Pick of the Week: Houston Texans (-3.5) over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

This game is a tale of two teams heading in opposite directions. The Bucs are a respectable 4-4 on the season, but they have lost their last two games and are quickly losing ground in the competitive NFC South. The Texans on the other hand are surging, without Andre Johnson and Mario Williams no less.

With that said, do not expect anything to change this week. The Bucs are finally coming back down to earth after exceeding expectations last season, and getting off to a hot start this year. Josh Freeman has regressed significantly this season, as he has not been able to find the chemistry that he had with Mike Williams last year that allowed him to almost lead Tampa to the postseason.

After throwing 25 touchdowns and just six picks last season, Freeman has already tossed ten picks this year, to go with just eight scores. His passer rating is down almost twenty points, and teams have not had nearly as much trouble defending his attack this season. It surely does not help that the running game has been seriously banged up this season either, with LaGarrette Blount missing a pair of games with a knee injury and Earnest Graham out for the year with a torn Achilles.

The Bucs defense, long considered their strong suit, has been falling flat this season. They are allowing just under 400 total yards a game, and almost 25 points per game. Rookie middle linebacker Mason Foster got off to a hot start, but an ankle injury has hampered him in recent weeks and has not allowed him to play every down. Taking over for Barrett Ruud is no easy task, and for a rookie it is almost impossible to step in and lead the defense like Ruud did for so many years.

While their secondary has been getting eaten up, what was thought to be their strong suit, the defensive line, has been getting gouged as well. Losing Gerald McCoy to a torn bicep for the second straight season makes their front line extremely weak, and despite the addition of Albert Haynesworth, they will struggle against the potent Texans rushing attack.

Then there is the resurgent Texans. After losing back-to-back games to the Raiders and Ravens earlier in the season, they have now rattled off three straight wins and now sit comfortably stop the AFC South. Many sharps had them poised to struggle when they lost All-Pro wideout Andre Johnson to a hamstring injury earlier in the season. Then when former first overall pick Mario Williams went down for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, it looked like a lost season for the Texans. The team responded by re-discovering the run.

The zone run blocking scheme implemented by Gary Kubiak and offensive line coach John Benton has been working wonders this season. While the production of Arian Foster last year and Steve Slaton in ’08-’09 come to mind, this season could be something truly special on the ground for Houston.

Foster and Ben Tate are 8th and 9th in the entire league in rushing, as they have both cracked the century mark in consecutive weeks. A two-pronged attack, with both of them capable of going between the tackles as well as on the outside, is something rarely seen in the league, and they are running it to perfection. Remember Tate was supposed to be the starter ahead of Foster coming into last season before he went down with a season ending injury.

Who needs a passing attack when you can run the ball so effectively? Further to that, how much are the Texans veteran offensive line salivating at the thought of mauling the young and banged up Bucs defensive line? Like taking candy from a baby. It will be too easy.

The Bucs are in fact hosting this game, but the home crowd at Raymond James does not figure to be enough to save Tampa from an utter beat down. Wade Phillips will be sending pressure towards Josh Freeman all day, and rookie outside backer Brooks Reed looks to keep his sack streak going, as the Casey Matthews clone will be coming around the edge with relentless pressure. Kareem Jackson and Jonathan will have the Bucs anemic receivers locked up, and the Texans should pull off a double digit victory on the road.