Can Schaub propel the Texans to the playoffs? I think not
Before this Sunday, most commentators thought that the Houston Texans had supplanted the Dallas Cowboys as the best team in Texas. Unfortunately for Houston fans, a desperate Dallas team came into Reliant Stadium and showcased its talent, beating the Texans 27-13.
Now losing this game isn't a cataclysmic event. However, the Cowboys offense and defense exposed holes in the Houston Texans that their previous victories had masked. Though clearly an improved team, the Texans are still a year or two away from being serious AFC contenders.
Many of you may say that they beat the Colts and have therefore proven their ability to dominate in the AFC, but I would disagree. The performance Arian Foster put on in that game will not be duplicated, and the Colts will once again win the AFC South.
The Texans are doomed to miss the playoffs once again, and here's why.
The much maligned Roy E. Williams had a huge day against the secondary
The Texans' pass defense is simply miserable. They are easily the NFL's worst pass defense right now, giving up on average a ridiculous 369 yards per game. While this number is certainly inflated because of an overtime game against the Redskins and a game against quarterbacking wizard Peyton Manning, it reflects a serious defensive problem. The Cowboys, even though they also ran the ball effectively, were able to torch the Texans' secondary for 283 yards and two scores.
The Texans' run defense has been phenomenal thus far. However, with exception to the Cowboys, they have only faced two teams with anemic rushing attacks. The Colts played from behind and were forced to throw the ball, and the Redskins have an inexperienced offensive line and zero explosive backs.
Even if the run defense remains solid, the NFL is increasingly a passing league (see: last year's Super Bowl teams). If they can't stop the aerial attack, they will be forced into shootouts. If they can't improve their coverage ability or pass rush (opposing quarterbacks find the target 72.8 percent of the time against the Texans), they will be hard pressed to win games consistently.
Where's the beef? Suspended for four games
The suspension of left tackle Duane Brown is a serious blow to the Texans' offense. Though he'll be back by midseason, Brown's suspension jeopardizes both the passing attack and the Texans' newly discovered rushing attack.
Brown's absence weakens an already struggling offensive line. In the first three games of the season, the Texans' have managed to give up 11 sacks, second most of any team in the NFL. The Cowboys' Demarcus Ware victimized Brown's replacement, recording three sacks. With this team's defense, or lack thereof, a healthy offensive line is a must. They have to be able to protect the quarterback. Otherwise, Schaub will be on his back and unable to win shootouts.
Schaub and the Texans have turned the ball over five times (four interceptions and one fumble) in their first three games and have yet to force a turnover. That might change with the return of linebacker Brian Cushing in Week 5, but this is a serious problem for the Texans. More problematic are the points gained by other teams from the Texans' turnovers. The Cowboys were able to score 10 points off Texan turnovers.
I know it's cliche, but we all saw how important ball security was in last year's NFC Championship game. The Texans must protect the ball to keep winning, and so far they haven't done that.
Now this is just speculation, but if Johnson really does have a re-tweaked high ankle sprain, the Texans' passing game could be in trouble. Kevin Walters, Jacoby Jones, and Owen Daniels are all decent options, but Andre Johnson is the driving force behind the Texans' passing game. Defensive rotation to cover Johnson opens up the field for the other receivers. If this injury is nagging, it may slow down Johnson and hurt the passing game.
The NFL schedulers were not kind to the Texans. Though the next few games are certainly very winnable—Raiders, Giants, and the surprising Chiefs—the Texans' schedule stiffens in the latter half of the season.
They must play the Titans twice, Colts, Jets, Ravens, Eagles, and the Chargers in Weeks 8-15 (they get the Jags twice during that stretch). It will be incredibly difficult for the Texans to get wins during this time.
Even if they do manage to manufacture victories, staying healthy against such physical teams (Titans, Jets, and Ravens) will certainly be a challenge.
All of these problems (I know the Andre Johnson injury may not materialize) add up to another year of disappointment for the Texans. The holes in a relatively porous offensive line will hamstring a team with quite a few weapons. The promising 2-0 start and the dismantling of the Colts will be forgotten in the middle of the season when the Texans face some of the most talented and physical teams in the league.
The Cowboys exposed flaws that other teams will capitalize on. The Texans certainly are an improved team, especially with hidden gem Arian Foster leading the rushing attack, but they still aren't complete enough to de-throne the Colts in the AFC South.