Entering the 2013 season, the Houston Texans were expected to be one of the few legitimate Super Bowl contenders in the AFC.
At the halfway point in the season, the Texans are 2-6 and find themselves in a very unenviable position.
However, there is a chance that Houston's struggles this season will provide one of those much-disguised blessings we so often hear about.
While the Texans are highly unlikely to rebound for a surprise playoff run this season, the sheer amount of talent on the roster suggests that this is a team that can return to contention as early as 2014.
The burning question in Houston surrounds which quarterback will be under center to lead the team there.
After getting the team off to a dismal start to the season, it has become evident that 10th-year quarterback Matt Schaub is not the man to guide the Texans to the promised land.
Houston has gotten close under Schaub's direction. However, while the Texans were able to advance to the second round of the playoffs in 2011 and 2012, the team never really appeared to be in position to make a serious push toward the Super Bowl.
Schaub, of course, cannot bear the entirety of the blame. However, there may be no single player as responsible for his team's disastrous start as Schaub this season.
In six games, Schaub managed to complete 150-of-233 pass attempts (64.4 percent) for 1,552 yards and eight touchdowns. However, he also threw nine interceptions, four of them returned for touchdowns.
While Schaub has since been deemed healthy, the Texans have not looked back.
Keenum played surprisingly well in his two starts, completing 59.3 percent of his passes for 621 yards and four touchdowns.
He has also helped return the downfield passing attack to the Texans offense, averaging 10.5 yards per attempt (Schaub averaged just 6.7 this season).
More importantly, Keenum has yet to throw an interception.
Houston has yet to win a game with Keenum under center, but the team has been competitive. The Texans lost in his first start by a single point to the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs and lost by a field goal to the Indianapolis Colts in a game where head coach Gary Kubiak collapsed and was taken to the hospital at halftime.
Now the Texans have eight games to evaluate what Keenum brings to the table, an opportunity the team might pass on with a more competitive record.
With a bevy of highly-coveted quarterbacks expected to declare for the 2014 draft, Keenum will have to show quite a bit over this span if he hopes to hang on to the starting job beyond it.
|Case Keenum by the Numbers|
|Through Week 9 of 2013 season|
For starters, it would be nice to see the first-year quarterback produce a few wins over the next two months.
While Keenum has shown that he can play well enough to put his team in position to win, quarterbacks are judged by their ability to close out winnable games. Nothing will give the Texans confidence in Keenum like a couple of victories in close games late in the season.
Keenum will also need to continue to keep turnovers to a minimum.
Schaub killed the Texans early in the season with game-changing interceptions. If his young replacement can show that he understands the importance of ball security, it will go a long way toward convincing the front office that he can handle the job moving forward.
At 6'1", 205 pounds, Keenum will also have to alleviate fears that his smaller stature is no reason for concern.
Guys like Drew Brees (6'0", 209 pounds) and Russell Wilson (5'11", 206 pounds) have shown that quarterbacks do not have to be giants to have success at the pro level. However, Keenum will still have to prove that he can withstand the physical rigors of being an NFL signal-caller.
Lastly, Keenum will have to make enough plays on his own to suggest that potential draftees will not provide an upgrade over what he has to offer.
Draft-eligible quarterbacks like Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel appear to have the combination of pocket mobility and accuracy that offensive coordinator Rick Dennison would prefer in his system.
Of course, these are the exact same traits that helped Keenum twice earn Conference USA MVP honors (2009, 2011).
NFL.com senior analyst Gil Brandt, for one, seems to believe that Keenum's skill set and football IQ make him the best choice for the Texans, moving forward.
Only time will tell if the decision-makers in Houston agree.
That time, as it stands, is down to eight games.
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