Houston Texans' Keys to Success in 2012 NFL Playoffs
The Vikings attacked the Texans' offensive line, and the offense folded. Arian Foster and Ben Tate had no running room, and Schaub did not have enough time in the pocket to find Andre Johnson.
However, the Texans are still a phenomenal football team, and they have the talent to overcome their recent deficiencies.
The question is: will they?
In order for the Texans to succeed in the postseason, they must sharpen up several aspects of their game.
Here are the biggest keys to the Texans' 2012 playoff success.
Offensive Line Success
It is quite simple, really.
Blitz and apply as much pressure as possible on the supposed top offensive line in the NFL. Get to Matt Schaub as quickly as possible, and press cover Andre Johnson on the outside with safety help.
Force Schaub to find other receivers consistently with little time in the pocket—something he has not been able to do successfully this season.
Then, watch as the Texans' offense begins to transform into the New York Jets' offense.
This, however, can all be avoided if the Texans' offensive line could work together as a cohesive unit and play as they should.
The line needs to dominate at the point of attack, and open up gaping holes for Arian Foster. Then, the Texans' play-action passing offense will give Schaub enough time to find open receivers and not be forced to sling it out while constantly under duress.
Much of the Texans' offensive success stems from the performance of their offensive line, and it is extremely important that they excel in the postseason.
Other Pass-Rushers Need to Step Up
J.J. Watt has been absolutely incredible for the Texans' defense this season. Words cannot accurately describe the amazing skill and tenacity that the second-year pro has stashed in his arsenal.
Watt has 20.5 sacks this season, which is nine more than the Texans' sack-leader from last season, who was Connor Barwin with 11.5 total sacks.
The other pass-rushers, however, are not as dominant as they were last season. Barwin and Brooks Reed, the two main pass-rushers from last season, have 12.5 less combined sacks this season than they did last year.
Whitney Mercilus has been a pleasant surprise for the Texans this season, but he does not receive much playing time because Barwin and Reed have a stranglehold on the position.
Barwin and Reed are much better against the run than Mercilus, but Mercilus also has more sacks than Barwin and Reed combined. And he has done that with much, much less playing time.
The success of the Texans' defense is directly connected with the effectiveness of the pass rush. Wade Phillips favors a secondary that plays press man coverage, but if the front seven is not generating pressure, then the cornerbacks will get burned.
However, if the Texans can constantly harass opposing quarterbacks, then his receivers will have nowhere near enough time to break the coverage and get open for their pressured quarterback.
Schaub Needs to Utilize More Receivers
Say Andre Johnson gets injured or simply has a poor performance. Who does Matt Schaub throw the ball to?
The stable of tight ends, which consist of Owen Daniels, Garrett Graham and James Casey, is certainly a viable answer. Yet no team in the NFL can hope to achieve a great passing performance while only throwing to tight ends.
The answer to this question is obvious. Schaub would need to—somehow, someway—consistently involve his other, perhaps inexperienced, wide receivers in the offense.
DeVier Posey, who has been receiving much more playing time, Lestar Jean and Keshawn Martin are all very talented young receivers. They have all displayed extraordinary play-making ability, but they have not been able to produce on a normal basis.
Is that because they are simply too young to be regular contributors to the offense? Or is because the hesitant nature of Gary Kubiak and Schaub, not wanting to trust inexperienced receiving threats.
The answer is neither the former nor the latter, but rather a combination of both. The young receivers need to play like veterans, and Kubiak and Schaub must place a little faith in them.
The success of the Texans' offense could depend on it.
The Defense Must Limit Elite Quarterbacks
Two of the three quarterbacks who have defeated the Texans are named Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. Christian Ponder was the other, but he doesn't really fit into my argument.
Brady and Rodgers are both considered elite quarterbacks in the NFL, and it is not a coincidence that those are the ones who blew-out the Texans.
The fact is that great quarterbacks can give the Texans' defense—like any other defense in the NFL—extreme problems.
The first is that quarterbacks like Brady and Rodgers can neutralize a pass-rush with their ability to move around in the pocket—not to mention terrific offensive line play and pass-protection.
Then, they can pick apart opposing secondaries; especially the Texans' press man coverage one, as it depends on its pass-rushers getting to quarterback quickly.
If the Texans are unfortunate to cross paths with either of the AFC's elite quarterbacks in the postseason, which is almost a guarantee if they are to make it to the AFC Championship Game, then their defense must make several adjustments.
The first is to fall back into zone coverage. This could perhaps force the elite quarterbacks to hold onto the ball for a slightly longer period of time.
The second is to blitz less frequently. They must depend on the pass-rushing abilities of J.J. Watt and Antonio Smith, the top two sack leaders on the team, and devote more defenders to coverage. Brady and Rodgers are also experts at dissecting blitzes and using them against the defense to their advantage.
If the Texans' defense can not find a way to limit the AFC's elite quarterbacks in the playoffs, then dreams of the Super Bowl should be thrown away.
The Texans' Three Stars on Offense Must Shine
While the young receivers must be involved in the Texans' offense, the offense would be nothing without its three stars: Arian Foster, Andre Johnson and Matt Schaub.
When the three of them are on their game, it is nearly impossible to stop the Texans' offense. Actually, check that. Not nearly, completely.
When the three Texans' stars are clicking on all cylinders, it is either a beautiful or terrifying thing to behold, depending on which team you are rooting for, of course.
When Foster is able to pick up around five yards on nearly all of his rushing attempts, opposing defenses are forced to devote to use more defenders to stop the run game.
Suddenly, Andre Johnson finds himself free of double-teams and one play-action bootleg later, and he is hauling in an easy 50-yard bomb.
Also, when Schaub is on fire, he is a completely different player. He spreads the ball around to all his receivers, and he does that with great accuracy.
He makes all the correct decisions, and he is able to march the Texans' offense down the field without difficulty.
Essentially, when the Texans' stars are playing to their best of their abilities, there is no stopping the Texans' offense. And watching that would make great television for Texans' fans in the playoffs.