With premiere players like running back Arian Foster and dominant defensive end J.J. Watt, the Texans own some of the top talent in the league. It showed when they routed the Baltimore Ravens at home on Sunday.
After solidifying their place as the team to beat in the AFC, there isn’t much room for improvement in Houston. Nevertheless, here are four things the Texans must focus on during the bye week if they are going to remain successful in the second half of the season.
Since Gary Kubiak took over as head coach in 2006, the Texans are 2-4 in games played after the bye week. In that same span, Houston is 3-7 in games played with extra rest.
In the heat of a season that necessitates a regimented work week and physical perfection, extended time off can understandably disrupt preparation. The bye week is designed to keep players healthy and rested in the middle of a long and physical stretch, but from a competitive standpoint, it can be detrimental.
What does inspire hope is that Houston’s most recent victory in this position came last season in a 20-13 victory over Jacksonville. This season, the NFL’s best rusher, Arian Foster, will host the 31st-ranked Buffalo Bills defense in Week 9.
In 2012, the AFC South will match up their non-conference schedule against the NFC North.
This season, the lone Houston loss has been against a Green Bay team that had been struggling for consistency. Against the Texans on Sunday Night Football in Week 6, the Packers were able to showcase the aerial attack that brought them to the brink of an undefeated season just a year ago.
With three games remaining for Houston against NFC opponents, the schedule will not get any easier.
Surprisingly competitive, each team in the NFC North poses a different threat: Green Bay has Aaron Rodgers; the Bears defense has been one of the best in the NFL; Detroit has the ultimate receiver in Calvin Johnson; Minnesota has been wily and unyielding all season, particularly against stiff competition.
Since 2006, and including this season, the Texans are 12-13 in non-conference play.
The Texans have been relatively lucky this season: this is the only major injury that has been suffered so far.
In 2011, the Texans, who may have been on their way to an AFC championship, suffered temporary injuries to Arian Foster and Andre Johnson as well as season-ending injuries to Mario Williams and quarterbacks Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart. They ultimately went into the playoffs with fourth-string quarterback T.J. Yates.
Dobbins, however, does not quite match the numbers Cushing put up over the middle. Though Cushing will end the year with 29 tackles, Dobbins had just 12 through 15 games last season and posts a rare high-water mark of five in a game against Tennessee this season.
With J.J. Watt on the outside and Cushing underneath, the Houston defense had been nearly immovable. Replacing that threat in the middle of the field will be pivotal for the Texans in their final nine games.
Andre Johnson is one of the premiere wide receivers in the NFL, but he has hardly been utilized like one this season.
A year ago, it was injuries that limited Johnson’s impact. In 2012, a revitalized and hungry Texans team will be unstoppable when every player is at his best.
Johnson, however, has not been the breakout receiver that he has been in the past. Although he leads the Texans in receiving yards, he is only 32nd in the NFL, averaging just 63.4 yards per game.
The silver lining, then, would be the matched production by tight end Owen Daniels, who has 416 yards in 2012 and leads the Texans with four receiving touchdowns.
With the dominance of both the defense and the running game, Johnson—perhaps a focal point in other offenses—can be relegated to a more minimal role with Houston. Maximizing his potential in the second half could be deadly for teams in the AFC and throughout the NFL.