Somewhere in between a 2-0 start to the season and an offensive meltdown two weeks in a row lie the Houston Texans' wobbly chances of making the playoffs.
After self-destructing on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, the Texans once again entered into overtime and saw themselves lose a game they probably deserved to win. The defense played well, the offense had no trouble moving the ball, but for all of the Texans' first-half efforts, everything after halftime left little for Houston fans to be happy about.
But it's not time to panic.
Remarkably, this team has looked impressive in each of its losses. It's just the little things that are costing the Texans the big thing that counts, a winning record.
With a game against the San Francisco 49ers next Sunday night, it's time for Houston to regroup and figure out what's working and what's not.
Following Sunday's lackluster effort, here are three spots worth examining:
Protecting Matt Schaub
If the offense is going to tally close to 320 yards in the first half but falter in the second and have Matt Schaub throw a pick-six to Richard Sherman, what's the point in even trying, right?
How much longer are you willing to give Matt Schaub to prove himself?
Schaub will be blamed for this loss. While his pass direction was questionable at best on Sunday, the offensive line has done a poor job of granting him enough time to locate guys like Andre Johnson when the game is on the line.
In the Texans' two losses, the offensive line has been battered by guys like Terrell Suggs, Cliff Avril and Chris Clemons. Seattle's pass rush gave Schaub little time to do anything. The problem then becomes Schaub's stubborn determination to not take a sack and force a bad pass.
Four games into the season, Schaub has thrown six interceptions. In the first half of Sunday's game he looked poised and willing to take what the Seahawks defense was going to allow. When he felt the heat, it turned into an ugly mess of hurried plays—and that all boils down to pressure.
The last thing or person to blame for this 2-2 start is the Texans defense.
Wade Phillips has done a good job of dialing up plays in man coverage, and with the Seahawks labeled as one of the best deep threats in the NFL, Sunday's lockdown effort to keep Russell Wilson in check was remarkable.
For as solid as the defense has been this year however, Houston isn't very good at forcing turnovers. Prior to intercepting Wilson, the only other interception the Texans had came in Week 1 against Philip Rivers, and fumbles aren't exactly Houston's specialty either.
Seattle won this game on turnovers.
The Seahawks missed their opportunity early when Schaub threw an unlucky interception in the first half, but a Ben Tate fumble led to a field goal, and Schaub's other pick tied the game up.
Unfortunately, Houston never seems to have that luxury. Despite ranking second in overall defense, the Texans are tied for 29th in forced fumbles.
In the end, all of this only makes life harder for Schaub and puts pressure on special teams to set up some decent field position. Even with Johnathan Joseph showing that he deserves to be known as one of the better lockdown corners in the league, unless J.J. Watt or Ed Reed start forcing some turnovers, the defense may not be as good as it's made out to be.
Putting Andre Johnson on the Scoreboard
Four games, 368 yards, but not a single touchdown for Andre Johnson.
It's a stat that needs to change for the Texans, especially since he's by far the most productive Texans wide receiver. Against Seattle, even with an injury Johnson was unstoppable. When the Texans' first two drives combined for 170 yards, he played a big part in keeping Richard Sherman quiet and creating some separation.
But really, what good is all of that if Johnson isn't scoring points?
Even Johnson himself is happy to take the blame.
Perhaps a lot of it may have to do with Kubiak's focus on tight ends in the red zone. In the past four weeks Schaub has targeted Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham heavily when they are in scoring position and relied on Johnson to secure passes on slant routes earlier on in the drive.
It would be nice to see some deep one-on-one passes down the sideline to Johnson, especially early on to test defenses out. Some may argue that Schaub doesn't have the arm for that, but in recent weeks, he's made no struggle of finding guys like DeAndre Hopkins in tight sideline situations.
It's become a bit of a recurring theme for Johnson not to score—he's had only six touchdowns in the past two years. A lot of it could be blamed on how much attention opposing defenses pay him, but Houston would benefit immensely if he was more of a threat in the end zone.