A team that once had an 11-1 record and appeared a serious threat to make the Super Bowl faded to a 2-4 finish. Although they had back-to-back overtime wins in the Jacksonville and Detroit games, their inability to overcome deficits proved to be an unsolvable problem down the stretch.
When most NFL teams fall behind, they rely on rapid strikes to their wide receivers to try to score quickly. At least one of their top pass catchers is a player with downfield speed and a proven capacity to get into the end zone.
Unless, of course, your team hails from Houston and Reliant Stadium is their home field.
Andre Johnson is well known as one of the great receivers of the last decade. After all, he ranks second all-time in receiving yards per game. The odd thing is that his 56 career touchdowns rank him 82nd in the history of NFL.
Things played out along the same lines this year when Johnson had 1,598 receiving yards, his best single-season mark. But alas, they led to only four touchdowns.
The most frequent explanation for this anomaly is he has never had a partner who is a comparable threat. Maybe that is because Kevin Walter has held that position for the last seven seasons.
The debate regarding the No. 2 receiver for the Texans has raged on for years. Walter peaked at 60 receptions for eight touchdowns in 2008, but his numbers have generally declined over time.
He did register a 4.45 40-yard time at the combine in 2003. That is decent speed for someone who is 6’3” and 218 lbs., but has never been known to get consistent separation with his supposed quickness.
His value to the offense is said to extend beyond his pass-catching talents, or lack thereof. The two qualities most often recited are blocking for the running game and his veteran presence in the locker room.
One look at the Conference Championship Games throws this value into question. To get a shot at the Super Bowl, your second receiver had better have more than Walter’s 41 catches for 518 yards and two TDs.
Only the San Francisco 49ers had lower production from this spot.
Mario Manningham had 42 catches for 449 yards and a one TD. It should be noted Manningham appeared in only 12 games, and might have surpassed Walter over a full season given his per game stats.
Nine of the other 10 teams who made the postseason all got more out of their second option:
No. 2 WR
Some will argue that TE Owen Daniels is Houston’s No. 2 receiver, and point to his 62 receptions for 716 yards and six TDs. Others may say if the yardage of Johnson and Walter is combined, you have two receivers averaging over 1,000 yards each.
Does anyone really buy into these claims? If you expect your tight end to fulfill the No. 2 role, he better be as exceptional as the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints.
Before the start of training camp in 2011 season, head coach Gary Kubiak tried to sell the notion that Walter and Jacoby Jones added up to “the best number two receiver in football.”
That boast failed to hold up and Jones was released last offseason. Walter and his $4.5 million cap hit for 2013 are probably headed out the door in the not-too-distant future.
Kubiak was hired by Texans owner Bob McNair after filling the role of offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos for 10 years. He turned Houston into Denver South by bringing the one-cut, zone-blocking system along with him.
When Kubiak looked at Kevin Walter, he probably viewed him as another version of the Bronco’s Ed McCaffrey.
McCaffrey was also a possession receiver with good blocking skills, as exemplified by this crushing block on Green Bay LB Brian Williams in Super Bowl XXXII.
Over his nine-year stay in Denver, McCaffrey averaged 51 catches, 689 yards and five touchdowns per year. But he had three straight 1,000-yard seasons from 1998-2000, numbers that Walter can only dream of.
It would be unfair to say Walter and Johnson were the only reasons why the Texans had just eight touchdown catches by their wideouts in 2012. The balance of the roster at this spot was occupied by first-year players, who were still adjusting to the rigors of playing in the NFL.
But the five losses endured by the Texans represent a systematic failure for the coaching staff and their wide receiver corps.
In those defeats, those players whose jerseys do not read “Johnson” had a grand total of 19 receptions for 245 yards and one TD. The one person who wears that illustrious name collected an impressive 42 receptions for 513 yards but no TDs to speak of.
DeVier Posey scored that lonely touchdown in the final loss to the Patriots. The torn Achilles tendon he suffered in that loss makes his availability for the 2013 season problematic at best.
Gary Kubiak, offensive coordinator Rick Dennison and wide receivers coach Larry Kirksey are all complicit in this failure. What they do via free agency and the draft to upgrade this area could spell the difference between a real shot at a championship or another season of broken dreams.