon Marshall. Marshall is far and away the Bears' leading pass catcher (averaging more than seven catches for about 100 yards per game) and I thought that, if the Texans could contain him, they'd win the game.
Well, Marshall got his catches (8) and his yards (107) but he just didn't seem a factor in this one. And we have to remember that Kareem Jackson's pick off Cutler in the second quarter came on a pass intended for Marshall. So maybe, despite the fact that the Bears' receiver got his catches, Houston didn't do such a bad job of containing him.
My final question had to do with the Atlanta-New Orleans showdown. Despite a dismal week picking winners this week, I did manage to recognise that the Saints were going to win this one over the previously undefeated Falcons.
My point was that the Atlanta defense had yet to play a really strong offensive team, at least one that was playing well on game day, so New Orleans would prove their first real test.
I was right. New Orleans put up 440 yards offense against the Falcons, 90 yards above Atlanta's seasonal average for yards given up on defense. And Brees and Co scored 31 points, while committing just one turnover and givnig up only one sack.
Atlanta's offense played its part. It scored 28, with Matt Ryan going 34 for 52 and 411 yards. Its only weakness: Michael Turner and his blockers turned in a poor performance, pikcing up just 15 yards on 13 carries.
Now, I have to admit, I thought Brees would pass for 400 and four TDs so his 21 of 32 for 292 and three TD performance was a bit of a disappointment. At least to me. I doubt anyone in New Orleans is complaining!