The Texans are sitting with a 5-4 record and are right in the thick of the wildcard race going into their bye week. It seems like the right time to evaluate their season and make any adjustments for the playoff push.
Reasons to Celebrate
Matt Schaub is healthy and playing extremely well. With a 98.1 quarterback rating and completing 67.5% of his passes, he looks like a legitimate top 10 quarterback.
The Texans offense has been very good to this point, with their passing game giving fits to opposing defenses. They are currently ranked 4th in the league for passing efficiency.
Houston’s defensive line is currently ranked 7th at stopping the run, ensuring that they match up well versus division rival Tennessee's and Jacksonville’s main offensive strength.
Brian Cushing looks like a future star at linebacker. With so many teams whiffing on first round draft picks, it’s nice to see a pick that lives up to the hype. If Cushing can provide an outside pass rush and a few big plays, the Texans defense could improve dramatically. So far with 78 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 FF and 2 INTs, he has to be considered for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Reasons to Worry
Owen Daniels’ placement on the IR will severely limit the attack through the air. Part of the reason that the passing offense has been so dynamic, is the multitude of weapons at Schaub’s disposal. It’s very difficult for a defense to double team both Andre Johnson and Daniels, without leaving someone else open. Johnson may find himself with very little room to operate for the rest of the season.
The running game has been pathetic. Both Steve Slaton and Ryan Moats are fumbling at inopportune times and the offensive line has struggled to create running lanes. The Texans may have to pass in order to get defenses on their heels before running, but they need some sort of balance to score points consistently. With the line ranked 25th in run blocking, an extra tight end or more runs from a formation with a fullback might help.
For all the talent present, the defense just hasn’t come through consistently. They are ranked in the bottom half of the league against both the run and the pass. Players like Dunta Robinson, DeMeco Ryans, and Mario Williams are all extremely talented, but need to elevate their own play, and those around them.
Of their seven remaining game, the Texans should be favored in five of them. The other two are against Indianapolis and New England to finish the season. In order to get into a wild card slot, they’ll likely have to win five or six of them. It’s definitely possible, but they need to hit a hot streak.
Focus for the Remaining Games
Improving the defense might not be as hard as it sounds. Despite having a poor ranking for the season, the unit has been fantastic in three of their last four games, with the exception being against San Francisco, when they let Alex Smith torch them in the second half. The teams they held fast against? The Bengals, the Bills and the Colts; two of which have excellent offenses.
One area of the defense that does need to improve dramatically is the pass rush. The Texans are capable of getting early leads, but need to protect them. With only 10.5 sacks coming from their defensive line, they may need to blitz more. Cushing has looked good bringing pressure from the edge and is a likely candidate to get more opportunities.
In order to replace Daniels in the passing game, someone else is going to need to step up. The most likely candidate is Kevin Walter. While Schaub has targeted Andre Johnson 93 times this year, he has only thrown the ball Walter’s way 35 times. Walter has a catch rate of 77% and is one of the most efficient receivers in the league on a per catch basis. He is more than capable of picking up Daniels’ slack.
Will they make the playoffs?
They have the talent to do it and their schedule is as favorable as any in the league. It’s time for the team to get over the hump and start closing out games. I think they’ll grab the final wild card spot.
All stats and analysis for this column are taken from publicly available data and the premium database on NFL.com and FootballOutsiders.com. Efficiency numbers refer to the DVOA and Adjusted Line Yards ranking on FootballOutsiders.com