Coming off of such a strong win against a solid team like the Cincinnati Bengals is always promising for a team who is trying to pull out of what has the initial appearance of being a mediocre season at best. Now at 3-3 the Houston Texans are at a “turning point” in a season where the team and fans have had high aspirations of making the playoffs.
Though a record like 3-3 screams mediocrity, there are some very positive elements that the team has built upon over the past 6 weeks; namely their defense. In the first three games, the Texans defense was ranked dead last in stopping the run. And the old football adage is true…if you can’t stop the run, you can’t win.
This lack of ability to stop the run could mainly be attributed to the inexperienced secondary and poor communication on defense that the Texans displayed in games 1 through 3. The ship, however, has been righted. While the Texans defense still isn’t perfect by any means, they have adjusted to stop the run, going from the worst in the league against the run over the 1st three games to the best in the league over the last three (including stopping Cedric Benson who came into last week’s game as the top rusher).
The work to improve a lackluster defense isn’t done yet however. There’s still the constant problem of getting pressure on opposing team’s quarterbacks. Adding Antonio Smith and Connor Barwin was supposed to help to the pass rush, but where is all the pressure? Part of the lack of getting to the QB could be attributed to the fact that Mario Williams has been playing with an injured shoulder for the much of the season and the team has also been trying to adjust to stop the run by changing up the starting tackles every game to see who can get the most penetration.
That being said, last week’s game against the Bengals started to shine a little light on the Texans pass defense too. Barwin was able to record his first sack in his career and it seemed the front four was able to get Carson Palmer to hurry a few tosses…one of which was brilliantly picked off by future Pro-Bowl linebacker Brian Cushing. We still need to find a way to get Mario into the backfield though. He is the missing link in the Texans pass rush only recording 2 sacks thus far. Elvis Dumervil who entered the league in the same draft as Super Mario, but nearly 150 picks later...already has 10.
So the defense is improving, but what about the Offense? The Texans passing game is sickeningly good thus far. Matt Schaub is 1st in the league in touchdown passes with 14, 2nd in yards and in the top 7 in rating, yards per game and completion percentage, while Andre Johnson ranks 2nd in receiving yards. Despite his recent fumbling addiction, Steve Slaton is starting to pull out of his sophomore slump too. Not only does Schaub lead a productive offense, but it’s also an exciting one to watch as well.
From the end of last season the expectations for this season by Texans fans and the team itself have been big: MAKE THE PLAYOFFS. It’s a huge hump to get over and will be a challenge to accomplish over the next 10 games, but it’s possible despite the mediocre record that the Texans have gotten off to. Winning the division is more than likely not going to happen unless the Texans could win the next 10 games and finish the season at a monstrous 13-3. As weak as much of the schedule is on paper, we all know how unlikely this is purely from the fact that the Texans have to face the Indianapolis Colts twice and Tom Brady’s Patriots once this year. All three are going to be difficult to get wins.
With the chance of winning the division very slim, the Texans will most likely be playing for a Wild Card spot. Going 7 and 3 in the next 10 games and ending with a 10-6 record would probably be about the worst they could do to get themselves in. Assuming they have a good chance of beating the 49ers, Bills, Titans, Jaguars, Seahawks and Rams and can splitting the games with the Colts, the Texans could accomplish this dropping only the other two games to the Patriots and Dolphins. This is a likely scenario ON PAPER considering how most of those teams are doing so far in 2009. But we all know that for the Texans “on paper” is very different than “on the field.”
What happens if they don’t accomplish this and can’t make the playoffs? Is the season a total loss? Answering this question is walking a tight rope. If the Texans don’t make the playoffs, it will be frustrating as fans, but there are a few promising items that if they happen instead of the playoffs – the season could still be positive.
The obvious is that they end at 9-7 or better. Going 8-8 again or having a losing season is inexcusable and will rule out any possibility of a positive 2009 season. The probability of the Texans going 6-4 or better over the next 10 is high, but we shall see if they have the “clutch” to pull this off.
Seeing Matt Schaub stay healthy for at least 14 games, lead the league in passing and make his first Pro Bowl would also be a very promising and positive outcome of the season. This would prove that Schaub is indeed the Texans “guy” and not only can stay healthy throughout the season, but also has the talent to compete with the best. That being said, all this could be for naught if the Texans do not have a winning record. Stats are nice, but wins are the true reflection on the leader of the team.
Having the defense end the season in the Top 7 defenses in the league would also be an incredible positive. It’s already pretty apparent that Brian Cushing may be on his way to winning Defense Rookie of the Year, but seeing he and Demeco Ryans make the Pro Bowl and seeing Mario Williams pull out of his sack-coma would also help this season end on a positive note.
So if the Texans don’t make the playoffs, but do meet all of the above criteria then I think we shouldn’t count the season a total loss. However, if the above isn’t met and there are no playoff games...it may be time for Mr. McNair to shake things up in the front office again. Only time will tell. All we can do is sit back and watch what unfolds in an exciting season none the less.
(By the way – if the Texans are 1st in passing and in the Top 7 defenses – then it would be highly unlikely to not have a winning season.)